Student manages to print photos onto algae

Russell Marx picture printed onto algae. (Credits: Russell Marx /

A PhD student has taken experimental photography to a whole new level after ‘accidentally’ discovering a way to print photos onto algae.

Russell Marx, 25, who is currently studying a PhD in neuroscience, stumbled across the unusual photography technique outside of studying, whilst trying to combine a passion for biology with a love of photography.

Russell’s new-found hobby is a time-consuming one – with the algae taking up to a week to grow before they can even begin to print the photos onto the slimy, aquatic plant.

But the first-year PhD student, at University of Washington in the USA, said it is ‘worth it’.

Russell said: ‘It’s a slow process, but it’s coming along. I make the time to do it – it’s a good way to express myself when I’m not working. It’s a nice outlet for me, because it involves science, which is what I do, but it’s a totally different kind of science to what I do day to day.’

‘I’ve done three and a half photos so far. I’m trying to find a way to keep the image stable, so that I can take the algae photo out of the water in the petri dish, and hang it on a wall.

Graduate student Russell Marx is taking experimental photography to a whole new level. (Credits: Russell Marx /

‘I’ve also started experimenting with growing red algae, too. If I’m really clever about it, I could make a three-colour image out of the algae.’

Russell only started printing photos onto algae a month and a half ago – and said it came about from a ‘series of accidents’.

The photographer said: ‘I have a photographic enlarger, for developing negatives in a darkroom – but I don’t have a darkroom to work in.’

Photographer Russell Marx who printed his picture onto algae. (Credits: Russell Marx /

‘I remembered a biology experiment we did in an undergrad class about staining chloroplasts, and how if you put foil over a leaf and leave it in the sun for a few days, it stains a pattern on to it.

‘Algae grows when light hits it – so regions that don’t get any light are going to be clear, whereas lighter regions are going to have a darker image on them when it comes to the photo negative.’

Russell added: ‘It’s basically the same as developing analogue photos in a darkroom – but instead of silver emulsion, I have algae.’

Russell, who took analogue photographs as a hobby before he discovered printing them on to algae, says the algae photography is a ‘very deliberate’ process.

Here’s one of Russell’s photos (Credits: Russell Marx /
And here it is printed on algae (Credits: Russell Marx /

‘Algae need salt in the water where it grows, as well as CO2 to keep growing. It sinks to the bottom of the water and forms a thin, two millimetre film. You have to be very careful when you’re trying to move it out of the water, as the image can slide off.

‘At the moment, I’m experimenting with embedding the algae in gel, because I want to make an image that I can preserve and that will stay alive if I hang it on a wall.”

Russell’s first image that he printed onto algae was a selfie, taken in black and white in a mirror.

‘I took it on a pretty high contrast, just so I could see if it would work – if the blacks would stay black and the whites would stay white,’ Russell said.

‘I was actually really shocked when it worked the first time. I wasn’t expecting it. I was really surprised with how sharp the image can be.’

Russell is now trying to grow red algae, so that their photos can be different colours, and not just in black and white.

And the next step after that is to keep trying different colour algaes, to create algae photographs in multiple colours.

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