Tim Schwartz

Botanical LossTim Schwartz 2These prints represent what was lost as a series of early botanical prints was converted into a contemporary “lossless” image format and archived online. In 1799, Robert John Thornton released the first installment of the book The Temple of Flora, the first large color floral volume ever published. Inspired by Linnaeus, the founder of modern botany, Thornton set out to represent the newly discovered sexual systems of plants through commissioned paintings. Only a few of these original copies still exist including a copy that resides at the Missouri Botanical Garden Research Library, one of the largest botanical libraries in the country. A number of years ago Taschen approached the library to make a new edition. After making very high quality scans for Taschen, the library converted the files to JPEG2000 (a lossless JPEG format) and uploaded them as archival web quality images to the Biodiversity Heritage Library online.

A piece of software has been written to compare the high quality scan of the book and the digital online surrogates pixel by pixel. If the color values of the same pixel from the two files are the same, the produced pixel is black. If the pixels are different, the color difference is produced. These images, the result of doing this for all pixels, represent the color shift or loss in quality between the two files.


Tim Schwartz is a Los Angeles-based artist, technologist, and activist who makes works of art focused on technology, information, privacy, and how culture absorbs changes in these areas. He received a BA in Physics from Wesleyan University and an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego.