Light Chasers Virtual Exhibit

Please enjoy this virtual representation of the exhibit, Light Chasers: An Intersection of Science and Art, on display August 9 to August 31, 2019, at the Turret Gallery, thanks to Threshold Arts at the Castle Community. Each of these images was shot with black and white film, and developed with coffee, as described here.

Corpuscularia
Corpuscularia

“Corpuscularia”

Film photograph, 16” x 16” – $200

Sir Isaac Newton wrote extensively about the corpuscular nature of light, meaning, that light consists of corpuscular bodies. Newton used this conception in tandem with his laws of mechanics to describe the optical properties of specular reflection (shiny and glossy, like a mirror), and diffuse reflection (matte, like an eggshell). The stones at Kinstone, featured in this image, represent both Newtonian light corpuscles, as well as the property of diffuse reflection.

 

Equinox Catcher
Equinox Catcher

“Equinox Catcher”

Film photograph, 18” x 18” – $250

Light from the sun on the mornings of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes reflects off the polished stone table onto the vertical slab of the Three Witnesses sculpture at Kinstone. The polished stone exhibits both specular reflection and diffuse reflection.

 

Outside the Realm of Probability
Outside the Realm of Probability

“Outside the Realm of Probability”

Film photograph, 20” x 30” – $500

Physicist Linus Pauling developed the concept of the hybridized atomic orbital in 1932, integrating emerging theories in quantum physics to explain bonding of atoms and how light interacts with matter. The Po Shu Wang sculpture outside of the Mayo Civic Center is reminiscent of a stylized atomic hybrid orbital. When visualizing an orbital, one treats the orbital shape as the region of high probability of finding an electron in a certain energy state. In this photograph, the pedestrian – in his current energy state – is visually outside the realm of probability described by the Po sculpture.

 

Dependent Reality
Dependent Reality

“Dependent Reality”

Film Photograph, 30” x 24” – $450

Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture on the campus of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester is reminiscent of the famous “double-slit” experiments of Thomas Young, who conducted interference experiments confirming the wave nature of light around 1801. Newton’s corpuscular theory of light competed successfully against a wave theory proposed by Christian Huygens. Young’s experiments contributed to the demise of the corpuscular theory. The wave theory would dominate scientific thought until the onset of quantum physics in the early 20th century. The title of this work anticipates the confusing quantum result where the same experimental setup leads to competing conclusions as to whether light is a particle or a wave.

 

Molten Shadows
Molten Shadows

“Molten Shadows”

Film photograph, 16” x 16” – $200

In 1900, Henry William Grayson refined a technique to produce very fine etched lines in glass, producing what we now call a diffraction grating. Early versions of diffraction gratings were used to confirm the wave nature to light. The porch railing and the shadows they produce are a far less refined representation of a diffraction grating than what Grayson produced.

 

A Spectrum of Monoliths No. 1
A Spectrum of Monoliths No. 1

“A Spectrum of Monoliths No. 1”

Film photograph, 20” x 30” – $500

A pivotal analytical method that began to unify theories of light with theories of matter was the use of diffraction gratings to analyze the light emitted by elements when heated in a flame. You may have replicated this method in your high school chemistry class. When viewed through a diffraction grating (remember those rainbow glasses?), light emitted from heated elements displays a discrete spectral pattern. This technique was refined by Anders Jonas Ångström, a Swedish physicist, working in the mid-19th century. The stones of Kinstone silhouetted against a bright sky remind one of these spectra.

 

A Spectrum of Monoliths No. 2
A Spectrum of Monoliths No. 2

“A Spectrum of Monoliths No. 2”

Film photograph, 16” x 16” – $200

A pivotal analytical method that began to unify theories of light with theories of matter was the use of diffraction gratings to analyze the light emitted by elements when heated in a flame. You may have replicated this method in your high school chemistry class. When viewed through a diffraction grating (remember those rainbow glasses?), light emitted from heated elements displays a discrete spectral pattern. This technique was refined by Anders Jonas Ångström, a Swedish physicist, working in the mid-19th century. The stones of Kinstone standing tall remind one of these spectra.

 

Fluidity of Space and Time
Fluidity of Space and Time

“Fluidity of Space and Time”

Film photograph, 20” x 24” – $350

Einstein’s theories of relativity fundamental changed our scientific view of previously “absolute” concepts such as space, time, and light, as represented by the work of Newton. Mind-bending notions such as the curvature of space, the relativity of time as measured by different observers, and the absolute nature of the speed of light continue to challenge us intellectually to this day. Einstein’s teacher, Hermann Minkowski, expanded Einstein’s relativistic theories to merge concepts of space and time into a single continuum. This image is a visual play on that concept.

 

Pigeons on a Geodesic
Pigeons on a Geodesic

“Pigeons on a Geodesic”

Film photograph, 24” x 30” – $450

Minkowski’s concept of a space-time continuum, coupled with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, leads to the construct of the “geodesic”. Most of us grew up on the notion that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Minkowski made a mess of that idea. Now we would say that a “geodesic” is the shortest distance between two points, allowing that in Minkowski space, that line may not be straight in the Euclidian sense. This image is a fantasy on the concept of the geodesic, as we imagine two pigeons resting on the shortest path along a stretch of the Zumbro River.

 

Rochester's Newest Geodesic
Rochester’s Newest Geodesic

“Rochester’s Newest Geodesic”

Film Photograph, 18” x 24” – $350

You will see representations of “curved space” that show grid lines (geodesics) forming a funnel shape, as in the case of curved space near a black hole, for example. Of course, we cannot see such grid lines when we look around us. However, in modern contemporary thought, we would say that light follows the path of the geodesic. For a photographer, this is what we call a sight-line. Aesthetic use of sight-lines is a key component of photographic composition. Recently a sculpture was added in front of the Mayo Building, which lies along a sight-line that captures three sculptures in the Annenberg Plaza. See if you can find all three, and be sure to cast a glance next time you are walking in downtown Rochester.

 

Serpentinium
Serpentinium

“Serpentinium”

Film photograph, 18” x 18” – $250

The debate over whether the fundamental nature of light was properly described as a corpuscle (Newton) or a wave (Huygens; Young; James Clerk Maxwell) lasted for centuries; yet, there was fundamental agreement on the point that it must be one or the other. All of that was thrown to the wind in the early 20th century, when quantum physical theories developed, and new experimental evidence cast old theories into doubt. French physicist Louis de Broglie contributed to the debate by suggesting a particle wave duality that not only applied to light, but also to matter. This photo of the serpentine arrangement of stones is a fantasy-like portrayal of the dual nature of light and matter.

 

Bridge of Light and Souls
Bridge of Light and Souls

“Bridge of Light and Souls”

Film photograph, 20” x 24” – $350

Modern-day physicists continue to explore the fundamental nature of light. Recent experiments show how “distant” atoms “communicate” with each other by exchanging photons of light. With the use of carefully engineered optical nanofibers, physicists have bridged the distance between atoms allowing them to exchange photons at a distance not feasible without the bridge. This image from Silver Lake Park features a literal bridge as a representation of the optical nanofiber bridges now in experimental use.

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Artist Statement

This exhibition represents a blending of two passions of mine, namely, photography and the history of science. I first held a 35mm film camera in my hand in the summer of 1974, when I took a summer school photography class as an eighth grader. Five years later, I bought my first “real camera”, an Olympus OM-1n, which I use to this today and contributes to this showing. My interest in the history of science began in the fall of 1979, when I took my first history of physics class in college. I could not have foreseen a day when these two interest would come together, as they do in this show. I needed the intervening forty years for that realization to occur. So now I chase light, as the scientists and artists before me did. More elusive than Harry Potter’s snitch in a game of quidditch, light dodges and darts its way out of our grasp. We may claim to “capture” light in our cameras or in a double-slit contraption, but as in the lyrics of Tom Wait, “The obsession’s in the chasing, and not the apprehending… The pursuit you see, and never the arrest.”

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About the Process

All images in this exhibit were shot on black and white film, then processed with coffee as the developing fluid. The tannins in coffee are anti-oxidants (or reducers, in chemistry-speak), and convert the light-activated silver in film to a metallic state, producing the image we call a “negative.” Thanks to Fiddlehead Coffee Company of Rochester for providing excellently roasted tannin-rich beans for the purposes of this project.

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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts & cultural heritage fund.

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