January 15, 2016

Capturing Particles of Light in Three Dimensions

Sometimes you have to leave a place—and then come back to it—to really see it.

I spent so much time trying to "act like a local" by not craning my neck to look up at buildings in NYC...I feel like I missed out on a lot of buildings.

I was so set on not looking like a tourist—on keeping my eyes down so as not to instigate anything with a strange, or keeping my eyes fixed straight ahead so I wouldn't get mugged—that I completely missed the fact that there was a studio and gallery devoted to holography two doors down from the Manhattan apartment I lived in for nearly seven years.

Oh, I remember that red backlit plastic sign with the white lettering. I just never read it.

And it was there way before I was.

Although it's an apartment building now, with a street level gallery...

...this building used to be a blacksmith's forge...

...and horses would come through here to be shod. It then was taken over by a guy who was making custom surgical equipment—and lastly, by a guy who was making holograms.

They call him "Dr. Laser."

He's considered a pioneer of holography, the art of turning laser light into three dimensional images.

That, of course, is an oversimplification of the holographic arts, a discipline that's part photography, microscopy, physics, and photonics—at the convergence of science, art, and technology.

It's a matter of storing light wave data—not just capturing pigments in a reproduced image, as you would in photography.

In fact, there is no image, just as there is no object. It really is just a light field.

Of course, lasers (which are considered the purest form of light) didn't actually exist until the late 1950s or the early 1960s, so although holographic theory existed before that, it wasn't until then that anyone produced an actual 3-D hologram.

The catch is that the original image must be three dimensional and not flat...

...and you must have two working eyes to see it properly.

Stereoscopic vision is required for the perception of depth, even though technically, visual triangulation is a learned behavior.

Underneath the gallery of Dr. Laser's own works of holographic art (some of which are available for sale, and others for rent), there's a mad scientist laser laboratory down in the basement...

...which kind of serves both as his camera and his darkroom.

It's the perfect place to bounce a laser light beam off a crumbled piece of foil—or to blow smoke into it and try to create a laser tunnel.

This is also where Dr. Laser has all his equipment rigged up in order to photograph light waves, which is different than just photographing light. In order to capture the wave on film, you've got to find a way to create interference—that is, to stop the photons from moving guessed it...the speed of light.

So when you're creating a hologram, you're actually photographing the interference of two different light waves, which takes shape around an object.

I've never thought about the shape of light before.

And when Dr. Laser had me stare into one of his mesmerizing red lights without my glasses on, I could see a field of black dots that were impeccably clear (unlike the rest of the world, which looks fuzzy without corrective lenses).

Dr. Laser asked if the dots were in the light, or floating outside of the light. I said, "I think the dots are inside my eyeballs."

And he said, "You're right."

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Laser Side of the Moon
Photo Essay: Led Zeppelin, In Lasers
Photo Essay: Music for Your Eyes
James Turrell Turned My Eyeballs Inside-Out

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