About this time last year, I was experimenting with origami pinhole cameras, with both photographic paper and black card (with film). What interested me, was how a simple manipulation of the medium allowed it to become a complete means of image-making.
Further experiments involving zone plates and camera-less photography, as well as a meandering train-of-thought, lead me to ponder the possibility of a photographic image that was capable of reproducing itself, ad infinitum. The notion posited a kind of photographic quine that is at once original, reproduction, and apparatus.
Deeper contemplation lead me to the realisation that if an image of a zone plate of “normal” perspective could be made at 1:1 scale, using identical zone-plate optics, then the image could be used to reproduce produce itself. (It wouldn’t practically matter if the image produced was positive or negative, as the zone plate could still work optically.) In the real world, of course, the number of “generations” would be limited by creeping image degradation, leading to “sterile” images that could no longer “reproduce”, but the conceptual basis of the process is certainly intriguing enough.
Further experiment pending.
This is just something that happened to occur to me this morning, while brewing a pot of tea, of all things.
Ferric oxalate (Fe2(C2O4)3), familiar to those who have dabbled in platinum/palladium printing, is a photo-sensitive chemical that reduces to ferrous oxalate (FeC2O4) upon exposure to ultraviolet light. If ferrous oxalate were “developed” with gallic acid or a suitable, soluble gallate salt, then the ferrous gallate (which is the key component of iron-gall ink) formed could create a dark, contrasty image.
I should point out that all this is conjecture, and practical experimentation would be needed to prove the theory.
I will be the first to admit that, as anything other than a genre and body of photographic practice, and perhaps as a particularly mobile and public art-form, the world of fashion is a dark continent to me. It is then, perhaps, simple naïveté that leads me to the broad and less-than-complementary opinion that fashion is a shallow art, and that the industry that shares its name concerns itself with the skin of an image, stuffed with an awful lot of hype.
This – and the prospect of shooting fashion images as part of a project on “lifestyle” – lead me to meditate the possibility of utilising a projector to cast that “skin of an image”, and to convincingly conjure the illusion of clothing, onto some suitable mannequin or model. I concluded that it ought to be plausible both as a photographic technique and as a reflexive critique on fashion and fashion photography. Now quite excited at the prospect of playing with a novel technique, I fired up Firefox, and set about researching projection as a studio light source.
Lighting setup with projector and illuminated, white background.
Fashion got there first. In fact, the technique I had independently “discovered” can be traced back to John French‘s fashion work with projected patterns – in the early 1960s. More recently, Eva Mueller and Sølve Sundsbø, among others, have made use of digital display projectors to produce a variety of effects. In 1995, Droga5 pushed the technique, using a battery of upto ten projectors as part of a campaign promoting “light injected” Puma L.I.F.T footwear.
And I thought I was so very clever and original.
A wee while ago (it must be about two years, now), I became interested in diffraction optics, particularly zone plates (aka: Fresnel plates, after Augustin-Jean Fresnel). After pursuing the technology and its properties for awhile, I filed my notes it away in my “curious_projects.txt” file, in order to concentrate on Serious Business.
Zone plates utilize the optical properties of diffraction and interference to converge (focus) incident light, and can be used to create photographic images. They consist of concentric, alternating opaque and transparent rings (“Fresnel zones”) of equal area. The more rings, the sharper and brighter the image. “Binary” zone plates have an interesting property, in that they create images with soft focus and interesting, luminescent halos (reminiscent the halation of old, thick, glass plates examples). Introducing a smooth, sinusoidal transition from transparent to opaque zones (as opposed to a hard edge) eliminates soft focus, creating a sharper image. A zone-plate objective for your SLR can be as easy to make as a good, sharp pinhole (instructions), if you can acquire a spare body cap and some contrasty film with a nice, clear base.
It occurred to me at the time that one of the big drawbacks of zone plate optics was that chromatic aberration could be pronounced and impossible to correct. I suspected that the solution could lie with multiple, RGB-filtered zone plates focussing different wavelengths. Now coming back to the problem (I have plenty of spare time, just now), it occurs to me that coaxial C-M-Y zone plates could present a more elegant solution. The question now is how to prototype a sandwich of coloured zone plates, precisely focussed for three primary wavelengths. I’m not sure I can even get good slide film, these days.