Peter Van Riper: Laser light photographs

  1. Laser light photographs

    Laser light has unique properties that I use to communicate my concern with attention: attention to the light, and attention to each thing seen as being special in nature.

    These pictures are about the mystery and feeling of light.

    The laser gives access to light by the single wavelength providing the diffraction lines in the pictures and extending the way we see beyond our normal senses. Because the light is of a single wavelength and the crests and troughs of the light wave are all “in step,” it produces diffraction patterns as well as more familiar shadows.

    The term diffraction refers to all examples of the scattering of a wave train wherein a large, often infinite number of scattered wavelets are involved. Thus we have the term diffraction grating for a regular array of ruled parallel lines, each of which generates a scattered wave, in distinction to the interference pattern by two, or several, slit sources of light.

    Myron Good, VCH Encyclopedia of Physics

    Diffraction: a modification which light undergoes in passing by the edges of opaque bodies or through narrow slits or in being reflected from ruled surfaces and in which the rays appear to be deflected and produce fringes of parallel light and dark or colored bands.

    Websters International Dictionary

    Diffraction of light is a phenomenon not ordinarily observed. It refers to the bending of light waves as they pass by the edge of an object and to the interference patterns created as the waves mutually reinforce or cancel each other.

    “It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.”  Niels Bohr

    “The universe is infinite in all directions, not only above us in the large, but also below us in the small.”  Emil Wiechert, 1896

    “It is the endless job of art to address man’s orientation to nature.”  John Cage

    In the laser light we see waves, single waves of light diffracting around the edges and various aspects of an object. It’s like going under water or into space, into another world, like looking into a microscope or a telescope. All of these dimensions are our world. People, as they look to nature, find continuity between the very small and the very large. When I’m working on the images in laser light I get the same feeling as when I experience scientific technologies that investigate into the very small or very large. It is about the experience and the mystery of the way the laser works and light behaves, and it’s direct recordings of light diffractions that you can trust as fact and yet its not an explanation of it, its more experiential. These pictures are about mystery and the feeling of light.

    The photographs are made by illuminating the object with laser light, which then directly exposes the film. No lens or camera is involved, and the 20” x 24” negatives produced are of unusual sharpness and high resolution. Contact prints are made that are then dry mounted and presented in sets of nine. The images together set up rhythms showing multiple aspects of the same “direct contact” with nature.

    It doesn’t matter if the patterns are of light, or sound, or water; it’s the underlying ground of the wave patterns that communicates. Somehow, one can see that the patterns are of natural phenomena, and recognizing them is a seeing experience.

    Like a part of nature, these wave patterns wait for the viewer to contact them. I employ a light enough hand that one can trust them as information about the way light behaves, as well as letting the music of the patterns happen.

    Contact between the viewer and the work is dynamic and makes the content of the seeing experience.

    I enjoy seeing all these diffracting waves of light and I hope to draw attention not so much to the measure of these things as to the poetry of what we look at.

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