Sunday 25 September 2016

World’s first near-infrared feature film

I've known for a while that the Red digital cinema camera could take great monochrome infrared moving images. For the past few years film makers Glen Ryan and James van der Moezel of silver dory productions in Australia have been working on a tour de force movie to exploit this, called BRINDABELLAS | edge of light .

It's probably best I let the film makers describe what they set out to achieve ...
BRINDABELLAS | edge of light is an immersive cinematic journey through the sky and landscapes of the Canberra region of Australia – in particular the Brindabella Ranges. The film focuses on the interplay of mountain light, air and water as these elements are transformed across the seasons – from clouds to mist, rain and snow – then frost and ice – and onto creeks and rivers. It explores both the wider montane vistas of the Brindabellas and the more intimate details of the natural flows that are created by these mountains and, in turn, shape the very landscapes they arise from.
The video, shot at 4K resolution, looks superb, exhibiting all the characteristics of near-infrared photography but with the added dimension of movement. The landscapes will look familiar to anyone used to taking such images, with clouds sailing majestically across ink-dark skies above Wood-effect forests, accompanied by minimalist music and effects. There used to be a common phrase in the early days of interactive video ... Every frame a Rembrandt ... and it really applies here.

But there are more than landscapes. The area's wildlife is included. Here's where something extraordinary appears, an unusual feature of an unusual movie. Insect chitin, the substance of which much of their bodies is made, has long been known to be transparent at near infrared wavelengths. You can see this demonstrated clearly, and in minute macroscopic detail, in parts of this movie. Not just chitin either, I wasn't aware that caterpillars might become transparent (or at least translucent).

The film is in 22 chapters, covering five seasons (two summers bookend the production) and you can watch it in up to 4K quality via the production website, YouTube or Vimeo. My 5K iMac can display the 4K movies, given a following broadband wind, and they look superb (although I haven't gone all the way through as yet). Another Koyaanisqatsi perhaps?

PS: Silver Dory have also produced a book/monograph of the project. Selling out fast, apparently.

Monday 5 September 2016

Edward Thompson: The Unseen

This hardback book isn't your usual photographic monograph. For a start it's just over 260 pages long and then every image is taken using some of the last-remaining rolls of Kodak's colour infrared film. As the back-cover blurb says, this is the swan song of a particular kind of film, and of the particular kinds of images it was destined to take.

Ed Thompson is a documentary photographer, and for the past few years he has been exploring his photographic fascination with the different view of the world that this film provides. He has chosen some of the hundreds of potential applications to produce a series of smaller projects which, taken together, make up this book. Superficially, this may lead you into thinking that the book is disjointed, jumping between anatomical specimens, dystopian landscapes, portraits, an operating theatre, the sky at night and even images of paintings. Follow the interstitial text, however, and it will become clear.

The photographs look beneath the surface of the subjects, in some cases literally (that is, the medical poses and an Icelandic glacier). Infrared photography, both monochromatic and false-colour, has been used for remote sensing of plant health in agriculture, haze-penetration, imaging veins and other things just below the skin, and layers of artworks below their 'skin'. Whereas once infrared was thought of as a branch of astronomy - the 'new astronomy' as it was called - now it dominates the field. Ed's astronomical photographs are perhaps the weakest in the set but they deserve to be included ... and the Orion Nebula always amazes.

I think the book is called an atlas because the twelve chapters document an exploration, although you will find no diagrams showing oceans and mountains. You may, however, find a dragon or two, in the shape of photographs from the dead zone surrounding the Chernobyl power station. For me, these are the most poignant images: using one form of radiation that we can't see to suggest the other, more dangerous, invisible radiation all around.

If I have a technical quibble, it's that building a book from images where the predominant tone is saturated red is a printer's nightmare. Print lives in the land of CMYK, not RGB. I started off thinking some of the images were a bit dull, but they actually need quite a lot of light to bring them to life. Persevere, and you will be rewarded.

I've collected quite a few books of infrared photography and The Unseen is part of a tiny group specialising in false-colour infrared. It definitely deserves its place in a photographic library and in the history of the medium: whatever your reason for liking infrared photography, there will be images here to amaze you.

The Unseen: Atlas of Infrared Plates by Edward Thompson
Published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam
266 pages
ISBN 9789053308639