The Dance of Light

I love the play of light and shadow. I am particularly fascinated by the variety of shapes light can take. Recently I discovered a photographer who shares my fascination, Abelardo Morrell. In a 2011 interview with Cristina Franzoni of  Zoom, Morell stated

“What can one say about the role of light? It reminds me of a line by a poet ‘How can you tell between the dancer and the dance’. I do try to concentrate on the more elemental side of light in my work. Often it is the subject and not just something that lights something.”

Here is an image from his Photogram series I particularly like:

"Winglass", an Abelardo Morell photogram
“Winglass”, an Abelardo Morell photogram

The bright patterns in the image have a scientific name: Caustics. Caustics are related to “turning points”. Imagine you are sweeping the water from a hose across your garden. At the edge of the garden you must slow down the sweep of the hose, stop for an instant, and reverse direction.  What part of the garden gets the most water? The edge, of course. Now imagine the water is light, and the ability of a curved, transparent object to bend light is the moving hose.

Caustics pop up elsewhere. Consider this image published in the prestigious scientific journal Physical Review B volume 44, page 3001 in 1991:

Phonon images of Si (100)
Phonon images of Si (100)

This image was created in the laboratory of James Wolfe at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. To explore the behavior of phonons, the quanta of vibration, a raster scan of heat pulses was created on one face of a silicon crystal held near absolute zero temperature. If a pulse is detected on the other side of the crystal, the luminance of the pixel corresponding to the location the pulse was created is incremented. Normally heat diffuses uniformly through a material, but near absolute zero, heat behaves like a ray of light, penetrating the crystal, its path bends to reflect the symmetry of the crystal planes, resulting in this pattern.

But let’s not focus on the physics, and just appreciate two sources of beauty: first, the intricate patterns of light it self, and second, the apparently universal nature of the laws that create those patterns. To once again quote Abelardo Morrell

“There is a hidden engineer in me who at one point wanted to become one. I don’t have the mathematics or physics in my brain but my pictures do retain an interest in the laws of the physical world.”

Encouraged by these two presentations, I searched for my own way to create, capture and share this dance of light. The following images were created from ordinary household items, like Morrell’s wine glass. But the photographs are not about the objects. They are about the light.


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