Sculpting with Light

A stone sculpture displayed between two holographic images of that sculpture (one showing its right side, one showing its left side).

A marble sculpture displayed between two holographic images of that sculpture (one showing its front side, one showing the opposite side).

A unique 3D "holographic portrait" of myself sculpting.

Working with Laser Light and Stone

In 2016, I was honored to be awarded a Holographic Artist Residency by the Center for the Holographic Arts (HoloCenter, NYC). This award enabled me to create an art installation that integrates two 3-dimensional mediums: sculpture and holography. In the finished artwork, a stone sculpture is displayed between two holographic images of that same sculpture, thereby presenting a unique compare-and-contrast opportunity for a curious viewer --- since one image is made of solid rock and the other "identical" images are made from intangible light rays. The former was created using very a primitive technology (stone carving), and the latter using a very modern technology (laser holography).

I handcrafted the stone sculptures used as the basis for this art installation. To create the large, high-quality holograms needed for the project, I utilized the holography laboratory located at the Ohio State University Department of Physics, under the direction of Dr. Harris P Kagan.

In June 2016, I traveled to Ohio State University to begin working on my project (the first of two multi-day production sessions), since the specialized equipment used to create high-quality holograms is mostly found only at university labs, some factories, and certain research facilities.

Holography is somewhat similar to film photography, in that to record an image, a specially-formulated emulsion is exposed to light -- in this case, the light from a laser -- which has the photonic properties required by holographers.

Once exposed, the holographic recording material (i.e., the film) is manually processed using conventional darkroom techniques.

Most hologram production facilities are only capable of making 3D images of inanimate objects -- such as toy figurines or miniature models. I used two of my favorite stone sculptures as subject matter. We shot two holograms of each piece (one side and the opposite side).

As part of the HoloCenter award, artists are offered the opportunity to utilize the rare "pulse" laser at the Ohio facility. This vintage laser emits a burst of ruby-red light so quickly, it enabled Dr. Kagan to also record a live action shot of me striking a chisel with my hammer.

The first set of holograms out of the darkroom are called the "master" holograms. These first-generation (H1) recordings are fully dimensional and have ultra-high resolution. However, these master holograms are only viewable in laser light.

Therefore, in June 2017 I returned to Ohio to make holographic images that could be displayed using an ordinary spotlight. To do this, we needed to make second-generation holograms (H2s) of the images previously recorded on the masters. To make these copies, we employed a more common type of red laser (called a "CW" or continuous wave laser).

Rather than using sheets of flexible film as a recording material, I chose to use the rigid 12 x 16 inch glass plates formerly produced by Agfa. The plates we used had an expiration date of 2001. However, with proper storage these high-quality vintage emulsions have proven to still be usable.

Our first challenge was modifying the hardware that holds the Agfa glass plate "film" during the copying process. Thankfully, Dr. Kagan (pictured) is a skilled machinsist, as well as a skilled holographer.

When copying a master hologram using a CW laser, high quality mirrors and lenses are used to steer and resize the laser beam, as needed. Black cards are positioned around the table to block stray laser light and unwanted reflections.

All the optical components must be secured to the table so that they remain motionless during the exposure.

The equipment was arranged so that the laser beam, after leaving the laser, split into two equidistant paths; one of which passed thru the H1 (in order to copy the image stored on it).

The beams recombine at the plate holder used to hold the H2 -- creating an interference pattern.

During the exposure, this microscopic interference pattern is recorded on the emulsion (i.e., a hologram is produced).

After all the equipment was ready, we conducted tests with a photometer to determine the exposure time. We decided a 20-second exposure would be optimal. Then, with the room lights turned off and the laser light blocked off, the unexposed film was placed in position.

After exposing the Agfa glass plate with the laser light, it was carefully taken into the darkroom where the "film" was processed (using D-19 developer, a bleaching coumpound and water). Excess water was removed from the glass plate using a common squeegee and warm air from a hair dryer.

When dry, the glass plate is ready to be illuminated. This type of hologram can be lit from behind or, if it is backed by a mirror, from the front. Either way, when a single beam of bright light interacts with the interference pattern recorded on the H2, a visible image is generated -- we see a 3D picture of the sculpture!

The hologram copying setup in Ohio produces a "rainbow" transmission hologram. The term rainbow describes how this type of hologram changes color as the viewing angle and/or lighting angle shifts.

Unlike a flat photograph, a rainbow hologram displays a 3D image with parallax and ultra-high resolution (a viewer can look "around the sides" of the highly-detailed image).

In Ohio, I produced five holographic images ready to display -- two of each stone sculpture and one holographic portrait. Kagan's guidance and tutalage was invaluable.

The finished installation is available for gallery display. Proper lighting (narrow-beam spotlights) is required. A semi dark viewing environment, with enough space for a viewer to walk around the installation, provides optimal visual impact.

The holographic portion of this art installation was made possible by the generousity of HoloCenter's Holographic Artist Residency program (Martina Mrongovius, Director).