Tag Archives: X Ray

The Cosmos In Living Color: Michael Benson’s Interstellar Imagery

The startling majesty – and deceptive complexity – of Michael Benson’s space art can be traced back through a process he dubs “true color.” A multimedia artist, Benson is a man utterly fascinated with outer space (he points to 2001: A Space Odyssey as an inspiration for his interstellar works — works that so impressed 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke that the sci-fi titan agreed to write the foreword to one of Benson’s books), and he has fixed his talents on creating visions that break free of the confines of Earth, enabling viewers to behold the unseen wonders of the universe.

To encounter a Benson landscape is to be in awe of not only how he sees the universe, but also the ways in which he composes the never-ending celestial ballet. From the spidery volcanic fractures that scar the surface of Venus to the time-lapse flight path of a stray asteroid, the dizzying close-ups of the swirling “red spot” of Jupiter, the x-ray-filtered view of the sun’s surface and the rippling red dunes of Mars, Benson is a visual stylist with a gift for framing and focus. Apart from cutting-edge high-definition renderings of our solar system’s most familiar objects, he also routinely converts extra-terrestrial terrain into thrilling, abstract landscapes that seem positioned somewhere between the scientific and the avant-garde.

The cover of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions

The cover of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions

Some of his greatest achievements skew towards the hyper realistic; I have been following Benson’s work for years and still the image I remember most is a massive, intricately-detailed view of the surface of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons (slide 13 in the gallery above). Looming large in a print that renders the Io surface in a yellow-brownish hue, delineating the moon’s different terrains, Benson’s color scheme accentuates the dark volcanic calderas that dot the satellite’s surface. The final result is sharp, meticulous and magnificent. At first glimpse it’s a simple planetary object, but the closer your eye scans the terrain, the more you realize that Benson has somehow taken this imagery captured 400 million miles away and given us a front-row seat to consider the turbulent topography of this alien orb. Benson’s visions demand more than a single look; the longer one spends with his vast landscapes, considering the scale and scope, the more they facilitate a state of meditation.

Behind every one of these images, however, lies an intricate and involved photo editing process (watch the video of Benson’s method above). Benson typically begins each work by filtering through hundreds or thousands of raw images from space, made available to the public by NASA and the European Space Agency – photographs that have been taken by unmanned space probes flying throughout the solar system, rovers on Mars or humans aboard the International Space Station. Many of these photos come back to Earth as black and white composites, or as images created with only a few active color filters. Benson then sorts through the images in a hunt for something surprising, revealing or noteworthy. Once he’s found a subject of interest, he starts stitching together individual snapshots to create larger landscapes, and filtering these landscapes through his own color corrections to create a spectrum that approximates how these interstellar vistas would appear to the human eye.

In his latest published photo collection Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, now available from Abrams, Benson details the fine points of his processing techniques:

“The process of creating full-color images from black-and-white raw frames—and mosaic composites in which many such images are stitched together—can be quite complicated,” Benson writes. “In order for a full-color image to be created, the spacecraft needs to have taken at minimum two, but preferably three, individual photographs of a given subject, with each exposed through a different filter… ideally, those filters are red, green, and blue, in which case a composite color image can usually be created without too much trouble. But in practice, such spacecraft as the Cassini Orbiter or the Mars Exploration Rovers … have many different filters, which they use to record wavelengths of light well outside of the relatively narrow red, green and blue (RGB) zone of the electromagnetic spectrum that human eyes can see.”

Benson goes on to explain that he will often start working with images that are missing an essential filter — that ultraviolet and infrared filters have been used instead of color filters, meaning the composite image is lacking necessary information.

It is here where Benson has carved out an area of expertise, filling in that missing image information to add shape, scale and color to the planetary bodies he hopes to explore. The resulting visuals, as you can see above, are pristine and powerful glimpses of the furthest reaches of our solar system (and, in some of Benson’s other works, the very edges of the universe). With the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars in August, and its subsequent photographs of what appears to be Martian riverbeds, the world was once again reminded of the power of a single image transmitted back to Earth across millions of miles of open space. It’s a dizzying thing, to behold an alien world, and scanning through the portfolio of Michael Benson — a true “space odyssey” — is to experience this rush of discovery again and again.

Michael Benson’s new book Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, is now available from Abrams. Also featured above are images from Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (Abrams, 2008). Images from Planetfall will be on display at New York’s Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in December 2012. To see more of Benson’s work, visit his web site.

Steven James Snyder is an Assistant Managing Editor at TIME.com.

Special #005: Xavier Lucchesi

Photography without a lens? Xavier Lucchesi, 1959, France, uses X-rays and the most efficient scanners to create his bizarre images. He makes images while going through the matter of small and large objects, from animals, bodies, paintings of Picasso to entire trucks. Even though X-ray goes straight through matter it still shows various details of the objects, sometimes revealing secrets invisible to and hidden from the naked eye. Xavier shows us what we can only imagine but also creates a new reality, one that is based on solid objects becoming fantastical entities. His work has been exhibited on numerous occasions, mainly in Europe and Asia. The following images come from the series Radioportraits, Automates and Trafic.

Intrigued to see how he will approach his future projects and what they will reveal to us.
Website: www.x-lucchesi.com

Special #005: Xavier Lucchesi

Photography without a lens? Xavier Lucchesi, 1959, France, uses X-rays and the most efficient scanners to create his bizarre images. He makes images while going through the matter of small and large objects, from animals, bodies, paintings of Picasso to entire trucks. Even though X-ray goes straight through matter it still shows various details of the objects, sometimes revealing secrets invisible to and hidden from the naked eye. Xavier shows us what we can only imagine but also creates a new reality, one that is based on solid objects becoming fantastical entities. His work has been exhibited on numerous occasions, mainly in Europe and Asia. The following images come from the series Radioportraits, Automates and Trafic.

Intrigued to see how he will approach his future projects and what they will reveal to us.
Website: www.x-lucchesi.com

MoCP in the News: Press for Our Origins

“Where do we, as humans, come from?” With such a broad question at the heart of Our Origins, it’s no wonder the exhibition has gotten people talking. From art critics to bloggers, take a look at what people are saying about Our Origins, which is on display at the MoCP through October 16:

Ray_blog_9.28.11.jpg
Jennifer Ray, Strangler Fig Embrace, 2009; Courtesy of the artist

“Inspired by everything from fossils to x-ray diffusion, this ambitious group show considers the unanswerable questions — all from a very self-conscious, often very funny point of view.” – Flavor Pill Chicago

“The chatter about where we come from seems inescapable. Which is what makes the relative silence of Our Origins refreshing.” – Chicago Reader

“Plenty of thought-provoking works on view.” – Time Out Chicago

“[Our Origins] reflects on natural history from a distinctly human point of view.” – The Beacon-News

“For all the wit, wisdom and insight here, Alison Ruttan steals the show… [While she] may not have revealed the mysteries of being; she has effectively portrayed us as too close to other primates for comfort, evoking a mixture of humor, absurdity, depression, truth and self-recognition.” – Newcity Art

In addition to the show, curator Allison Grant also gets a little love:

“It’s refreshing to see a curator take aim at the largest human questions, and it’s good for Grant’s first exhibition ever. I admire that ambition and hope Grant will continue probing those deep questions, since for as many artists as there are investigating consumerism and commodity culture, there are just as many examining the hard philosophical and scientific question” – Art Slant

David Maisel: History’s Shadow

All images ©David Maisel

As we gear up for the launch of our next issue, 1000 Words new Editorial assistant, Sean Stoker, takes some time out from prepping to peruse this recently released title from Nazraeli Press and is impressed with the spectral qualities of the photographs within.

While working at the Getty Research Institute in LA, David Maisel was confronted by a 12 foot high x-ray pinned to a window, rear-lit from outside. The subject of that x-ray, a small, drab painting, was left in the wake of its copy, overshadowed by the blown up x-ray. Inspired by this discovery, Maisel trawled through the archives of x-rays of old museum artefacts, uncovering these ghostly emanations of light, and then scanning, re-photographing and digitally manipulating the images earmarked for the project.

Those images now grace the pages of Maisel’s latest book History’s Shadow which, like many of his previous projects, illustrates a keen interest in the manner in which photography can combine art, science and a sense of humanity. While the work is also about the processes of memory, excavation and transformation it is really photography itself that is arguably the main focus of this project, and Maisel uses the x-ray to examine its inherent flaws with issues of space, depth and scale. Some images seem to emerge from the page itself, while others float in their black surroundings, yet they transcend mere images of objects, and become sculptural in their own right; a truly convincing illusion of three-dimensional space rendered on the two-dimensional page. In Maisel’s words,”they becomes a vast nether world, and in others becomes the velvety ground of some kind of brain scan/portrait.” Some are more successful at this than others, yet together, the images manage to reference the history of photographic practice – recalling the mysterious long exposures and amateur scientific studies of the medium’s early years – and the history of art (x-rays have historically been used by art conservators for structural examination of art and artefacts), which is not just limited to icons of Western art.

The x-ray empowers us with an all-seeing, piercing gaze that distorts our perception while it transports us to a ghostly, ephemeral world in which everything appears too delicate to touch, that we may extinguish these glowing forms. Here, inside becomes out, and out becomes in. We are confronted with everything simultaneously, overwhelmed by fragile veils of light and plunging depths of darkness as space and time collapse and compound. It is within these objects that we see traces of the artist’s hand, suggestions of a human presence and structural details that invoke a curiosity within us, not only to understand the vestiges and indicators of past societies, but to also comprehend ourselves and our future.

What I most enjoy about this book is also what I most enjoy in photography as a whole; despite its apparent complexity and tendency to over-theorise itself, it is often its simplest aspects that are the most interesting. History’s Shadow, while intricate and well considered, represents the essense of photography: the presence and absence of light, the shape-shifting nature of time and the curiosity to see what cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Sean Stoker

David Maisel: History’s Shadow

All images ©David Maisel

As we gear up for the launch of our next issue, 1000 Words new Editorial assistant, Sean Stoker, takes some time out from prepping to peruse this recently released title from Nazraeli Press and is impressed with the spectral qualities of the photographs within.

While working at the Getty Research Institute in LA, David Maisel was confronted by a 12 foot high x-ray pinned to a window, rear-lit from outside. The subject of that x-ray, a small, drab painting, was left in the wake of its copy, overshadowed by the blown up x-ray. Inspired by this discovery, Maisel trawled through the archives of x-rays of old museum artefacts, uncovering these ghostly emanations of light, and then scanning, re-photographing and digitally manipulating the images earmarked for the project.

Those images now grace the pages of Maisel’s latest book History’s Shadow which, like many of his previous projects, illustrates a keen interest in the manner in which photography can combine art, science and a sense of humanity. While the work is also about the processes of memory, excavation and transformation it is really photography itself that is arguably the main focus of this project, and Maisel uses the x-ray to examine its inherent flaws with issues of space, depth and scale. Some images seem to emerge from the page itself, while others float in their black surroundings, yet they transcend mere images of objects, and become sculptural in their own right; a truly convincing illusion of three-dimensional space rendered on the two-dimensional page. In Maisel’s words,”they becomes a vast nether world, and in others becomes the velvety ground of some kind of brain scan/portrait.” Some are more successful at this than others, yet together, the images manage to reference the history of photographic practice – recalling the mysterious long exposures and amateur scientific studies of the medium’s early years – and the history of art (x-rays have historically been used by art conservators for structural examination of art and artefacts), which is not just limited to icons of Western art.

The x-ray empowers us with an all-seeing, piercing gaze that distorts our perception while it transports us to a ghostly, ephemeral world in which everything appears too delicate to touch, that we may extinguish these glowing forms. Here, inside becomes out, and out becomes in. We are confronted with everything simultaneously, overwhelmed by fragile veils of light and plunging depths of darkness as space and time collapse and compound. It is within these objects that we see traces of the artist’s hand, suggestions of a human presence and structural details that invoke a curiosity within us, not only to understand the vestiges and indicators of past societies, but to also comprehend ourselves and our future.

What I most enjoy about this book is also what I most enjoy in photography as a whole; despite its apparent complexity and tendency to over-theorise itself, it is often its simplest aspects that are the most interesting. History’s Shadow, while intricate and well considered, represents the essense of photography: the presence and absence of light, the shape-shifting nature of time and the curiosity to see what cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Sean Stoker

Colombia 2011, very rough scans

I was in Colombia for all of January, February and the first half of March. There’s no lab anywhere in the country that will process large format film. I had to take it all with me to New York. Thankfully none of it was damaged by the x-ray scanners at the airport. Here are a few pictures from my time there:

Cellphone minute vendors in main square of Villavicencio

This was the first time I’ve ever done street portraits of strangers with my 8×10 camera. Asking strangers for photos with such a large and strange-looking camera is not hard at all. I found the hard part to be dealing with all the attention the camera drew. That, and trying to figure out how to direct people in the photo once they said yes. I ended up taking a lot of pictures of people standing exactly in the middle of the frame, looking at the lens. Not that it’s a bad look, necessarily.

Osiris in Bosa, Bogota

Often people just came up to me and asked to have their picture taken. I only had 3 film holders which meant I could only take 6 photos in any given outing. I had to say no a lot. In the photo below, this man came up to me and said he was the oldest gay in the square and that I should take his picture. I couldn’t say no to that. It was my last photo too.

The oldest gay in the square, Villavicencio

Taking pictures of strangers on the street without a clear idea of why or what for is a great way to burn through a lot of film and money, especially with an 8×10 camera where each picture costs about $20 [don’t blink!].

With my 4×5 camera I went to a lot of different neighborhoods and surrounding cities and mostly took of pictures of houses and small buildings. Bogota and its surrounding cities have a very interesting aesthetic. I think it has something to do with being at 8,000 feet in elevation and having it never be too hot or too cold. Let’s call it Goldilocks architecture. It’s all the stuff you can build if you never need central heat or air.

Abandoned House in Tunja

While I was out shooting, residents in the neighborhoods usually thought I was a city employee, assessing property values or something. People would come up to me and complain about potholes or broken lamp posts.

"Mini" Skyscraper in Puente Aranda, Bogota

Just being out and about I’d come across some interesting situations which I just had to photograph.

Golf "criollo" in La Calera

You’re probably wondering why these scans are so atrocious. They’re not actually scans. Contact sheets are really expensive in the US, so everything was just process only. All I had time for was to take a quick snapshot of the negative sitting on the light table at the lab with a digital point and shoot, which I then inverted in Photoshop. I wish I had access to a color dark room and/or a good scanner. Alas, I’m headed back to South America and I’ll be leaving these negatives with a friend here in New York for safekeeping. Someday I’ll have to do right by these pictures.