The subject of Kirlian photography has come up again. This I found interesting as while Kirlian photography was a fad a few years ago I thought it had since died.
Kirlian photography is not new, despite all claims to the contrary. It should be more correctly referred to as the ‘Kirlian effect’ was demonstrated at the end of the 19th century and was then known as ‘electrography’.
However, it did not get the publicity it needed to catch on until a Russian electrical technician Semyon Davidovitch Kirlian and his wife Valentina Kirliana published a paper in 1950 in the Russian Journal of Scientific and Applied Photography in which they described the process, now known as Kirlian Photography.
‘New Age’ followers seized upon this as being able to photograph the ‘aura’ of a person, and, at long last, show to the unbelievers that all the ‘bio-energies’ had a basis in ‘science’. Kirlian photography has been linked to telepathy, orgone energy, N-rays, acupuncture, ancient eastern religions, and other paranormal phenomena.
I am not going to get embroiled in semantics as to whether the Kirlian effect and the aura can be used for medical diagnosis (as is claimed), or whether Reiki practitioners have sparks coming out of their fingers when they are ‘healing’. However, I can reveal what is being recorded on film, and what you need to have your own ‘Kirlian’ camera.
First off, the Kirlian effect is ‘real’, but what is being recorded is not paranormal, but is a phenomenon called ‘Corona Discharge’. Corona discharge is seen in lightning and the sparks that come off your fingers after you walk on nylon carpets. This used to be done as a party trick by Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) who used to introduce new discoveries with his body glowing and sparks flying from his fingertips. Tesla, by the way, was a brilliant inventor, and it was he who introduced the concept of alternating current, used today, rather than Edison’s direct current.
The corona discharge that is recorded by the Kirlian photographers requires the object being subjected to an electric current and the size and color depends upon moisture that is present on the skin, and this is why inanimate objects do not give off a discharge as do animate ones.
Terence M. Hines, a psychology professor says, “Living things (like the commonly photographed fingers) are moist. When the electricity enters the living object, it produces an area of gas ionization around the photographed object, assuming moisture is present on the object. This moisture is transferred from the subject to the emulsion surface of the photographic film and causes an alternation of the electric charge pattern on the film. If a photograph is taken in a vacuum, where no ionized gas is present, no Kirlian image appears. If the Kirlian image were due to some paranormal fundamental living energy field, it should not disappear in a simple vacuum,” he said.
One team that spent some time examining the Kirlian effect has found a list of 25 factors that can affect a Kirlian photograph, including thickness of the skin, recent physical activity, and yes, mental stress. All of these affect the amount of moisture on the skin. Other factors include voltage level, voltage pulse rate, atmospheric gasses, the internal force and angle of the object held against the film, and barometric pressure. In effect, a single person can come up with different ‘auras’ simply by changing finger pressure and the amount of moisture found in the skin. That’s the ‘science’. As for the psychic energy claims, you can make up your own mind! Just be careful that the tree you are hugging isn’t giving off a purple aura.
To make Kirlian photographs you need an HV/HF generator, a Polaroid SX 70 camera instant Polaroid film (3.25" x 4.25", type 669 or equivalent), instruction manual (click to view pdf file-81KB), interpretation guide (click to view pdf file-540KB), 11x17inch Laminated Poster, and “Life’s Hidden Forces”. Specifications - Shipping Weight: 7lbs, dimensions: 15in x 11 x 6, Power: 110/120V or 230/240V, please specify). And all that, which will allow you to make money at ‘alternative’ fairs will only set you back USD745. Bring your own tree.
We have become a nation of narcissistic voyeurs. Ever since we realized that we could hold the smartphone up to a mirror and capture our own likeness, there has been an earth shattering change in photography. This has been exacerbated by the newer smartphones that can take a picture backwards, so we don’t even need a mirror! In fact, just how often do you now see young women applying their make-up, using the viewing screen while holding up their phones? All the time, is the correct answer.
Pro photographers do not rely on one zoom lens, even if it could cover 18-800 with one flick. Pro photographers will have many lenses, but there will be enough prime lenses to almost cover that 18-800!
Two common words in photography are ‘sharp’ and ‘soft’, and photographically speaking there is an enormous difference between them. Those terms are the ones reserved for describing whether the final image is well focused. We speak about ‘sharp’ focus and ‘soft’ focus and everyone knows what is meant.
Last week I covered the amazing Weegee. A photographer who never flinched taking shots of people who had been shot. Weegee was photographing the end result of people’s misfortune. He did not make the viewer wonder about the situations he photographed. By comparison, let us look at another artist/photographer who is remembered for his ability to record the human psyche in all its shallowness (and complexity). This is Andy Warhol (1928-1987), a complex character himself, and probably even deeper than Cartier-Bresson.
It has been said for many years that the photojournalists’ creed is “f 8 and be there!” Interestingly, nobody knows who first uttered those words and applied them to journalism, but they remain pertinent, even today in the instant digital age.
Last week I used the photo I am using again this week, because it is such a good example of making your subject the “hero”. This shot was taken by an amateur in the UK and he could see that he had a great subject with Peter Fonda on the chopper from the 1969 movie Easy Rider which starred Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson.
The digital evolution has progressed to the digital revolution, and with each new “app” (how I dislike that contraction), the art of photography is being murdered. You can now get rid of warts, wrinkles around the eyes, grey hair, poor focus, wrong exposure and all the other factors that make for inferior photographs, and all with the click of a mouse. I’m sorry, but this is not “photography”.
One of my correspondents overseas brought an app to me attention. (Actually I dislike the very word “app” - what was wrong with “application”?) Now I realize that “change” is inevitable, but I have this more than sneaking suspicion that the “apps” surrounding photography are taking away “reality”. The “virtual” world is taking over. Soon there will be nothing that we can actually trust.
A good camera is an expensive investment. However, like many expensive purchases you can save a bundle if you look at second hand, rather than brand new. But is it worth it with photographic gear? I say yes!