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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Invisible Light

Nevada Wier’s color infrared images show the people and places she photographs in an ethereal and surreal way

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Known for her work in remote and exotic parts of the world, Nevada Wier has been experimenting with and refining her infrared work for several years. The photos have a surreal look and a glow that make them positively mesmerizing. Above: Young monk, Thingyan Monastery, Salay, Myanmar, 2009.

Six years ago, I began exploring the challenge of making the invisible visible—photographing unusual places using a digital camera and the unusual, haunting light of infrared. I'm now a devotee of invisible light!

Oxcart in Ngonegyi Village, Chindwin River, Myanmar, 2013.
Our visual world is limited to the colors of visible light. Beyond what our eyes can see is the iridescent world of the infrared (IR) spectrum. Infrared light has a longer wavelength than visible light, and is just beyond the range that we humans can detect with our eyesight. IR rests just to the right of visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum chart. For infrared photography, the camera, whether film or digital, needs to be made sensitive to near-infrared wavelengths (700 to 1200 nanometers); far-infrared is the province of thermal imaging, with wavelengths closer to microwave.

Robert W. Wood published the first infrared photographs in 1910, but IR photography was a cumbersome process. In the 1930s, Kodak developed emulsions that were sensitive to infrared light and introduced them to the commercial market. Kodak's black-and-white infrared film was the popular choice, although a number of manufacturers developed different kinds of infrared film.

Great one-horned rhinoceroses, Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India, 2010.
In 1974, I began my photographic adventures working in the wet darkroom with black-and-white film. I loved the alchemy of the darkroom, watching images miraculously emerge from the stop bath. I spent every spare moment developing film and printing images. By the late 1980s, however, I had abandoned black-and-white film and the darkroom for Kodachrome, a color transparency film. My printing days were over. Travel and color photography were my new passions.

A number of photographers I admired were working with black-and-white infrared film, and I was entranced by their images. However, I wasn't willing to return to the wet darkroom. From 1998 to 2003, I experimented with Kodak Ektachrome Professional Infrared/EIR transparency film, which could be developed in standard E-6 chemistry. The images didn't have an ethereal feeling, but they did have vivid, kooky, mostly unpredictable colors—greens became reds, brown water became blue, etc. While I loved it, I couldn't find a commercial use for it.

Camel trader at Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan, India, 2010.
I switched 100% to digital cameras in 2004. Not only did I prefer the expanded dynamic range of digital images and exposure flexibility, I also knew I was finally going to be able to print my own color images. I had rarely made a print from a color transparency, and after using such beautiful black-and-white papers as Ilford Portriga Rapid and Agfa Brovira, I couldn't bear to print my color images on the generic "matte or glossy." But now, with digital, the world of color printing was in a renaissance, with new, stunning archival papers and inks, as well as portable color printers. I was out of the darkroom and into The Grayroom (yes, my walls are 18% gray). I was coming full circle back to my love of printing. I reread Ansel Adams books on printing, studied with some present-day printing masters, experimented with papers and learned enough of Photoshop to craft a print. Crafting a fine-art print is similar to sculpting. The image on a print has to have a soul of its own, and the print of that image needs to stand alone like a sculpture, with presence and depth.

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