Time Exposure Photographs – Long Exposure Photography – Light & Physics
Spacetime & Art Photography
by Raymond Bonavida
Captured from a moving car in California, this series represents concepts of light and spacetime as they relate to art photography.
The Role of Light
Light is a fundamental and essential ingredient in our experience of the world. Despite its prevalence, light is often misunderstood in terms of its role and dynamics. The following artist statement attempts to give some grounding to concepts of light, time and form through a series of long exposure photographs.
This photograph, titled Moment of Conception, alludes to a personal epiphany I experienced about the nature of light and the meaning of its representations through longer time exposures. A passing car's lights is juxtaposed with the hills on the horizon above. Captured in 2013 on the interstate in California, this photograph marked a turning point in my artistic direction. I shifted my methodology towards long exposure photography in an effort to express alternative viewpoints about the nature of our world.
Long exposure photographs express the two axes of time and space, exposing something real about time and space itself.
Technically, light serves as the central force of creation in photography by transmitting the forms that shape our observations of the physical world. Scientifically, light is directly linked to matter and energy and also defines the passage of time. At a quantum level, light functions as both a wave and a particle. This duality in function and form and the corresponding properties suggest that there is a unique and complex phenomenon at work. Conceptually, light is essential to our experience and perceptions of the physical world.
This photograph of raw country captured from a moving car is titled Apparent Horizon, alluding to the space-time concept. In general relativity, an apparent horizon is defined as a surface that is the boundary between light rays that are directed outwards and moving outwards, and those directed outward but moving inward. To better understand how this concept applies to art photography it helps to look back at the origin of art photography.
A Brief History of Photography
Photography began in 1839 with a traditional notion of the representation of reality. This notion was defined by a naturalistic approach. This means that the object captured by the camera is a natural representation of the object itself. For example, a photograph of a semi-truck driving is simply a capture of what we see and conforms to our natural vision of that semi-truck. In its effort to accurately represent our natural vision of reality, traditional naturalistic photography is the original foundation of all forms of photography. It is on top of this foundation that photography evolved into an art form as the artist introduced abstraction and expression. A subtle example of this move towards abstraction and expression can be seen in this long exposure photograph titled Soft Semis:
The title Soft Semis alludes to the application of a time exposure which softens the subjects. Although the image preserves the naturalism of the subject, this image demonstrates a slight departure from traditional naturalistic photography towards interpretive expression. Another example of expression can be seen in these two photographs, Prairie and Prairie Passed:
The titles Prairie and Prairie Passed allude to the emotional tones of Little House on the Prairie conveyed in modern day California. The application of a soft time exposure evokes feelings of isolation, rural living and the passage of time. These reactive nostalgic feelings are partly due to the softening of the resolution, resembling pre-21st century photography. These nostalgic feelings are also due to the movement, which captures the perspective of a moving car, speeding through the country. This experience is a unique referential experience and evokes a rural nostalgia.
Photography as Art
Prairie and Prairie Passed are examples of Pictorialism, the first art movement to develop out of the introduction of the camera. In conjunction with generalized art movements, photography developed into abstract and conceptual art . In the present, photography functions as a compelling modern medium of cultural expression and evolution. Photography can express something unintuitive about the physics of our world. For example, this long exposure photograph titled Study of Grass reveals hidden textural, geometric qualities of light and form:
In long exposures, there are interactions of form and light as they reflect their scientific counterparts in mathematics and physics.
This photograph, Sonar, alludes to the conceptual overlap between light waves and sound waves. Light waves and sound waves share similar properties such as refraction, diffraction and reflection. These properties collectively help define the nature of both visible light and the invisible electromagnetic spectrum and its passage in spacetime.
Representations of Spacetime
Long exposure photography is anchored in representations of spacetime. A time exposure photograph is a technique of direct manipulation of two axes: time and space. A long exposure produces an extended frame of reference which in turn produces an image that is a composition of specific moments of time blended together in the 2-dimensional flattening of the image.
Time is measured by two functions of light. Firstly, the length of the film exposure known as the shutter speed and secondly, the size of the f-stop, controlling the amount of light that enters the lens. These two functions of light effectively speed up and slow down the recording of time.
Space is measured by two functions: a) the location of the field of vision relative to the photographer and b) the movement of the photographer relative to the field of vision. These two functions of space define the most fundamental quality in physics: the location of an object in space.
These two photographs, White Semi and Green Semi, allude to the technical spacetime relationship between myself and the semis as we both speed across the interstate in California in 2013.
Realism Vs. Digital Art
My intention in producing photographic images is to be true to the original capture and accurately represent the axioms of time and space as they intersect. In an effort to commit to a general principle of realism, I do not allow for post-capture manipulation of the image that alters the subject. This commitment to strict time exposures is in direct opposition with digital art, which is based on digital or artificial post-processing of the subject of the image.
This strict time exposure photograph, titled Walking, alludes to the stepped motion of the signposts along the interstate as captured at night from a moving car. There are no digital effects or post-capture alteration, just the intersection of a moving photographer and a moving subject.
Images like this can be unexpected, even strange. There is a conversion of familiar vs. unfamiliar conceptualizations of reality that creates both an emotional and an epistemological discord. This psychological reaction is the result of a tremor erupting between our conventional perceptions of reality and the true reality.
Why Time Exposures?
In much the same way that a brush paints a painting and a hand shapes a sculpture, a time exposure produces an image. It is a technique applied through the medium of photography which allows for extended representations of reality through the direct manipulation of time and space by the artist. It challenges the way that we view the world.
I believe that concepts of time and space, both in traditional physics and in quantum physics, are complicated and usually paradigmatic. Time exposures, by expressing the two axes of time and space, expose something real about time and space itself. In this sense the camera functions in a manner similar to a scientific tool, extracting data points about the physical nature of the world and recording them in visual images. At the same time the camera can function as a medium of the artist who can leverage its utility for the purpose of social expression and social development. My hope, as an artist, is to further our understanding of the true nature of reality and compel us as a society to challenge our paradigmatic views.