Atomic Sci Fi

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Mark Kaletka, Cockcroft-Walton generator, Atomic Energy Commssion

Gizmodo has an amazing set of photographs released by the US Atomic Energy Commission showing various science fictional machines use to create atomic power. The images date back several decades and evoke sci fi movies from the 1950s.

The structure above is called a Cockcroft—Walton generator, and it’s a circuit that was used to generate the high voltages needed for particle accelerators. Photographer Mark Kaletka has a good description of what’s happening here. “The legs are resistors (blue cylinders), capacitors (silver doughnuts) and diodes…The silver domes at the top get charged to 750,000 volts, which accelerates ionized hydrogen into the accelerator complex.”

To see the complete set of AEC photos, which include research into both military and peacetime applications of atomic energy, go to the AEC flickr page.

Believe it or not, it has 666 photos – yes 666! Didn’t anyone tell them?

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An employee inspects grasshoppers with a magnifying glass in 1958 — although      for what purpose is lost.

 

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My glass negative

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This intriguing image is a glass plate negative from around 1900.

It is a dry plate film, an invention that replaced wet plate photography from the 1870s on. Dry plate was an improvement of film technology that avoided the mess and labour involved in wet plate collodion photography. In that difficult process, sheets of glass were manually prepared in a darkroom immediately prior to taking    a photograph, and developed immediately after. Dry plate, like today’s films, was purchased ready to use, and could be processed at any time.

The format is quarter plate, 3¼” x 4¼” or 83mm x 108mm, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The active chemical in dry plate was still silver bromide but was now suspended in    a gelatin rather than collodion emulsion, thus avoiding the ‘wet’ preparation stage. Improvements to the gelatin emulsion through heating the mixture dramatically increased light-sensitivity (ISO) as you can see on the label below.

Dry plate film was manufactured from 1878 and was a revolution in photography because commercially manufactured film could be purchased as desired, used at any time and developed at any time. The standard support was a sheetof glass with the film emulsion already applied. Flexible cellulose film base took over in the early decades of the 20th century.

My glass plate negative has no brand on it so it’s anybodies guess who manufactured. It might have been Kodak, but there were numerous other brands of film available, like this one:

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A document scan  picks up the surface detail of the negative.

Since the provenance of the negative is unknown, except that is was purchased in Gippsland, no camera can be guessed at; was it a commercial photographer or a family member behind that camera? The neat arrangement of figures suggests a commercial hand at work.

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Positive image. Click on the image to see the faces and fashions more clearly

The positive image show it as a family group in Victorian or Edwardian dress; the young man’s suit and tie suggests the latter period. The family is grouped around the matriarch in white bonnet. Four generations are pictured, a notable occasion worthy of a formal photograph in those days of infant mortality and early death.

They seem neither wealthy nor poor, and the scene could have been in the country or the city. Their neat clothes contrast with the untidy architecture. It is notable that all the women wear white. Frustratingly, there are not enough firm clues to be certain about the photograph’s details. It’s full of stories, but you have to make them up yourself.

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Handmade camera

The Theater of Insects

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Jo Whaley, Pareronia valeria, 2007

Jo Whaley has been making still lifes since the 1980s and her work has been widely published and exhibited. Her book The Theater of Insects came out in 2008 and contains many of her beautiful colour photographs.

The blurb states that she “… constructs mesmerizing scenes with vibrantly colored bugs that echo the tradition of natural history dioramas, but are artfully placed against weathered, man-made backgrounds. The result is a compelling marriage of natural and artificial, art and science.”

Pareronia Valeria (above) is a species of South Indian butterfly known as the Common Wanderer; it is a beautifully ‘designed’ creature. Whaley’s photograph shows a male and female arranged on top of a medical illustration labelled ‘pelvis of the man and the woman’. It shows the differences between the sexes and the resemblance between species.

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Jo Whaley, Acrocinus longimanus, 2006

Acrocinus longimanus is known as the harlequin beetle because of its elaborate coloured pattern on its back. It is native to Central and South America, although it seems to want the whole world with its absurdly long forelegs.

 

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Jo Whaley, Phasmid, 2002

Phasmids are named from the Latin word ‘phasma’ meaning phantom or apparition. Since most of them camouflage themselves as sticks and leaves they seem able to disappear like ghosts. But this spectral quality is countered by their hard linear forms, echoed in the picture by the geometric diagrams.

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Jo Whaley at work on Morpho Deidamia.

Whaley talks about her practice in terms of theatricality; the still lifes are arranged with the same kind of detail as stage sets. The props, backgrounds, lighting and colour only come to life when every element is in place. She learnt this skill when she worked for the San Francisco Opera as a scenic artist, fresh out of art school where she majored in painting. In a way, she is still a painter and still a scenic artist.

“The difficulty with the still-life genre is that one has to animate the inanimate. My approach is to consider the still-life set as a theatrical stage, where the backdrops are fabricated and the objects are positioned to create a visual dialogue. In designing the set, I take my lead by considering the aesthetics that are apparent in the insects themselves.

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Jo Whaley, Morpho Deidamia, 2007

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