IN 2008, acclaimed japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto bypassed the use of his camera and exposed his Lightning Field series directly onto film. In order to witness what early scientists like Benjamin Franklin saw upon the discovery of electricity, Sugimoto used a Van de Graaf generator to send up to 400,000 volts through film to a metal table.
‘The resulting fractal branching, subtle feathering, and furry whorls call to mind vascular systems, geologic features, and trees. “I see the spark of life itself, the lightning that struck the primordial ooze,” Sugimoto says. Although some of the effects happen by chance, the artist does try to exercise control. “I have a kitchen’s worth of utensils that produce sparks with different characteristics,” he says. “But there are many variables — weather, humidity, perhaps even what I had for breakfast — I’m never sure what influences the results.”-Jon J. Eilenberg, Wired Magazine, 12.21.09
Here is a statement from Hiroshi Sugimoto discussing his Lightning Field series:
The word electricity is thought to derive from the ancient Greek elektron, meaning “amber.” When subject to friction, materials
such as amber and fur produce an effect that we now know as static electricity. Related phenomena were studied in the
eighteenth century, most notably by Benjamin Franklin. To test his theory that lightning is electricity, in 1752 Franklin flew a kite
in a thunderstorm. He conducted the experiment at great danger to himself; in fact, other researchers were electrocuted while
conducting similar experiments. He not only proved his hypothesis, but also that electricity has positive and negative charges.
In 1831, Michael Faraday’s formulation of the law of electromagnetic induction led to the invention of electric generators and
transformers, which dramatically changed the quality of human life. Far less well-known is that Faraday’s colleague,
William Fox Talbot, was the father of calotype photography. Fox Talbot’s momentous discovery of the photosensitive properties
of silver alloys led to the development of positive-negative photographic imaging. The idea of observing the effects of electrical
discharges on photographic dry plates reflects my desire to re-create the major discoveries of these scientific pioneers in the
darkroom and verify them with my own eyes.
– Hiroshi Sugimoto