Holography Critiques

Pierre Boone Self Portrait
Hologram on Film; 12"x14" Circa 1998


Portraiture and religion provided artists with patrons for centuries, serving as a primary use, and moneymaking role. Artists who could glorify the patron stayed fully booked. Photography usurped the bulk of this role of the painter by the end of the 19th century, though portraiture has continued as a major moneymaking endeavor for artists. Those who can afford a painting usually still choose that medium in many cases because the artist can still provide a class not achievable by photography.

Holography is almost ideal for portraiture and yet its role continues to be evasive. Monochrome, holographic portraits are readily available at a price not much more than a photographic portrait from a high-end photographer and about the same as a painted portrait. Full color holographic portraiture is still not available to the general public. Portraiture is almost certain to become a primary use of holography and it is truly amazing that this has not already happened. Where else can one obtain an image as real as the actual person staring from behind a window?

Holographic self-portraits are more plentiful. The Figure illustrates an image from a self-portrait of Pierre Boone. Boone was one of the earliest scientists to recognize, develop, promote, and to use holography in art. He is a recognized contributor to the fundamental technology of art and display holography with many holographers using his bleaching formula referred to as “Boone's Pet”. In 2001 he was knighted by the International Order of Holoknights, an elite organization of leading holographers.

The white-light-reconstructed image is bright and clear with a wide viewing angle, excellent composition, color tuned to an amber-gray tint, demonstrating his great skill with holography. The work displays Boone’s fundamental knowledge of bleaching and use of film known only to a handful in the world. He exploits the dimensionality of holography further by holding a magnifying glass before him, which extends in front of the hologram plane. The viewer can choose to study his face through the glass or around it. Here Boone metaphorically challenges the viewer to examine him closely and judge whether he is a scientist, an artist, or both.

The magnifying glass in this self-portrait also symbolizes Boone's scrutiny of the art world as well as those who refuse to acknowledge his work as art. He has been verbal in his resentment that the art world seems to accept as art only work created by “artists”. He frequently publishes his own critiques of the art world and has published rules of art that include “A hologram by an artist is not necessarily art,”; He is quick to reprimand the often-used tact of artists who excuse poor holography technology as the artist’s prerogative.

Closer examination of the hologram reveals a burn spot to the left of Boone's face. This apparently occurred when the magnifying glass focused a part of the laser beam into a high concentration of light, showing that this commonly used “lens trick” in holography (to enhance the parallax) can be dangerous to the eyes in portraiture. Fortunately, the concentration of light missed his eyes, hopefully by design. Holographic portraiture is definitely not for amateurs.

Boone has been one of the most prolific holographic portrait artists in the world working in a university laboratory virtually next door to the Ghent Cathedral, in Belgium, which houses Van Eyck's famous Ghent Altarpiece. He has produced portraits of kings, queens, astronauts, AND……………this critic. His work includes other innovative ideas beyond portraiture as art. Having a Boone self-portrait in ones collection will some day be likened to having a self-portrait of Rembrandt.

The piece speaks with the vocabulary similar to that of pop art, but is really unlike any of the isms in art. The artist has divided the subject into two regions of blue and yellow. The soft blue soothing upper background and yellow lower background combine to form a green, which is not distinct in the photograph. Color saturation and brightness is another unique aspect of the hologram that can only be seen by observing the actual piece, and the bright pure colors seen in the actual hologram give the viewer a “feel” of a special aura and “softness” around the scene. A viewer will immediately sense that the source of the light is within the hologram itself, like colored candles buried within the hologram. Color in holograms requires special skill, which varies greatly between producers. The color in this piece is simple but works extremely well because of the subject matter.

The glass pieces appear transparent and nearly colorless. The sphere in the middle appears “smoky” giving it

Dominquez has chosen the fundamental sphere, cube, triangle and cylindrical shapes to give the viewer a sense of comfort and familiarity; without these the viewer would be lost. The cubes are produced from laminates, which give them more dimensionality and allow the viewer to seek different perspectives on the cube. In some angles, one can see through the cubes, while in others he cannot.

There is no left/right symmetry. For the most part, straight lines form the piece. However, adding curves to the pieces on the right breaks this rule. These curves illustrate the distorted views that occur from different perspectives. A number of triangles refer back to the symbolism of medieval art.

The hologram has been produced on Agfa Gavaert emulsion on glass, a material that is no longer commercially available. The technical quality is adequate but not superb. The hologram lacks in brightness, possessing a less-than-normal diffraction efficiency. The bleaching process used in this hologram appears to be from an earlier generation, possibly explaining the dimness of the image. The scene can be viewed over about a 30-degree angle so only two or three people can view it at one time, which is unfortunate since it is an excellent image to be discussed by several viewers.

A kind of symmetry about a horizontal line seems to exist. But a closer look reveals a troubling failure of the symmetry, a kind of anti symmetry, something like one might see in an Escher painting, images that cannot exist in a real world. Holograms can achieve in three dimensions what these “Escher” drawings only suggested. They can create images that sometimes are difficult to handle by our neural-visual system. The images in the upper half of the hologram are of this type. They are called pseudoscopic images of the items in the bottom half of the picture. The two images are called “conjugates” of each other. Sometimes one is called “real” and its conjugate is called “virtual”. The “real” image actually sits in front of the hologram. Pseudoscopic images are what the bottom objects would look like if one could go around and look at the front side while standing behind. Their perspective is reversed and they are “inside-out”, and the one is upside down relative to the other.

What the bottom figure tells us is closest to us, the top figure tells us is farther away and vice versa. So, when the brain attempts to interpret them, error signals appear, sometimes so severe that the brain refuses to interpret them. This can even have a “dizzying” effect on some people. Putting pseudoscopic images beside their real counterparts makes the effect even more confusing. Dominguez was kind enough to choose simple figures where the effect is more intriguing than overbearing to the viewer. Most artists discard the pseudoscopic image. Dominguez has used this aspect of the medium in a striking manner, making a powerful statement.

She has arranged these images so that some of the images and their conjugates overlap, producing a complementary effect. Others are separated. The psuedoscopic image typically is upside down, will appear separated from its conjugate unless it is centered in the field. She has placed all of the possible configurations here, with some overlapping, some in the hologram plane, some in front and some behind. Producing the hologram so that both images reconstruct in the same space like this is not something an amateur could do.

The piece speaks of communication, understanding, taking risks, and living life on the edge. She has placed two worlds, a “virtual” world and a “real” world side by side to coexist in the same space and they attempt to communicate in a middle ground. One can feel the excitement of venturing into the virtual space and trying to interpret it, always having the comfort of the real space nearby to rush back to for comfort. One could look at this piece for many hours without understanding the virtual world it contains and how it relates to the real world. The information is there but the communication and resolution of the two worlds must be left to the viewer. The viewer must bring some knowledge of pseudoscopic imagery to the piece to fully appreciate it.

Viewing this piece will have vastly different effects on different viewers. Many viewers will look at it without ever realizing a mystery exists. Others will realize that a mystery lies within, but will not be able to grasp what it is. Such a viewer can enjoy looking at it, simply because it makes him feel something he cannot understand. A viewer who brings some knowledge of pseudoscopic imagery with him to the piece can spend much time identifying the pieces in the puzzle and seeing which piece belongs to which.