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The solar winds, a continual blast of charged particles, bombard the Earth constantly with charged particles of light. As the Earth’s magnetic field stretches the flow of winds across our horizon, beautiful light displays dance ceremonially at the poles. Alan Jaras, a retired Materials Science research scientist from St. Helens, UK, has developed a technique that imitates the aurora borealis and choreographs light in many interesting ways. Thus, we interviewed him. TC12: Alan! Your work is fantastic, we’ve never seen such photography. What was the inspiration for your refractive light techniques? AJ: I’ve always been fascinated by optical effects and optical instruments and ways to see the normally invisible. As an Optical and Electron microscopist, information from different lighting and viewing techniques is fundamental to develop an understanding of the nature of the objects you study. In a way that’s what I’m doing now, looking at how light interacts with various materials and recording how changes in the optical properties made by physical changes alters the patterns and, hopefully, produces some interesting and artistic effects. Refraction patterns are all around us and particularly noticeable when sunlight shines through a glass vase, a plastic bottle of water or through the surface ripples of a pond or swimming pool. The technical term for these patterns is ‘caustics’ and you can have them transmitted or reflected. I started recording these as photograms on film in a photographic darkroom over 40 years ago and discovered the beautiful

details in large chunks of glass. In those days I was working in black and white. Years later I came across some of the old photograms and thought about moving on to colour, but having no access to a darkroom I decided that I could use a camera back as a ‘mini darkroom’ and record the ‘photograms’ directly on to colour film by removing the camera lens from a SLR and replacing it with the piece of glass (or anything else that creates a pattern) and capturing the image directly on to colour film. TC12: It’s great that years working in research have allowed you to create these mesmerising images. Do you pre-plan your photographs or is it all experimentation within formulated techniques? AJ: Most of the images are pre-planned. When I create a new type of pattern, through my experiments with different materials, I then go on to work on ways of manoeuvring the shapes and looking at the effects of different colour combinations. So a session would be based around one or two different pattern styles and variations of colours. Working with film requires a fair amount of discipline. After five years of experimentation I would now expect at least 10-15 good quality images from a roll of 35mm film. I call them “refractographs”.

TC12: Can you elaborate on the process behind your refractographs? AJ: Although I don’t have a light-tight darkroom I do work after dark (close curtains, turn other lights off, etc.). The SLR camera body is mounted on a sturdy tripod with the lens removed. A distant bright halogen spotlight is aimed directly into the camera from about 4 metres away, the refractive object is placed over the lens hole and the pattern aligned and positioned with the reflex viewer. If the light setting is constant (I check with a light meter) then exposure is made by changing the shutter timing. Initially you have to run through a whole range of shutter speeds to calibrate your system. After practice you need less exposures, I just take either one or two to ensure the correct exposure. Working with glass means that a slight movement of the object can completely change the pattern which is formed from refractions at each interface and internal reflections. The patterns or ‘caustics’ are 3D in nature and the refractograph is a 2D slice through the pattern. It is possible to use digital cameras in this technique but working for long periods with an open lens hole on the camera means large amounts of dust enter the camera and obviously mess up the sensor. With film the problem is much less because the ‘sensor’ moves on with each frame taken.

TC12: As soon as the sun sets, photographers across the land will be drawing the curtains and making their own refractographs! Do you have any plans to push your work forward? AJ: I’m always experimenting trying to generate new types of patterns using all sorts of transparent materials. The challenge at the moment is trying to reproduce the 3D effect that the image on film shows when viewing on the lightbox when it’s printed on to a 2D photograph. So far silicone face mounting on acrylic (Plexiglass) has worked well and I’m also looking at the possibility of large transparencies mounted on lightboxes. If I ever come to the end of finding new styles I can also move on to video animation – the patterns look great moving in the viewfinder but that’s for another chapter. --Alan selected four photographs for us to display as representations of his techniques.



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lovebirds & seahorses sadiemoriarty Tamara Lichtenstein Bang Bang Miaow vinnygillan toomanycreeps ed cresdee -szabo schleef Mat Davis ? Reciprocity Reciprocity Reciprocity Reciprocity panchow Christian Sinclair Lomo-Cam jazminrjones neon.tambourine Natalia Molina C. streciwik SAM A.M.

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Soledad Bizarra Profondo Rosso david∆richardson JordanStrong trinhisahater Carles Rodrigo the only kimbot darklorddisco christianlycke dyschromatopsia Erin Purcell Profondo Rosso

Many thanks to the contributors, who can all be found on Flickr by searching for their names as listed above. The featured photographs can also be found in our Flickr group, at

Colour Twelve is published by Steeeve Messer. Issue Three - 12.2010 This Document and the contents thereof are protected worldwide by copyright and related intellectual property rights. Users are free to download, use and redistribute this file, provided that it is not modified and that the copyright and disclaimer notice are not removed. This file or its content – as such or in whatever way combined – may not be sold for profit or incorporated in commercial documents without the written permission of the copyright holder. Unauthorized inclusion of single pages, graphics or other components of this document in other web sites, print products or electronic media is prohibited. All contents Š the respective artists.

Colour Twelve – Issue Three  
Colour Twelve – Issue Three  

The Colour Twelve is a small zine exploring experimental photography, focusing on the aesthetic of failure, blur, saturation, medium destruc...