This is a guest post by Russell Franks, Librarian for Special and Archival Collections at Providence College.
Our eyes are truly a wonderful part of our being. As a window on the world, our eyes are capable of distinguishing as much as 10 million different hues and shades of color, all of which provide us with vital subtle clues and information about the world around us.
But there is another part of the light spectrum – infrared light – that we cannot see. We know it exists; scientists quantified it over one hundred years ago, but we can’t perceive it naturally without the aid of specialized recording equipment, such as a camera.
Infrared light lies between the visible and microwave portions (think microwave oven) of the electromagnetic spectrum. It also has a range of wavelengths, just like visible light has wavelengths that reflect the colors red to violet. The “near” infrared light spectrum, which is closest to the color red, is just beyond what we naturally see and “far” infrared is closest to the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum.
My curiosity in infrared photography began during my analog camera days. In the pre-digital world infrared imaging required infrared sensitive film, an infrared filter for the camera lens, and a complicated focusing method since light in the infrared range focuses differently than the visible light we normally see.
However, my fascination with infrared imagery deepened upon realizing infrared photography extended the perception of my reality and my understanding in that there is more to see than what we actually see. The sense of other worldliness that infrared imagery suggests stretches the logic of my imagination in how I see mankind and nature interact with each other. This “through the lens” altered perception has even invaded my daily life. Every day I am confronted with various scenes that beg to be photographed in infrared to magically reveal the unseen play of light. This is just one part of nature I seek to explore through the medium of the lens.
As an artist, the infrared journey has been filled with surprise, frustration, and immense satisfaction, but more importantly this unveiling of the unseen natural world to the naked eye has permanently changed how I visually perceive my surroundings.
In the days of analog photography, infrared imagery was usually thought of as a specialized art form reserved for professionals. However, with the advent of digital photography, infrared imaging has become much easier and less expensive in the long run – not to mention a lot more FUN! True, having your digital camera converted for a few hundred dollars to “see” the infrared spectrum might be considered extravagant, but well worth it if you want to view the world – literally – in a different light.