INFRARED: Photography in a Different Light

“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” This statement by Diane Arbus can be taken altogether literally when it is applied to infrared photography. Infrared radiation would indeed remain invisible, if someone didn’t utilize specialized equipment to obtain a record. No level of awareness can overcome the innate limitations of the human eye. Infrared exposures are an invitation to meditate on the relativity of human perception.

Infrared radiation was discovered in 1800, when astronomer William Herschel conducted an experiment to determine whether the familiar rainbow colors seen in refracted sunlight registered distinct temperatures. When Herschel moved a thermometer outside the beam of sunlight, just adjacent to the red end of the spectrum, he noticed to his amazement that the temperature actually increased. Herschel termed this invisible radiation calorific rays.

At the beginning of the 20th century infrared photography became possible by augmenting silver halide emulsion with a dye sensitive to IR. Physicist and photography pioneer Robert W. Wood was the first to publish a set of infrared photographs. In an article that appeared alongside his landscape images, he described what today is referred to as the Wood effect: how sunlit vegetation glows like snow and how blue skies appear almost black. That 1910 publication is widely considered the beginning of infrared photography. The Forward Thinking Museum marks the centenary of the occasion with this exhibitit.

– Peter FahrniDirector, Forward Thinking Museum