Wild Gravity Project Statement

Evidence suggests that before the dawn of time, all matter was contained in a single point that exploded in a Big Bang, subsequently forming the universe as we know it. This universe continues to expand in all directions, like the surface of a balloon, at an accelerating speed. Wherever you are, you exist at the same point where the Big Bang occurred. A discovery like this stretches the mind, careening through the brain and settling deeper into the chest cavity, the nerve endings, and the bone marrow. When truly felt, this discovery illuminates the present moment, defining it as sacred. Unfortunately, I experience the majority of my present moments without a conscious awareness of the Big Bang. So I settle for encountering a slightly inflated party balloon with a star pattern and turning it into a photograph as a reminder.

Wild Gravity is a photography series that uses a historical printing process to explore contemporary imagery inspired by science, nature, and my personal search for meaning in the cosmos. The images are shot digitally, then transformed into negatives and printed on transparency film. Next, I paint light-sensitive Vandyke brown chemistry onto paper and make an exposure using the sun. The process is at once natural and scientific, and it abstracts the imagery by replacing all color with monochrome antique brown tones. The resulting photographs reference the past, or perhaps even the timelessness of ideas or collective memories. While printing, I am sometimes reminded of the old black-and-white photographs of scientists around the turn of the last century, deciphering particle tracks on an emulsified plate.

I photograph objects and scenes found in everyday life that, when examined closely, also represent discoveries and questions posed by fields such as biology, astronomy, quantum physics, and neuroscience. I enjoy reading about these subjects and stretching my mind in an effort to comprehend. For example, I learned that an atom contains a relatively large area of empty space orbited by a probability cloud of charged electrons, and a tiny nucleus containing 99.9% of the atom’s mass. A popular analogy describing scale makes the nucleus an extremely heavy pea in the center of a football field of vacuum space. While contemplating how matter is made of so much of nothing, I put down my book to break for lunch. The last little dark grain against my empty white dish so strongly suggested the nucleus of an atom that I had to take a picture. The photograph is Quantum Plate, the first image I made for the series that eventually became Wild Gravity.

This series contains references not only to popular science, but also to personal and cultural phenomena that speak to my search for meaning in the cosmos. For starters, it borrows its name from a Talking Heads song that bleeps percussive elements, transfixing and transporting me to another realm while I dance. I’m inspired by symbols in mythology as described by Joseph Campbell, and fascinated by how these play out in the modern world. For example, how does an astronaut become a cultural hero? Science fiction, with its imagination, humor, and occasional camp also comes up at times, as in an image of Darth Vader in a straw hat or the dramatically clenched hand emerging from a tree trunk in It’s Alive. Many of the photographs have personal experiences behind them that are only revealed through conversation. One such piece is Birthday Chrysalis, which features the empty cocoon of my housemate’s pet caterpillar, who emerged as a butterfly on the day I turned 31. Watching the insect fly free, I felt a deep appreciation both for the beauty in nature and for coincidences.

I don't expect my search for meaning in the cosmos to yield any particular answer, but the acts of searching and creating add depth to life. Sometimes I think of the countless scientists who've spent years, maybe even whole careers, working on problems that don't result in any solutions. We must continue to observe closely,  because our observations are responsible for everything we know about the universe, as we piece together the story of existence.