Why Artists Have so Much Trouble Painting Lightning

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Why Artists Have so Much Trouble Painting Lightning

Post by Cr6 on Sat Jul 28, 2018 1:08 am


Why Artists Have so Much Trouble Painting Lightning


By Meilan Solly

Photography has long been touted as a medium unparalleled in its objectivity. As theorist Susan Sontag wrote in the seminal text On Photography, “Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.”

While Philadelphian William Jennings worked as a photographer roughly a century before On Photography was published, his goal of “capturing phenomena the human eye cannot accurately see without mechanical assistance,” as noted by Harvard Art Museums’ Laura Turner Igoe, closely aligns with Sontag’s understanding of the medium.

Now, researchers from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest have drawn inspiration from Jennings’ best-known shot—one of the first photographic images of lightning, taken in 1882—to launch a study of painted versus photographed depictions of the weather phenomenon.

According to Live Science’s Laura Geggel, doctoral student Alexandra Farkas first shared Jennings’ story with colleagues, who noticed that his photographed lightning bolts differed from the zigzag images popularized by paintings. Intrigued, senior researcher Gábor Horváth, head of the university’s Environmental Optics Laboratory, set out to discover if the advent of photography had influenced artistic representations, perhaps spurring painters to portray lightning more accurately.

Horváth and his team used a computer image processing program to evaluate 400 photographs and 100 paintings created between 1500 and 2015. The research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

They found that the maximum number of arms, or offshooting branches generated when charged particles follow the path of least resistance across the air, for painted images was a mere 11 while photographs depicted as many as 51.

Paintings that depicted branches tended to include between two and four offshoots, Horváth tells Geggel. Real lightning bolts, as represented by the photographs, usually split into two to 10 branches.

Horváth further notes that painted representations of lightning bolts have grown more accurate since 2000, possibly due to the widespread accessibility of online photographs.

“Painters may illustrate lightnings most frequently in their studio from memory, rather than in the open air immediately after their observation of a lightning during a thunderstorm,” the study states. “This could be one of the reasons for the difference between certain morphological characteristics of painted and real lightnings. Painters may illustrate lightnings nowadays from captured photos in addition to memory immediately or well after the event.”

In order to find an explanation for humans’ tendency to underestimate lightning’s splintering branches, researchers asked 10 individuals to look at a series of 180 images flashed across a computer screen. When asked to guess the number of branches present, participants could only provide accurate measures up to 11 offshooting arms. “These findings explain why artists usually illustrate lightnings with branches not larger than 11,” the researchers write in the study.

The New York Times’ Steph Yin reports that previous research suggests humans can assess numbers below five without counting. Six through ten require counting, while numbers higher than 10 are estimated with decreasing accuracy. Horváth says this logic may partially account for artists’ omission of branches, but he adds that the misconceived vision of a zigzag lightning bolt dates back to ancient Greek and Roman depictions of the god Zeus, or Jupiter. At this point, the image is ingrained in cultural imagination.

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Re: Why Artists Have so Much Trouble Painting Lightning

Post by Cr6 on Sat Jul 28, 2018 1:10 am

Zig-Zag Patterns

Jennings' success in photographing lightning paved the way for further research on the structure of lightning. Viewing his slides, scientists could discern distinct and varying patterns of electric discharge which result in the bolts of lightning that electrify the sky during thunderstorms. By all accounts, Jennings was inspired to attempt to photograph lightning after witnessing artistic renderings of lightning. He found that most artists depicted lightning as having a zig-zag shape, and set out to discover whether or not lightning did, in reality, have a zig-zag form. He determined that it did not, but on the way to this conclusion, he discovered many of the forms it does take. The Franklin Institute Awards Committee assembled a report outlining the different varieties of lightning Jennings photographed, accompanying each form with its corresponding photograph.
Unlike Any Other

Jennings was a nontraditional recipient of the Wetherill Medal. Most nominees for Franklin Institute awards are nominated for their own original inventions, but Jennings was not an inventor. He did make certain key adjustments to his camera in order to be able to photograph lightning, but he did not produce and patent an original invention. Though The Franklin Institute Committee on Science and the Arts did determine that it wanted to recognize Jennings' contributions to science, there was much debate as to what the appropriate reward would be. Two medals, the Longstreth Medal and the Wetherill Medal, were selected for the Committee to decide between. An original document outlines the requirements for both awards: "The Edward Longstreth Medal may be awarded for inventions or for meritorious improvements and developments in machines and mechanical processes;" "The John Price Wetherill Medal may be awarded for discovery or invention in the physical sciences, or for new and important combinations of principles of methods already known." The Wetherill Medal was ultimately chosen to recognize Jennings.

Committee member James Barnes summed up the reasoning behind this decision: "I think neither regulations governing the award of either silver medal fit the case exactly. However the Wetherill medal comes nearest to it, for Mr. Jennings discovered that lightning could be photographed which is a discovery in physical science."

Committee Chair Palmer called for a copy of the medal regulations to be sent out to all Committee Members. The Secretary complied, sending letters of instruction along with the regulations to each of them. Then the Secretary sent word to Palmer when each Committee Member had reached a decision.
Reaching New Heights

While Jennings did not invent the camera, he did make some significant modifications to its structure which enabled him to photograph lightning. Jennings' addition of a yellow color filter to his camera, along with the development of the hot air balloon, made it possible for the adventurous photographer to snap sharp images of lightning. The invention of the air balloon allowed Jennings and his camera to reach the optimal height for photographing lightning, and his use of a yellow color filter eliminated the blue haze that made ordinary photographs taken on an orthochromatic plate indistinct. Jennings' plate gave "good definition to the foliage in the Zoological Garden in the right foreground to the Delaware River ten miles away. The tower of City Hall in the middle distance is shown in an unfinished condition."
Lightning Striking

Jennings named the types of lightning he photographed according to their patterns of electric discharge.

-"Branched" discharge: named for the delicate "branches" created by its electric discharge.
-"Beaded" lightning: a photograph of this unique form of lightning was printed in the French publication "La Nature" (Nature) and entitled "the rosary."
-"Ribbon" lightning: in an article printed in the Journal of The Franklin Institute, Jennings explained that wind moving across the path of lightning in space produced a ribbon-like form of lightning.
-"Multiple flash": Jennings showed that lightning sometimes prepares a path for successive flashes.
-"Meandering" flash: form of lightning discharge that takes place from cloud to cloud, usually occurring at the end of a storm.
-Subject to debate: this photo captures the phenomenon of a brilliant main flash with dark side branches, the cause of which has been given a great deal of discussion.
Something to Prove

Jennings set out to prove that the wind was the cause of the ribbon effect in a laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania, under the direction of Professor Arthur Goodspeed. To test Jennings' theory, the two scientists blew a blast of air across the direction of a single spark from an induction coil, resulting in the image shown here:

In a letter to Franklin Institute Secretary Hoadley, Jennings claimed that the "Ribbon Effect" was his own original observation.

Jennings also proved that a lightning flash does not confine itself to one plane. In order to demonstrate this fact, he placed two similar cameras one-hundred feet apart, and succeeded in obtaining two negatives of the same discharge.

Transcription of Jennings to Hoadley, 10/3/1929:

My Dear Doctor:

Referring to our conversation on lightning today:
I would refer you to the Journal of the F.I. Jan. 1892 p. 77
So far as I know the following observation is original with me:
"When lightning has once opened up a path in space there usually follows immediately along the same line a series of discharges. If the camera be moved across its path, the resulting photograph is liable to show a series of parallel ribbons of lightning, which has given rise to the opinion that it is not an instantaneous flash."
Since that time I have seen and caught these "ribbon" flashes, some made by moving the camera across what to the eye looked like a single flashes, others by the wind moving the path of the original discharge.

Sincerely,
W.N. Jennings
Be Our Guest

Goodspeed acted as a lab partner, mentor, and friend to Jennings. Jennings' high regard for Goodspeed is seen in the following exchange of letters, in which Jennings specifically requests that Dr. Goodspeed be invited to his medal day exercises: "I should very much like to show my old friend D. Arthur W. Goodspeed how much I appreciate his encouragement and assistance in my early Photo Electric work by having him as my special guest on that occasion."
One of Their Own

William N. Jennings was himself a Member of The Franklin Institute Committee on Science and the Arts, the Committee responsible for the review of scientists and inventors nominated for awards. The regulations of the Committee stated that "the Committee could not consider the work of any Member of the Committee unless directed to do so by The Franklin Institute or the Board of Managers." Secretary of The Franklin Institute George A. Hoadley moved that the Board of Managers consider Jennings for award, and a letter confirms that his movement was placed before that Board.

Neat lines of carefully-formed calligraphy on his certificate of award recognize Jennings for his "pioneer work in the photography of flashes of lightning."

https://www.fi.edu/case-files/william-jennings

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Re: Why Artists Have so Much Trouble Painting Lightning

Post by Cr6 on Sat Jul 28, 2018 1:12 am

Meilan Solly
‘HALO’ Makes Art Out of Subatomic Particle Collisions at Art Basel

“HALO,” a 13-foot-tall, 33-foot-wide cylinder encircled with stretched-out piano strings that emulate the sounds of protons colliding, is simultaneously a goldmine of advanced scientific data and a transcendent experience designed to overwhelm the senses.

The site-specific installation, commissioned by Swiss watch company Audemars Piguet for the 49th iteration of Art Basel, is the brainchild of Brighton-based artist duo Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt, better known as Semiconductor.

According to Artnet News’ Taylor Dafoe, the immersive work draws on data from the Large Hadron Collider, the powerful particle accelerator housed at Swiss particle physics laboratory CERN. The LHC simulates conditions found fractions of seconds after the Big Bang: Superconducting magnets guide protons through more than 16 miles of tubing, enabling them to travel at close to the speed of light before colliding and generating new subatomic particles.

In “HALO,” slowed-down versions of these collisions—lasting 25 seconds rather than 25 nanoseconds—are rendered as dots of light whizzing across the installation’s interior. As visitors take in the 360-degree projections surrounding them, they are simultaneously assailed by the piano strings, which emit sounds in accordance with collision data.

Wired’s Matt Reynolds reports that Semiconductor developed the project while conducting a three-month artistic residency at CERN back in 2015. The pair worked closely with the laboratory’s particle physicists to translate raw data from the LHC into an aural and visual experience.

Jarman tells Dafoe that the experiential aspects of “HALO” can be appreciated without extensive knowledge of the science behind it. The goal, she says, is to create an interplay of the natural world and humanity, something that “transcends” the data.

“We call it the ‘technological sublime’,” Mónica Bello, head of arts at CERN and installation co-curator, explains in an interview with Dafoe, “experiencing nature, but through the language of science and technology.”

“HALO” is just one of many projects that exhibit Semiconductor’s unique melding of science and art. Previous works include “Time Out of Place,” a 2007 multimedia installation designed to simulate a non-linear experience of time, and “Parting the Waves,” a 2017 visualization of quantum systems.

Despite Semiconductor’s name and gravitation toward subjects of science and technology, the British duo is quick to assert they are artists first. “We are always fighting battles because some people assume that we are just illustrating science,” Gerhardt tells the Financial Times’ Gareth Harris. “We know we’re artists.”

(Smithsonian.com, June 14, 2018)

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