Luminous Windows 2010

December 2009-March 2010

Luminous Windows 2010 is the MIT Museum’s second annual winter display of holograms on Massachusetts Ave. Set in the MIT Museum’s ground-floor gallery windows, the holograms are visible from outside, on the sidewalks and street, every evening from dusk until 2 a.m.

This year, the exhibition draws four works from the MIT Museum’s renowned holography collection, complemented by two works on loan from private collections, to highlight over 40 years of artistic and technical innovation. Each of the six pieces represents influential advancements in holography as an imaging technology and as a medium of communication. Works include one of the very first display holograms, Deep Train by Emmet Leith, Carl Leonard, and Juris Upatnieks; The Bartlett Head, an early and exemplary achromatic white-light transmission hologram by Stephen Benton and colleagues; and Hand in Jewels by Robert Schinella that captured the public’s imagination for holography in the early 1970s when it “reached out” of the window of Cartier Jewelers on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.

Three of the individuals represented in the exhibition—Benton and artists Dieter Jung and Harriet Casdin-Silver—did significant work in holography at MIT. Stephen Benton, a pioneering inventor in the field, established the Spatial Imaging Group at MIT in 1982, generating a locus of holography innovation in the United States that attracted researchers from varied places and disciplines. Benton was the driving force behind the 1993 acquisition of the MIT Museum’s holography collection—the largest and most comprehensive in the world. The MIT Museum continues to build upon and conserve the collection, and to support the public engagement with holography through exhibitions and programs. 

Holography is at the threshold of a digital transformation similar to recent changes in photography. Holography, however, is not simply the next step of photography. It’s a distinctly different technique that records and replays the light wavefront interference patterns that carry 3-D information from objects to the brain. Holography represents deeper technological access into light’s capacity as an image and information carrier. The combination of digital technologies and holographic techniques promises wide-ranging applications, technical and artistic.

Deep Train (1965) by Emmett Leith, Carl Leonard, Juris Upatnieks

With the advent of the laser, Emmett Leith, Carl Leonard, and Juris Upatnieks, created the first display holograms of a 3-D object. At University of Michigan’s Willow Run Laboratories in the early 1960s, they methodically addressed the technical challenges that had limited wavefront reconstruction. Leith and Upatnieks began with two-dimensional objects—black letters on transparent glass and grey-scale transparencies—before achieving, in 1963, the first high-quality wavefront reconstruction of a three-dimensional object, a toy train. They took holography from a theory to a compelling 3-D image, exciting technical communities and the public alike and helping to gain wide recognition for the field.

Present Space by Dieter Jung (1984)

Dieter Jung’s work as an artist and a thinker had already introduced him to the possibilities of lightwave interference when he encountered holography: “In 1977, at the Museum of Holography in New York, I saw for the first time a light-color-air sculpture, an authentic mirage—a holographic stereogram.” “I was paralyzed with fascination.” In his earlier paintings and drawings, Jung wove line patterns into figures and objects. Holography enabled Jung to make optical realities of his artistic visions, to “weave” light wavefront interference patterns into colors, 3-D forms and spaces. He brings extensive historical and cultural knowledge of light and optics to his holography and he employs traditional art- media techniques in probing its artistic potential. Jung has consistently worked with scientists, often at MIT where he’s had long association with the Media Lab and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies

Ian by Harriet Casdin-Silver (1992) On loan, Gallery NAGA

Harriet Casdin-Silver was an early artist-explorer in holography and the first to work with white-light transmission, “rainbow”, holography in collaboration with its inventor, Stephen Benton, at the Polaroid Corporation in the late 1960s. She pushed the technology as she deepened the content of its subject matter. The constraints of early holographic image-making limited her to still-life compositions which she invested with meaning using iconographic objects. As technical advances widened the possibilities, the human body—predominantly the female form—became her artistic vehicle. She was a feminist working for the broadest human equality and passionately engaged in contemporary culture. The human form was a universal language for Casdin-Silver and a window onto deep human truths, communicated through her art. She was a Research Fellow at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies 1976-85.

Hand in Jewels by Robert Schinella (1972) On loan, Marian B. Javits

The late G. Robert Schinella advanced holography artistically, technically and commercially. He poured his broad experience and abilities into holography’s early development as an imaging medium. Holography reflected Schinella’s multifaceted interest in visual expression and he developed techniques, images and cultural moments that spurred commercial applications and the popularization of the medium. In the early 1970s, he was commissioned by Cartier Jewelers of New York to develop a hologram as a window display in their flagship store on Fifth Avenue. Schinella, working at the state-of-the-art Laboratory of the McDonnell Douglas Electronics Company, created the well-known “Hand in Jewels” that balanced technical achievement, artistic import and display function. It was shown in 1972 and 1979, astonishing, captivating—even frightening—passerby.

Delta II by Rudie Berkhout (1982) by Rudie Berkhout

The late Rudie Berkhout was an artist who advanced holographic techniques in the development his own artistic language. He was one of the early pioneers with a self-constructed laboratory in New York City in the late 1970s. For the young Berkhout, a fashion designer and lighting designer for the theater, holography represented new territories in visual expression appropriate to his expanding ideas. Berkhout systematically took advantage of the limitations of holography, especially the “rainbow” technique, to define a visual language constructed of light, color and space freed from object-representation. He used pieces of ground glass, lenses and holographic optical elements (a hologram with the function of an optic) to produce layered holographic images and ultimately to “draw” with light: the generation of image-elements by manipulation of the source laser light in hologram production. His technical innovations were driven by artistic goals: “to reach the subtler levels of perception” and to “hold a mirror up for thoughts.”

The Bartlett Head Stephen Benton, William Houde-Walter, Herbert Mingace Jr. (1978)

Stephen Benton was a central figure in display holography and the pioneer of its digital development. His “rainbow” holography invention linked the holographic image and common, white-light illumination, as well as the worlds of science and art. He was a self-described “optiker” with broad interests in optics and 3-D imaging, as well as image content, which led him to the visual arts. Working at MIT and the Polaroid Corporation with figures such as Harold Edgerton and Edwin Land, Benton surrounded himself with the people and the resources that fostered his own genius. As a scientist, professor and polymath, he bridged the worlds of artistic and technical holography, stimulating growth of the medium in multiple fields. He was a founding professor at the MIT Media Lab, founding Director of its Spatial Imaging Group and Director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, MIT’s research center for the arts.

The Bartlett Head is one of the first achromatic white-light transmission holograms, a hologram of the “rainbow” technique that overlaps wavelengths to stimulate a white image. It was developed at the Research Laboratories of the Polaroid Corporation for the technique’s unveiling in 1978. Likely a representation of Aphrodite, the subject is an ancient Greek sculpture, the centerpiece of the classic collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, that was selected for its visual beauty to show off what Benton described as “the best ever achromatic image.”

Tea Set by Yuri Denisyuk  (1977-78)

“Wave photography” is how the late Russian physicist Yuri Denisyuk described his 1962 invention that uses lightwave interference to record three-dimensional images. He developed his technique independent of Dennis Gabor’s ‘holography’, invention of 1947. Denisyuk’s thinking and technique were distinct, resulting in the first 3-D images viewed with ordinary white light instead of laser light. White-light reflection holograms became a popular way to display priceless Russian museum treasures in traveling exhibitions. Tea Setis an example and was presented by Denisyuk to MIT Professor Stephen Benton, the inventor of white-light transmission (“rainbow”) holography.

Seth Riskin, manager of the MIT Museum’s Emerging Technologies and Holography/Spatial Imaging Initiative explains some concepts about holography:

“Holography is the most advanced means of imaging we have. It’s ‘real’ virtual reality—true 3-D without the material—and it represents how the human brain and light information interact to create the experience of three-dimensional space.

Holography is like photography in that light information is recorded in photosensitive film. In other ways, however, a hologram is significantly different. A hologram is a recording of the light wavefront interference pattern reflected by an object. This record then functions as an optic: when light is projected through the hologram, the light wavefront interference pattern of the original object is reconstructed and this, the brain interprets as 3-D.”