San Francisco Bay Area photographer Robert Buelteman takes extraordinary images of flowers subjected to 80,000 volts of electricity. But he doesn’t use traditional equipment, not even a camera.
Buelteman's technique is an elaborate extension of what is know as Kirlian photography made popular in the late 1930s. Named after Russian inventor Semyon Davidovich Kirlian, it consists of applying a high voltage electric field near a photographic plate, which result in the appearance of coronal discharges called Kirlian auras surrounding the object being photographed.
Wired.com explains his technique in more detail:
Buelteman begins by painstakingly whittling down flowers, leaves, sprigs, and twigs with a scalpel until they're translucent. He then lays each specimen on color transparency film and, for a more detailed effect, covers it with a diffusion screen. This assemblage is placed on his "easel"—a piece of sheet metal sandwiched between Plexiglas, floating in liquid silicone. Buelteman hits everything with an electric pulse and the electrons do a dance as they leap from the sheet metal, through the silicone and the plant (and hopefully not through him), while heading back out the jumper cables. In that moment, the gas surrounding the subject is ionized, leaving behind ethereal coronas. He then hand-paints the result with white light shining through an optical fiber the width of a human hair, a process so tricky each image can take up to 150 attempts.
Because there's no lens to distort the colors, Buelteman's work replicates natural hues far better than traditional photographs. Buelteman says some of the colors he achieves don’t exist in Photoshop.
The process is extremely tricky and so complex it has taken him 10 years – and a gruelling average of 60 hours-per-week – to produce just 80 photos.
Buelteman works in complete darkness and with dangerously high voltages. Buelteman has electrocuted himself many times; on one occasion he was lifted off the ground by a 40,000-volt jolt. “fear is part of the process,” he says.
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