for the æther waned in the early 20th century, as general relativity
emptied it of physical value, leaving a brittle shell of what once was a dense
and fundamental property of the universe. Simultaneously, in a booming era for
photography, specifically the push to make photography a fine art, æther went
through a spatial and dimensional transformation, ending up in the photographic
plane. The space photography creates, as of its own accord, between a paper
substrate and gelatin emulsion, exhibits properties which are foreign yet
recognizable. There is a volume present that seems to have substance. The
virtual space of a mirror mimics these properties, but cannot contain them; the
mirror plane, being a virtual volume, is fundamentally empty, a reflected image
of reality. Its boundaries, its edges, are not challenged, allowing substance to
leak out through the transparent frame. Certain photographs occupy a volume
that is, of course, an “image,” but an image with different and often
substantial density; importantly, it is not a literal reflection. The space
created acts differently than both the actual space or a reflected virtual
space of what is being represented in the photograph.
The æther is a unique state of matter, able to act as gas or viscous liquid, exhibiting an inherent dynamism that does not illustrate the origins of its effects. It resembles an ideal gelatin that never solidly or completely sets, moving in currents fast and slow, imbuing the photograph with undetectable movement noticeable only through periphery. Its density is a deceit, just as photography is, but that does not null the effect.
Glimmers of the æther can be snared through structural phenomena of the image under the right conditions. Photographic density and boundaries are coupled in a way that leads, ideally, to a destructive end. Peaks in an energy landscape defy the idea of a static system – a ball cannot stay put on a sharp peak. Instability gains momentum at greater heights. Inversely, a ball that rolls in to a steep energy pit will become trapped. The density of an image acts as a scaffold to keep the borders intact. If it is too thin, too light, the edges will crumble and collapse the image. Heaviness acts differently, supplying a strong base for the image to stand, but this, too, can lead to destruction: Stuff too much into a given volume and the boundary stretches. When cracks develop, they offer a path in to the photograph’s volume. There is a dynamism at play here – the ball cannot stay at the peak; fissures close and others open as the current changes. The drive is a search for cracks and fissures in the structure of an image, in the production of a photograph, in the æther that defines the reality of photography.