Spectral Evidence

(Nymphaea infrared)

Visions of specters arising in the dreams of the afflicted were used to accuse individuals of witchcraft in 17th century New England. Known as ‘spectral evidence’ these subconscious manifestations were without substance, born in the darkness of the sleeping imagination. Yet they were revealed by their tangible impact on the physical world, like the tracings of an unseen wind across the water.

A century later astronomer Sir William Herschel was investigating the temperature differences between different color wavelengths of light. Using a prism to split the light into its components, he found that temperature increased as the thermometer was shifted along the spectrum from the violets, to the greens, and finally to the reds. Then, as the sun moved and the light passed off the thermometer, he observed that the highest temperature of all was there in the darkness, just past visible red. He had discovered very real evidence of a new and unseen light in the spectrum.

Today, I swim in the dim and silent void of the pond. Beneath the surface I hold my camera that has been adapted to record only infrared light. Like a photographer working in black and white observing colorless value, I have learned to intuitively perceive the invisible spectrum and sense what the unseen light is revealing. Underwater the long infrared wavelengths scatter quickly, illuminating only objects near the surface and close to me; everything else recedes into darkness. With a conjuring of memory and foresight I focus my mind and camera, and transform my fleeting experience into reality. These photographs are evidence my visions, the beauty of nature’s gesture, and of a spectrum that we cannot see.

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