the images of physics - the physics of images
The Images of Physics

Let us assume that there are two poles, of which one could be called the scientific point of view, the other the artistic point of view. From the scientific point of view, images are reproductions of an external world: for the artistic view, images are created in that they are perceived and are conveyed by means of discourse; and together they create what we call the external world. According to Bergson, this is the opposition between Realism and Idealism. The school of pre-relativistic physics that is influenced by Newtonian Mechanics is based on such a realistic perspective. This perspective, which is used in describing the laws of classical Mechanics, is a linear one. As with realistic photography, the point of observation lies outside that of the picture, there are objective sizes within a linear system of coordinates and a specific time xo of the observation. The pre-relativistic physicist sees the world through the lens of a photo camera, as an "inertial observer". But what happens to the physicist's realistic point of view at much higher speeds?

"Thou scarcely move, yet swiftly seem to run; my son thou seest, here space and time are one." My physics textbook by Jay Orear introduces the chapter about the Lorenz transformation with this line from Percifal. He continues: "The Lorentz transformation shows that time can change into space and space into time." The transformation, developed by the Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz is fundamental for the theory of Special Relativity. With it, one can calculate the relative time and the relative position of two observers, which are moving relative to one another at a tempo approaching the speed of light. If we were to isolate the observations of the two observers, each would see the other through the viewfinder of a camera. Their perspectives are nevertheless joined to one another by an equal sign in the Lorenz transformation. There is thus a meta-perspective of the formula itself, a way of thinking that unifies two irrec-oncilable, realistic images. But who is it that is using this formula, which is supposed to show us that space and time are interwoven? What kind of a picture does he have of himself and what kind of a world view does this imply?
 
This is our picture: first of all, we have an observer, who simultaneously occupies two different locations in different space and time systems. Secondly, we have material objects, that, when seen from different perspectives, also have multiple space and time coordinates each of which can nonetheless be perceived as one and the same. This picture is not at all impossible. All we need, bluntly put, is a multiple personality. What the Lorentz transformation changes is not the picture itself, but the realistic perspective. The meta-observer is motion. Since we still do op-erate within a linear space-time, it is unavoidable that the observer experience himself as spat-ially and temporally stretched. Indeed, this is true to our everyday way of seeing: we are not really inertial observers that know only discreet points of time.

The consequence of the relativistic point of view on perception is that the Self lets itself be thought of only in conjunction with a certain duration and through a certain movement in space. When I speak of the "Self", I no longer mean: I, here and now, in relationship to an external situation but rather the "Self" always refers to a temporal field experienced while traversing a certain field of situations. The relativity theory not only demonstrates that time and space are relative: What becomes relative is Me.


The Physics of Images

The development of the photographic apparatus is an almost necessary result of the previously occurring hegemony of rationalism. It had to be invented in order to realize those images, in terms of which one already thought. Actually, the photographic technology came surprisingly late. Through Photography and Film it came to be the central influence on modes of thought throughout the 20th century. And although many scientific, artistic or philosophic ideas rejected the dichotomy of realism and idealism, the vocabulary of the dominating discourse did not allow for a transgression of this dualistic world view.

Thus for example with the early works of Duchamps, the tendency to convert realistic images or objects into idealistically perceived images (e.g. ready-mades). This process functions, however, only in that the original dichotomy is maintained, and even reinforces it.

Etienne-Jule Marey's Chonophotography had great impact on the physiology of medicine, and on art. Its reception, however, was reluctant to see the works as both artistic and scientific contrary to the author's intent. Typical of the two dominant schools of thought, they were inevitably described as either the one or the other. In 1927, the 26 year-old quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg developed the Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics, which acknowl-edges that there is a general influence of observer perception on the scientific experiment. This epistemological statement is fundamental: the image of the "external" world is inextricably bound to its observation. Perception is an active procedure and in itself a material process. The philosophical implications of the Uncertainty Principle were however reduced, as Heisenberg ultimately limited its formulation to a physical, "external" level by applying it solely to the be-havior of particles.

These examples show how modes of thought, expanded understanding of the Self, and an understanding of the world could exist without being able to establish themselves in society, i.e., in the discourse. Clearly the paradigm -- the dichotomy of realism on the one hand and idealism on the other -- was too strong to allow for a third position. It is important to see that the mutual exclusivity of "the idealistic" and "the realistic" maintained this paradigm. Thus Ideal-ism is the declared opponent of Realism, which guarantees its survival, and vice versa. The saying used by Nils Bohr as the motto for the Principal of Complements in quantum physics thus applies to a completely different field: "Contraria non contradictoria sed complementa sunt." Opposites don't contradict; they complement one another.

 "Rundum" Photography

I arrived at Rundum Photography through the Lorentz transformation. I placed a Rubik's Cube on a rotating plate and photographed it again and again, turning the plate 5 degrees further each time. I cut a strip from the middle of each of the photographs and glued the strip onto a piece of paper.

This created an almost homogenous picture of the Rubik's Cube, which nevertheless looked strange, as if it were opened up on itself. The picture portrayed the Cube from a perspective that was situated in a circle around the object. The circular perspective of the image was how-ever purely arbitrary. Every other line would potentially create a new picture, a new perspective of the Cube. The composite image becomes more homogenous, the more the photographs and the narrower the width of the photo strips.

A strip camera completes the transition to the homogenous Rundum Photo. Here, the film is pulled steadily along a fixed exposure slit. It functions like a scanner, with which the surround-ings are recorded through the movement of the apparatus. Though the resulting image on the filmstrip is static, it contains the movement of the camera during the recording. In viewing this, the Self of the observer is set in motion. (This functions especially when the observer is informed as to the nature of the reproduction, when he understands the image not only aesthetically as a strange deformation of a photograph, but on a technical level as well. That the observer identify himself with the recording apparatus is obviously a requirement for the transfer of reality onto the media of the image.) The slit camera is a recording apparatus of motion, not only of the movement of the camera, but also of the moving objects in front of the camera's lens. If the camera is posed before an unmoving background, it reveals even, horizontal lines on the film. A picture ensues only through the movement  of an object.

What results is a photographic diagram of movements. Fast objects are compressed, slow ones elongated. The images may seem to be very much like a panoramic photograph, yet the principle is different. It is as if the observer would perceive the world through a crack in a door, along which things pass by. In an instant he can see the movements of an interval of time and thereby experiences herself in that moment in motion. The Self is thereby extended, spatially and temporally. The vertical axis of the Rundum picture corresponds to a realistic reproduction of the space. The horizontal axis of the picture, on the other hand, represents time and space, that is, motion.

These pictures are by no means pure strategies of reproduction. They correlate in a certain way to our perceptual experience. Our eyes perceive only through movement: be it the movement of objects in our line of vision; or the movement of our head, in order, for example to perceive a room; or the movement of our pupils, to identify an object.


Translation: Alica Kottmair