Dr. Frankenstein harnessed the power of lightning to bring his giant monster to life. Photographer Robert Buelteman uses thousands of volts of electricity to create these dreamy photos of plants and flowers. He might not be a mad scientist himself, but he’d probably get along quite well with others. They could exchange tips and tricks for playing with electricity.
The process that produces images like the ones you see here is called Kirlian photography and was made famous in 1939 by Russian inventor Semyon Davidovich Kirlian who accidentally discovered the process through experimentation:
Kirlian believed that the image he was studying might be a human aura, if such an aura were to exist. It is now well understood that the coronal discharges identified as Kirlian auras are the result of well-understood stochastic electric ionization processes, and are greatly affected by many factors, including the voltage and frequency of the stimulus, the pressure with which a person or object touches the imaging surface, the local humidity around the object being imaged, how well grounded the person or object is, and other local factors affecting the conductivity of the person or object being imaged, including oils, sweat, bacteria, and other ionizing contaminants typically found on living tissues.
Buelteman’s own process in painstaking. First he carves at the plants with surgical tools until they are thin and sheer. Then he places a sheet of transparency film below a metal sheet floating in liquid silicone. He puts the plants on top of the film and connects them, with clamps, to a source of electrical current. Buelteman then sends up to 80,000 volts through the plants to capture the resulting glow on film.
Buelteman works in complete darkness. After shocking the plants, he goes one step further and paints with light across the shape of the plant to add additional illumination and detail to the image. While viewers might be inclined to assume otherwise, the creation of these beautiful images of radiant, almost spectral plants does not involve any digital manipulation.
Buelteman says, “While I remain fascinated by the organic design of simple flowers and plants, I have become increasingly drawn to the power of abstraction made available through the manipulation of color, form, and light.”