Have you ever used a camera that captures light at a width of only one pixel? Probably not. Jay Mark Johnson got his hands on one. A camera that has only three vertical sensors (one red, one green and one blue) and is different from any normal digital or filmback camera. But that in itself didn’t lead to these photographs. Having been educated in the past by prominent architects he learned early on the importance of design freedom. And his background in visual effects production (working on projects such as The Matrix and Titanic) taught him about the technologies behind photography. With a curious mind, and one hell of a camera, he set out to make panoramic photo’s. He ended up with something much more special.
A short explanation of how the technique works first: imagine looking through the crack in the curtains that haven’t been closed properly. You’ll only see one line of light, but it will be quite difficult to make out what you’re looking at through the small crack. That’s what Jay’s camera would see. Make photo’s through that crack at small time intervals, stick them together in the proper order and the result will be somewhat like what Jay makes. Keep in mind that a camera like this will not capture light from the side, it only captures light that’s comes directly from the front. The background will be static, always showing the same light, and therefore color. The light reflected from people that walk past, or cars that drive by, on the other hand, will change because of the forward motion. It doesn’t rest in front of the ‘crack in the curtains’. Taking photo’s at small time intervals and putting these photo’s next to each other, you’ll get an image of the person or car. The background however, stays the same. These pixels put next to each other results in monochromatic lines.
Camera’s capture light. That’s all they do. It doesn’t make or put the colors there for you. If you make the camera capture the light you want to capture, you can create the palette of colors of your choice. Mastering the camera with the light was the initial challenge. Jay loves the Italians for their history of chiaroscuro, the art of using light to create volume and shape in painting. After finding an interesting background, Jay makes an effort to get the lighting perfect by positioning his camera properly. This care for the lighting leads to the rich colors you can see in his photographs. The exact line of pixels, the colors you’ll see in the background, is chosen while shooting, in a trial and error type way. What’s Jay’s favorite reply when people ask him where the colors come from? ‘I put them there, goddammit!’