Interview with Cyberholic, an e-Zine published in Germany

January 2004 issue and going to page 30


Nowadays there are a lot of places around the world, where people may be disconcerted if someone sneezes a couple of times. But before seeing national security in danger and putting that person in quarantine, you may better first look around to see if Andrew Davidhazy ain`t around doin' one of his outstanding and fascinating projects. He, who now for decades for example so many times stopped the, to let us throw a glimp on natural but also technical occasions that brings technical photographies out of it`s cold term, into a warm light of art. Every picture is an event, but as you may learn by reading this interview: not every event needs to be put into an photo album.

Hi Andy, before we start, tell us some facts about who you are and what you do.

I am 62 years old by now and am considered to be a teacher and investigator of unusual photographic techniques. I was born in Hungary and after WWI emigrated to Argentina with my parents and after spending 10 years there we all moved, immigrated, to the United States. I went to high school in Boston and after high school came to what I considered to be a world renowned school in the area of photography. In this school the full breath of photography was available to study. From photographic science to fine art photography, motion pictures to advertising and several others specialties. It was a trully impressive School and one that influenced the whole photographic industry of the time.

And did you followed this path?

Currently I am a professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the chairman of the Imaging and Photographic technology department and overall supervisor of the programs that lead to a Bachelor of Science degree. I also teach several courses including one on High Speed photography, a Special Effects course , Non-conventional Imaging plus something called Photo-instrumentation Seminar.

That all sounds so technical! Is there  realy such a deep dffrence between those kind of photo-arts you teach, compared to those Glamour Celebrity Pictures we see in Magazines token by all those Paparazis?

My subjects tend to be "things" or "events" rather than people so generally I don9t have to be worried about making anyone look photogenic. On the other hand I still have to be concerned with making a final photograph that has both useable information content as well as being visually appealing. Of these two factors generally I am more concerned with the former aspect. But it is the second factor that causes people to express interest in my photographs. you would suggest, that someone that wants to become a photographer, should also learn technics like schlier-, shaddow-, panoramic- and other -photography technics?

  No. The field of photography is very, very wide and in order to be successful and making a living at some aspect of photography I think one needs to specialize to some extent and so I don9t think that a "social" photographer needs to know about techniques and cameras designed to photograph in space or underwater for example.

I suggest that a few sport-photographers do use high-speed photography, or for example people use those "flying Bullets" Scenes in Music-Videos, but what exactly are High Speed Pictures?

Well, high-speed photography is a process for making visible events that are g e n e r a l l y invisible to us due to very short time period over which they happen. Human have a difficult time analyzing in detail anything that happens in less than about 1/10 second. Plus, of course, remembering all that happens even if one could visualize a fast changing event is another matter as well. High speed photography solves both these problems. It opens up for examination at lesiure the behavior of events of extremely short duration - less than a millionth of a second in some cases. Making high speed movies of high speed events (such as flying bullets) is not something that just anyone can realize. This is partially due to the very expensive and sophisticated cameras and timing devices that are required to engage in such photography. I have not seen the video you describe but I would suspect that, if not that one, many other situations are simulated and are not real.

Seeing a supersonic bullet slowly move through a scene is very difficult and would call for recording rates of thousands of pictures per second (in fact, more than 10,000 at least). Synchronization problems tend to cause big headaches at the time  of photography since the cameras can9t run at top speed for any significant time. In addition, lighting levels need to be very high as short exposure times are required to freeze the action of the bullet so that we don9t just see a major blur instead of a clearly depicted moving bullet.

WOW! So you surely need some hardware for High Speed Cams....  Well, a high speed camera can either be a still camera and the pictures are "frozen" by the action of a high speed electronic flash or laser providing a burst of light of very short durarion.

Harold Edgerton was a pioneer in this area of photography. Another approach is to use a  special high speed motion picture or, these days, a digital motion picture camera, to capture a moving subject at many locatiuons in space in spite of the fact the subject may be moving very quickly.

Dr. Harold Edgerton?

... he was a pioneer in the field of high speed photgraphy. He promoted the use of electronic flashes and strroboscopes to study fast moving events. He was actually an electrical engineer and he refined the strobioscope to allow him to study the behavior of electrical generators and smilar machines.

Is that your favourit technique?

I became "exposed" to something called STREAK and   STRIP photography and this is the single technique that opened many professional doors for me. From publishing to public speaking, teaching engagements worldwide, exhibiting my photographs, etc. This is my favorite technique because while it's various applications have been recognized and refined by  many workes in the past, few have undertaken the "mission" of trying to look at the broad picture, the multitude of applications of this technique, and attempted to deal with the topic in a global rather than a specialized approach.

The technique has an aura of difficulty attached to it and so few photographers have explored its applications. Few people have realized its potential as both a tool of scientific and technical investighation as well as a process for the creation of images that defy the imagination and surprise the intellect.

What kind of pictures have you already taken?

A photograph of mine that many people seem to like is one of a water drop impacton a pool of water. I have been teching my students how to make these as well as making them myself as a direct result of the influence that Harold Edgerton had on me over the years. One of my favorite assignments to my students is for them to try to make the "ultimate" splash photograph.

Another sucessful image is one of a young lady sneezing. The biggest problem with that photograph was also timing.

One had to delay the making of the photo from the point that sound was detected until the spray pattern had developed in to a nice "cloud". We took many shots to get to the one selected. Also, it was very difficult to cause the model to sneeze so eventually we had to compromise on reality and she facked her sneezes.

But, I must say that my very most favorite phtographs are from my experiments and dabbling with strip photography techniques.

These iamges are essentially "time" pictures. Well, actually they depict time itself in the final product. They are a hybrid between still photography and motion pictures. They lead the viewer to question as they try to assimilate the images. This is of course very difficult because we are not used to interacting with photographs where one of the two "flat" dimensions is actually time itself.

Speaking about depth, how did you made the slitscan photos, where the guy hits you in the stomach? I Hope    it was not realy necessary for realizing that picture, to hit you! *grin*

Well, this is a variation of the streak or strip technique. I call it "slit-scan" photography and it is reminiscent of how focal plane shutters operate. They pull a narrow slot past the film plane and the exposures are made sequantially as the slot travels from one side of the film to the other. Normally this method for exposing the film is not perceived by users of such shutters because the slot moves too quickly inn relation to the speed that most images move at within the camera.  In the case of the above photograph we made a large box on the front of which was a flexible curtain with a slot cut into it from side to side. The camera was attached to the back of the box and after the shutter  was opened the urtain was slowly moved so the camera saw the subject sequentially as the slot first uncovered the top of the scene and then later the bottom. As the slot arrived at my shoulder

I stepped back and stood still for a little while until it passed my waist when I stepped forward again. The student with his punching pose remained stationary all the time.

The people who look at the photograph then are surprised because they expect evry photograph to have been made "instataneously", just like we see the real world around us. The special effect in thiat particular image is caused by the epxosure having been made sequentially - and the viewing instantaneously.

For years now, the photo-industry has developed a couple of "fun-cams". Like the Kodak one, that takes 4 shots at the same time. Could a High Speed Cam ever someday become a product for mass-market and usual customers?

There is always a possiblity that novety cameras will succeed for a short period of time. However, I think that the vast majority of people are not "photographers" but rather makers of pictures related to personal life events. The novelty factor wears off pretty quickly when people have to devote time and effort, even if it is only mental, to accomplish something.

Like 3D Photography also ain`t become as popular as computer freaks thought... 

3D photography is one of those subejcts that keeps coming back in one form or another.

These days the advent of lenticular materals has brought about a resurgence of the technique. It is now not only used for 3D photography display but also as a method to show short animations. Lenticular 3D prints were first popularly introduced by and with the Nimslo camera and advertised by Bo Derek as she came out of the ocean surf and walked towards the video camera doing the commercial.

What was your biggest special occasion in the last decades that most suprised you in technical development, photo results etc. Has there been a technical "breakthrough" in the last few years?

I think these are best answered together. It must be the introduction of the Kodak Ektapro EM high speed digital camera system. It allowed for the first time the photography of unpredictable high speed events. It allowed for the first time the possibility of essentially going back in time to the time just before a random failure ocurred in a process and examine in detail the onset of failure.

Speaking about failures: can you remember your first technical picture?

I would say this probably had to do with my work for Dr. KCD Hickman and the time that I was first able to make a high speed photograph of the collapse of a "boule" - a liquid drop about 100ml in size floating on the same. but superheated, host liquid. When the gas vapor separating the floating drop from the host liquid broke the two merged in less than a few milliseconds. My "achievent" was to design a method and then actually photograph the merging process . The detector instrument was an oscilloscope and the short duration flash that provided a sharp photograph was made by a General Radio 1531 Strobotac. The results showed that very close to the liquid surface the vapor gap was narrower than away from the surface and it was along the narrow gap thet the merging first took place and this rapidly progressed around the "boule" leaving small gas bubbles lower down the liquid. These then formed rounder bubbles that then floated up to the surface.

Somewhere i once read, that people like you, make things visible that the human eye can`t actualy see. like when someone sneeze`s, how the air swirls. If you think about it, is there a thing or a situation, that even the most technical advanced camera can not picture, but you would like to have visible?

I can't think of such events but if presented with a challenge that others have I find that is what interests me - to help others visualize and measure and quantify things they would like to see. I guess I am a "solution waiting for a problem"!

And for solving such problems this may also be the reason why even the NASA is interested in you photographic technics...

My objective at NASA was to present basic knowledge about photo instrumentation tecniques to "general" photographers there. Not that they would actually use any of the material I presented but that at least they would realize that they could do things other than make "pretty pictures" with cameras. Of course at NASA sophisticated technical photography systems and techniques are in operation on a dailiy basis. For example schlieren photography in high speed wind tunnels is a common technique. This is often coupled  to high speed film or digital cameras.

In many cases flow patterns in liquids or gases are photographed with streamers or dyes or smoke as tracers. Technical and scientific photography at NASA is a common activity.

But few photographers outside (or even inside) NASA are aware of what these applications are. But let me assure you that unless high speed photography existed we as a society would be nowhere where we are today as far as engineering and technology and space exploration as we are today. Technical photography is a widespread "tool" used by engineers, scientists and technologists to solve problems. In many cases these are the least expensive and most  effective ways of visualizing and quantifying scientific data.

And they did not invited you for a trip into space for taking some pictures?

I ave not been to space. The closest I ever was to this was going with a group of my students to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX and go through a training program for flight on a zero gravity NASA plane. The students actually went on the plane. I did not. We had prepared an experiment where we studied the behavior of a rupturing water ballon under zero grvity conditions and compared this to the behavior of similar balloons under 1G (normal gravity that you and I experience daily) conditions. When the bollon burst in zero gravity the water did not disperse but stayed together more or less as a lump of water with a shimmering surface.

Under 1G conditions of course the water just flies all over and just fall. We used a high speed motion picture camera running at 4,000 pictures per second I seem to recall as the visualization camera.

So if you prefer to stay on earth, what is the favourit thing you like to photograph?

These days I am very much concerned with stroboscopic photography. Human motion tracked with a simple mechanical rather than electronic stroboscope. I seem to gravitate towards simple, inexpensive and improvised solutions - mostly I guess because I have not yet found a generous benefactor!

Yeah, Money makes the film go round :) Considering this, what was the most difficult technical photography to take, that you know about?

Well, I really don't know. I imagine making photographs of events that happen in a femtosecond time realm - events related to phenomena connected with the time frame in which atoms and subatomic particles "live". I suppose that nuclear explosions and related subjects would be among the most difficult not only to photograph but also obviously to set-up and carry out!

Through all this years, you've been around the world now reporting and talking about your knowledge in different countries. what was your most special event that you have been invited to and where was it?

I Have been involved with the Hight Speed Imaging Community for many years. My Most memorable Experiences that i remember, relate to following Harold "Doc" Edgerton once at a conference held by the Cordin Corporation. Edgerton was just great. His presentation was not only informative but also entertaining. People were laughing and having a grand time even thought the subject was pretty specialized. Then i had to do my presentation. It was a terrible Experience. I could not hope to come even cloe to Edgerton.

I was very happy when i came to the end of my presentation and i could get off the stage!

My other noteworthy experience was in Cambride, England when i "packed the Auditorium" and gave a bery dry and detached (With a bit of dru humor included) presentation about how  the reliability of Condoms could be studied with various High Speed photographic Techniques.

*laugh* This surely must have been realy funny and interesting! Another reason why High Speed Cams should become more popular - can`t think of all those funny things that people would do with it! If these are the things you guys at the TPSA examine, I WANT TO BECOME YOUR STUDENT! :) By the way, wasn`t it you, who founded the TPSA?

Yes. Along with several Students in my programm. This happend in about 1986. The TPSA is the TECHNICAL PHOTOGRAPHY STUDENT ASSOCIATION. It was founded to serve the interests of the student in the technical photography programm here at RIT. This program later acquired a new name and it is now the IMAGHING AND PHOTOGRPAHIC TECHNOLOIGY PROGRAM but still serving the interests of students who aspire to carees in the broad filed of photography and digital imagaing but who do not see themselves being photographic artists.

Are there still those famous weekly meetings of you guys?

I with they did, but currently TPSA is just coming out of a very quiet period.

So is there no development in these kind of arts or in its "scene"?

Actually as fas as i know there is no such group or meeting. Although there have been several attempts at trying to establish such an organization. Even now, in Sweden, through the Lenhaillson Foundation or something like that there is a movement started to organize an organization of technical and scientific photography pro's. The problem is that this is not a clearly identified field and people working in related areas sometimes are not considered photo-graphers but cientists or engineers in other disciplines. At the very high end there are organizations that were founded to serve the needs of technical photographers perticularly in the weapons and space races of the 1960s.

The major society for this was the society of Photo-Intrumentation Engineers or SPIE. This is now the internations society for optical engineering and there is a very little left of the "roots" of the organization in the modern version of the society.

Do you know of some german technical photography fans?

Well, i know Dr. Lother Engelmann, who now lives in Cologne and who was the Dean of the college where i am working. I think i know some people at the cologne technical Institute but am not sure if they are there or at another one. In Switzerland at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) i know Sabie Susstrunk. She was a colleague of mine in my own department here. She is a specialist in color science.

Your Son also looks to be quite interested in photography and design, hard to say that this wasn`t your influence... :)

I don't know. I Think his interest in art and graphic design came about independently as he was trying to find a profession for himself when living in hollywood and Seattle and then in San Francisco. But you are right, He (and his sister) as well as his younger brother do seem to have an innate talent for art and music and anything of "creative" Nature.

Could you think about a conjunction of digital art and technical photography?

Well, i think that in general art and technical photography are separate activities and while certain technical photographs have aesthetic qualities it is not often that the inverse is true. That purely aesthetic images have a comonent that allows one to discover technical information or novel scientific concepts.

And how do futuristic concepts for technical photography do look like? What do you think  will this all lead to?

Technical photography will be with us forever as far as i can tell. Visualizing, understanding and quantifying physical phenomena will continue to be a concern of mankind forever.

For this novel imaging and photographic systems will most probably be invented, developed and applied to learn more about our universe and those things that influence and shape our lives.

Cameras that make images of heat, by sound, by x-rays, by most any manifestation of the electromagnetic spectrum or by methods we have not even thought about yet will probably be developed.

Thinking about the future, we as humans like to archive our past, how  many photo-albums you got at home?

Good question. I Guess i am not a good collector of family photographs. I do have lots of negatives but few prints and only one or two albums of photographs. I hope someday to organize all this but i am having doubts that i will ever get to it.

Ok, but you now betrayed that you also take private pictures :) What kind of cam do you use in private?

I do have a small digital camera. In fact i have several. An AGFA, a NIKON and a CANON "Cunsumer Grade" Camera. I have a few dozen Film Cameras from 16mm format to 10x15cm. I have acquired a collection of historical high speed 16mm Cameras. Seems like anyone that has an old one wants to give it to me now that they are investing in a digital one! Where were they when i could realy have used one of these cameras for teaching? :)

*smile* You are right! Now you see everyone with those nifty little digi-cams but years before.... *sigh* What goes through the technical mind of "Andy Davidhazy"  when he sees a wedding photographer? :)

I hope that the film is properly loaded or that the batteries don`t run out in the middle of the event. I with the photographer success. I did weddings for a while in the 60's and 70's but decided i could not handle the social pressures of the event. These days i guess i think to myself that i am glad i am not the photographer!

Before finishing, would you like to thank or send out some greetings to people out there?

I guess i would like to send a message of greeting to anyone or any group interested in technical as well as creative photography. If you need a visitor/speaker or collaborator for, keep me in mind. I have not yet been to Asia and only briefly passed through Germany and Austria. By the way i hava a dozen or so high speed photographs that will be part of an exhibit at the Vienna Museum of Science and Technology in  2007! I hope to be able to visit Vienna at that time.

I Would also like to say Thank You to all my past students for their patience and friendship over the years and a thank you to my colleagues at Rochester Institute of technology for tolerating me.

*smile* hope they will always and for ever "tolerate" some innovative and interesting people like you! So therefor we would like to thank you for this interview!