Why you should care
Because it’s half art half geekery … and wholly compelling.
When a horse runs, do all four of its hooves leave the ground? What does water look like when a droplet hits it? Do you look bad when you’re chewing? Photographs have answered questions like these for centuries. It’s an excellent medium to halt time and try to understand the world better.
How about: What’s a cellist doing with his bow when he plays a movement? And how is his bow moving differently from someone else playing the exact same piece? Stephen Orlando’s photos not only look ridiculously cool, but they’re answering these questions, too. With LED lights attached to a violinist’s bow, Orlando captures how quickly the bow moves and its angle, and whether the musician chose to bring the bow up or down. “I’m viewing these as half art, half data visualization,” says Orlando, who has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and now works as an aerodynamicist. Orlando started taking photos of musicians back in March of last year; he’s also photographed tennis players, skiers, kayakers and many other athletes in motion. His work looks much like Gjon Mili’s, a light painter who shot musicians in black and white in the 1950s. “I knew I could update his work with modern light,” Orlando says.
Orlando’s work is about motion, and less about music.
The process is complicated. In a large, dark auditorium, Orlando hooks up a small computer called an arduino; this allows him to operate when the lights change color — bright blues, oranges and pinks, rippling. The musician stays put. Orlando moves the camera to drag out the motion. For every shot he keeps, he says he probably takes 10. A 16-by-24-inch print will set you back $80. Some images have an extra twist: The sheet music is overlaid and matched up to each bow movement. Information is crammed in — bow pattern, sheet music — like an old Thomas Eakins or Eadweard Muybridge photograph.
Orlando’s work is about motion, and less about music. Which is a good or bad thing depending on your taste. Jeff Curto, professor emeritus of photography and board chair for the Society for Photographic Education, praises the images, but says they’re less psychologically deep than other motion-exposure images, like those of Tokihiro Sato. Dramatic lighting and more emotional expression from the musicians could serve to add tension. Plus, he says, it would be more interesting if Orlando imbued the color with meaning, or took it out entirely: “In some ways for me, it’s a better image in black and white.” The color is so luscious and so beautiful that it takes away from the graphic element, Curto says.
So what’s Orlando’s ultimate goal? He’s hoping to teach students, “to show them what the different bowing patterns look like.” Though maybe he’ll end up inspiring them to switch to photography instead.