“If we just viewed the world a little differently, it would be radically altered. If our visual spectrum of light was changed slightly, then we’d see in a very different way.”
The photographs from Edwards Thompson’s The Unseen are united through eerie tones of red that infiltrate the images, punctuated by a high contrast. The photographs were shot on the final remaining rolls of Kodak Aerochrome Infrared film, which was last produced in 2009. Thompson originally stumbled upon the film; he was researching the village of Pluckley in Kent, the most haunted village in the United Kingdom, when he came upon articles claiming that infrared film can capture ghosts. Infrared reveals a higher wavelength of light, increasing from between 400-700 nanometers for the human eye, to 750-1000 nanometers. As Thomspons writes himself; “it allows the invisible to be photographed”. On the surface, the photographs he took in Pluckley show ordinary landscapes, but the red hues reference its infamous history. The film directly speaks to the authenticity of the photographic document.
Following the shoot, curiosity led Thompson to dig a little deeper and uncover the many uses for this film. Its unique qualities mean that it has been appropriated for a variety of purposes, and has been used over the years for medical research, military hardware and monitoring pollution. The overall intention was always to reveal those things hidden from the human eye. Shifting this purpose, Thomspon decided to photograph those issues that have remained underreported and hidden from the public eye.
Some of the projects directly reference the film and its qualities. He travelled to the Red Forest in Ukraine, located in close proximity to Chernobyl. The radioactive fallout of the disaster killed the trees, whilst the contamination turned them red. The Infrared accentuates this, turning the forest a burgundy red – it is a direct warning to the dangers of nuclear power. The dominating colour references Ukraine’s Soviet past and has taken on more significance as the country struggles with internal turmoil today.
Another use for infrared film was to survey crop damage after floods. Readdressing the focus of the problem, Thompson instead photographed those affected by the floods. Photographing in rural India, the portraits and landscapes show those flood zones that the West so easily forgets about, those not dramatic enough to interest the media. All in all, the project has 10 chapters. Whilst the aesthetic of the photographs feels dreamy and borders on fine art, the topics tackled very much stay within the documentary realm.
“There is much debate in contemporary photojournalism and documentary photography about manipulations, both in the construction and post-production of photographic imagery. Although the infrared photographs in The Unseen look strangely sensational, they are not constructed or manipulated. This is documentary.”
Having finished his rolls of film, the 10 finished chapters are now being published by Schilt Publishing. The Kickstarter Campaign aims to raise the final funds to publish The Unseen: An Atlas of Infrared Plates.
Edward Thompson is a British photographer, artist and lecturer. His own photographic work has focused on various subjects over the years from covering environmental issues, socio-political movements, subcultures and the consequences of war. He has lectured on photography at the V&A Museum, The Photographers Gallery, The Bishopsgate Institute, L.C.C, The University of Falmouth, The University of Northampton and The University of East London. He speaks regularly on photography on television and radio, including on Al Jazeera News and the BBC World Service.
His documentary photo-essays have been published in international magazines including National Geographic Magazine, Newsweek Japan, Greenpeace Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, BBC, CNN and The Sunday Times Magazine. His work has been exhibited at Christies, Somerset House and Four Corners Gallery (London) and shown as part of photography festivals in Arles (France), Tampere (Finland), Zingst (Germany) & London (U.K).