Digital 'Spectres' Reveal Invisible, Wireless World

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In his series of oddly haunting photographs, researcher and artist Luis Hernan has found the ghost in the machine.

Or maybe it’s the machine in the ghost. Hernan’s Digital Ethereal project is billed as “a creative exploration of wireless spectres.” The concept is to illuminate, quite literally, the invisible infrastructure of wireless networks that surrounds us in the digital age.

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Hernan creates his images by way of long-exposure photography along with what he calls a “Kirlian Device,” named after the techniques of Kirlian photography, which is often associated with paranormal phenomena. Whereas Kirlian photography is designed to render visible certain kinds of electrical discharges, Hernan’s Kirlian Device is a way to reveal invisible wireless networks.

It’s pretty straightforward. The Kirlian Device is an instrument that scans for local wireless networks, then translates relative signal strength into color LEDs. (Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that.) The device changes color as it moves through space picking up various signals.

By tracking the movement of the device with a long-exposure camera — Hernan literally walks around with the device or swings it around his body — wireless signals are registered on film as ghostly streaks of multicolored light.

“The device is moved through the space, which is then registered in a long-exposure photograph,” Hernan told Discovery News. “This process lasts for several minutes, and due to the brightness of the device, my figure is ghosted away in the process. In some pictures you can see my feet or even my blurred head underneath the light strikes.”

Hernan’s evocation of ghostly images and spirit photography is entirely deliberate, and intended to provoke thought about invisible energies in the environment.

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“I believe our interaction with this landscape of electromagnetic signals … can be characterized in the same terms as that with ghosts and spectra,” he writes on the Digital Ethereal project page. “They both are paradoxical entities, whose untypical substance allows them to be an invisible presence.”

Hernan is currently pursuing his PhD with the Architecture and Interaction Design group at Newcastle University in the U.K. He’s also released a free Android app version of the Kirlian Device, showcased in a recent exhibition. Check out the video.

Credit: Luis Hernan