WAVEFRONT Issue Fall 1986
By BARRIE BOULTON
More than two years ago, word went out that an important exhibition
of holograms would be presented at Expo '86 in Vancouver. Various groups
within the field made plays to organize the exhibition, or at least to
have some say over its content. As 1985 began, it appeared to be a
contest between the internationalists, who preferred a globally based
exhibition, and the nationalists, who wished to emphasize Canadian
As it turned out, neither group got serious consideration. The
job went to an outsider (as far as holography folks are
concerned)--Michael Snow, a wellknown and obviously well- connected
By the time Expo '86 is over, this $800,000 holography exhibition
will probably be the best attended of all time.
Entitled The Spectral Image, it is located in a beautifully
renovated building known as the Roundhouse, which used to house
maintenance and repair facilities for Vancouver steam engines a hundred
years ago. The machine shop is now a 300-metre- square exhibition space
-- high ceilings, preserved beams, parquet floors--a quality plac e for
The pre-exhibition space is reserved for explanatory
graphics--history and technique of lasers, 3-D imagery and holography,
with supporting holograms demonstrating the various techniques.
This section is generally well organized and laid out. However,
a number of demonstration holograms were neither accredited nor (in
three examples) illuminated correctly, which hardly supported the
explanatory notes and graphics.
Also, it was disappointing to find that this important exhibition
had neither catalogue nor any form of information available for the
The first section in the exhibition was a series of classical
white-light transmission holograms entitled Children's Parade,
interestingly displayed with plates at different heights and different
angles. For the first-time viewer, it was no doubt a baffling
experience. Finding a correct viewing angle was a considerable
achievement. The title of the series was presumably determined by the
subject matter of model cars and helicopters, having been supplied, it
appeared, by Woolworths.
It was not exactly the most encouraging start to a major exhibition.
Unfortunately, worse was to follow. A pulsed portrait was built into a
door. The image contained a reasonably forgettable number of human heads
experiencing a bizarre form of facial ecstasy.
Building holograms into objects can be very effective. An example
was shown here in the exhibition. Inside an open luggage trunk were two
holograms of swimming fish. The concept was not a bad one; however its
execution had probably a very different effect on the public than that
perhaps intended by the artist. Being reflection holograms, they have
45-degree references. Without viewing instructions, many people didn't
realize that when they looked into the trunk, their heads obscured the
light source. It didn't really make much difference even when the light
was allowed to illuminate the holographic image. The luminosity was so
poor that without intense concentration the swimming fish were hardly
Planetscape, three large transmission plates, showed an impressive,
panoramic, moonlike landscape in virtual image. Sadly, because there was
no dark background, the contrast level was low.
The largest display and no doubt what was intended to be the
centerpiece is a large wall with a one-by-two-metre rectangle cut out of
it. Visitors were permitted to pass behind. When directly behind the
opening, they were bathed in yellow-green sodium light. If you've not
already guessed, this was the "you are now a hologram" piece.
I comment no further on this embarrassingly puerile effort masquerading
An interesting series of holograms was Still Life in 8 Calls, a
group of eight classical white-light holograms displayed at seat level
with a viewer's chair conveniently placed before each piece. The basic
image is a table on which stand familiar objects like telephone clock
and coffee cup. As the viewer passes down the line of holograms, the
objects begin to distort and become increasingly difficult to recognize.
The last section is reserved for pulsed transmission holograms.
As a collection, they probably represent the worst holograms ever
publicly displayed in recent years.
Laser transmission holograms are notoriously difficult to illuminate
anyway. Maintaining clean optics, constant laser power and perfect laser
alignment needs daily if not hourly attention. This obviously was not
the case here. Further, the quality of the holograms themselves did
nothing to improve an already poor presentation. The subject matter was
at least no worse than 95 per cent of all the pulsed holograms produced
to date--in other words, boring, unimaginative and the usual waste of
everybody's time and money.
Without any exhibition documents, it was difficult to understand
whether Snow had commissioned all these pieces, or whether individual
artists had pursued their own ideas. Finally, it didn't make much
difference. The artistic input shown here was light years away from the
Berkhouts, the Schweitzers and the Morees of holography The techniques
used were prehistoric compared to the four- and five-color multi image
holograms created by holographers today.
It should be mentioned, however that the exhibition had a number
of plus points. The location was excellent; the over-all presentation
was clean, with a good level of attention to detail; lighting
installations (except for laser work) were above average; explanations
were clear and comprehensible.
For the vast majority of visitors who had never seen holograms,
this exhibition will probably be as impressive as any other.
Unfortunately, holographers lost an opportunity to present
state-of-the-art holograms in 1986. Instead, the public was treated to a
single artist's primitive use of the medium, which could have been done
at least half a dozen years ago.
Had this exhibition been presented in some obscure location, it
would not have really mattered a great deal. But this was Expo '86, with
an estimated 20 million visitors.
Long gone are the days when it was almost obligatory for
holographers to make holograms in their garages. More and more funds are
flowing into the medium through government and private sponsorship and
subsidies, as well as sales. The power base of holographers is today
broader than it has ever been. It would seem, therefore, that Snow's
good fortune was more due to the medium's inability to organize itself
and lobby in a coordinated fashion, and perhaps less to do with his
invincible position in the Canadian art hierarchy to obtain funds for
his own personal holography exhibition.
He, no doubt, will eventually move on to other things. Expo visitors
will return home believing they have seen state-of-the-art holography.
And the holography community will be left to ponder what might have
Barrie Boulton is the director of Hologram Europe.