WAVEFRONT Issue Summer 1987
Let's say holography is a bicycle. I get on the bicycle to go
different places. Now, most of the people I know are trying to build a
better bicycle. That's great. I can use those developments later. But
basically, it's just a vehicle for me.
A N A I T S T E P H E N S IS A PIONEER IN ART HOLOGRAPHY, JOINING
MARGARET BENYON AND HARRIET CASDIN_SILVER AS ONE OF THE ORIGINAL ART
HOLOGRAPHERS IN THE EVOLUTION OF HOLOGRAPHY. ANAIT S ARTISTRY, NOTABLY
IN SCULPTURE AND CAST RESINS, PREDATES HER INVOLVEMENT WITH HOLOGRAPHY
IN THE EARLY 70S. AS SHE POINTS OUT IN THIS INTERVIEW, SHE WAS ALREADY
AN ESTABLISHED ARTIST WHEN SHE BECAME FASCINATED WITH HOLOGRAPHY, AND
THIS FACILITATED THE DIFFICULT (FOR MOST HOLOGRAPHERS) LEAP FROM
HIGHTECH STIGMA TO ACCEPTANCE IN ART GALLERIES AND MUSEUMS.
FOR ANAIT, ART IS PARAMOUNT AND INSEPARABLE FROM INNOVATION: I
AM AN ARTIST, NOT A HOLOGRAPHER, SHE AVOWS. HER OWN ART IS A DEPICTION
OF THE INNER SELF STRIVING TO EXPRESS UNIVERSAL IDEAS THROUGH THE
PARTICULAR AGENCY OF IMAGINATION AND VISION.
LEST IT HE FORGOTTEN, ANAIT AND OTHER PIONEERS LIKE HER ARE TRUE
HOLOGRAPHERS IN THE SENSE THAT THEY CREATE THEIR WORK DIRECTLY WITHOUT
HAVING LAB TECHNICIANS CREATE THE WORK FROM MODEL TO FINAL HOLOGRAM.
ANAIT S FOCUS HAS BEEN AND CONTINUES TO BE DIRECT SILVER-HALIDE
REFLECTION HOLOGRAPHY. THIS FOCUS CONTINUES AS SHE NOW MOVES INTO THE
AREA OF PULSED LASER HOLOGRAMS.
IN THIS CONTINUING SERIES OF D/DIALOGUE WITH ARTISTS, WE ARE PLEASED
TO INCLUDE ANAIT S VIEWS AS THEY AFFECT THIS GROWING DISCOURSE ON ART
AL RAZUTIS: There is a terrific pressure on a lot of people to
go public early in their careers. s. The technology and lab conditions
have developed to the point where you don't have to be a holographer, in
that sense of the word d, to make holograms. You can have them produced
to your specifications in a lab, and they'll be aesthetically
spectacular in terms of technique. How does that impact on your work?
ANAIT STEPHENS: Very little. You and I both became aware of
holography back in the late '60s, then got into it as our own personal
medium in '70 or '71, watched it grow and become available to many
different people in many areas--areas we may
not like because they're so commercial or entrepreneurial. But
as an artist I took on holography as just another medium to work in. If
I get an opportunity to show my work, that's gravy. But doing the work
and doing what I do with holography--to me, is it. I would like people to
be aware of the short history of holography: "I knew that before you
did"--that kind of thing. As for getting out there and selling, if you
have to be commercial, go ahead. I'm not knocking that. I was lucky
enough to be free of any pressures. I just did what I wanted to do.
You've been free of financial pressures, but it must be an ongoing experience for
you to see that work of this kind is not accepted in the fine art museums.
I was in fine art galleries and museums from the word go. I have
not had that problem as much, because I was already established as an
artist. That's the difference. I was doing environments and putting
pieces in group shows. When I took on this new medium the only thing
that impinged on my freedom, on my own imagination, was that I wanted to
keep a dialogue with the art world. I didn't want to take up holography
and get lost, although I did feel doors close. But there were places
that would accept holography. I've shown in art museums. I started
showing my work in '75 at the Baxter Gallery at Cal Tech. I was the
first show at the new art gallery in the Cabrillo Community Arts Museum. I was shown
at the Long Beach Museum of
Art, which was focusing on video. But holography was accepted there
because it was a new art form. My show toured for two years through the
Associates of Science and Technology in Washington, D.C. That was a
funky show. It was primitive--I had never done holography. I framed them
myself. Using holography was a purely artistic, creative function for
me. The holography scene was not of any import to me. I had to keep up
with it, but it was not what I wanted. I did my artwork.
If you're in a position where you've already been established in certain mediums as
an artist, and you start working with holography, then
it is critical for you to see it succeed in the arts, as opposed to someone who begins
in holography purely as a holographer, and then is stuck with the science and technology
circuits. My recollection of the problem in the '70s was that most shows were tied to this new, emerging medium on a trial basis.
At the beginning I got into holography as mixed media, an art
form that the art world could get their hooks into. I'd say, "Sure, I've
got holograms, but they've also got watercolors in them." I did
collages; all kinds of crazy things. I took the hologram and made it an
art form for me. Let's say holography is a bicycle. I get on the bicycle
to go different places. Now, most of the people I know are trying to build a better
bicycle. That's great. I can use those developments later. But basically, it's just
a vehicle for me.
If Duchamp brings a bicycle into a gallery; if an engineer brings a
bicycle into a gallery; and you bring a bicycle into a gallery, some
distinction must be made. Duchamp's bicycle may not be rideable.
Mine's good enough to take me where I want to go. I use holography
as another medium. I'm not a holographer. I'm an artist. I use
holography. It takes me places. It's a vehicle. Now, many people are
adding chrome to the bicycle, making it speed - great. Those are the developers of
the technology. We need them too. But they are busy with a bicycle. They are not
taking trips of fantasy.
So within that context, you would be fully supportive of technicians
organizing themselves around established artists, like John Perry, who
makes holograms for artists.
I think that's understood. Holography is such a unique, new
technology. Pardon the expression. At one time, the lead pencil was a
new technology. Holography is high tech for us now, and being this new
medium, is going out scattershot. I don't have to like where it goes.
For instance, the use of holography on the cover of Art Forum's summer,
1985 issue as part of a piece by Polaroid artist Lucas Samaras is not my
criteria of holographic art. When I first went to Lloyd Cross in
'71 for a couple of hands-on sessions in holography, I said: "Look, I'm
an artist. I want something that's accessible to be viewed. I want to be
able to hang it on the wall with a spotlight." So I did reflections.
Then I came back and set up a little table in my studio, with a
rinky-dink little $350 metrologic kit and a I 1/2-milliwatt laser. I
started out that way, making little, teeny holograms. I'm not saying I
was the only one--a few of us started that way. Then Lloyd said: "Oh,
there's something new." He was doing Multiplexes. So I did some of those
because I thought: "Gee, a new space for performance--a modem zoescope!"
Then Lloyd said: "Wait 'til you see the rainbows.
Boy, are they bright!" There's that word-- "bright". He showed
them to me, and I said: "Wait a minute. You're having a hell of a time
mounting them; you're having a hell of a time looking at them. You can't
just put them up on the wall." And he couldn't. I said: "What happened
to this marvelous sculptural quality of holography that I love?
Rainbows--you just go up and down and get color bands." And everybody was
so thrilled with it. I said: "NO, that doesn't work for me."
Some people have created extremely articulate work in rainbow
Rudie Berkhout. He took something I said "phooey" about and learned
how to do multiple exposures. I appreciate when an artist does something
Rudie's got subject matter that comes from a profound respect
for that aspect of creating. I remember seeing a traveling show from the
Museum of Holography. It was a potpourri. Next to the Benton train was
Lo Moore's Saturn. Everyone was talking about diffraction efficiency and
What's that? What's that? We have to drop that language.
You had to be part of that scene, too.
I got flak from one group show I was in. The critic was vicious.
He said: "Holography as an art form is not it, and Anait isn't helping
any." I got a lot of sympathy after that review.
Your work has always been in reflection?
It's always been reflection. I've never even done image-planes.
I don't do second- stage holograms. My holograms are very direct. What
everybody else is doing is fine--they want to be high tech; they want to
be critical and talk. They've got a beautiful bicycle but where are they
going to go with it? I've got a little, rinky-dink bicycle that takes me
I'd like to implicate Bentonism. It's not strictly Benton's problem,
because he's a very creative technician, but his discoveries have led to
an extreme bias towards everything that was aesthetically irrelevant. It doesn't matter
whether or not a painter uses bright pigment
or how large the painting is. Yet these days people like Alexander are
running around claiming to have made the world's biggest hologram.
Nobody says: "Well, so what? What's the subject matter?" Your holograms
are a lot more interesting on the level of content, whether or not
they're very bright.
I feel there's an unfair comparison. Show me anybody's simple
reflection holograms that are brighter than mine, given the subjects
we've taken. You always get a brighter image if you do a master, then an
image-plane reflection. I'm not talking about that. Margaret Benyon
started doing reflections in Australia a few years ago and wrote me to
ask: "How do you light them? I can't get them bright." That's the nature of a simple
reflection hologram. It won't be bright unless it's a second hologram taken from
There's bleaching processes...
I can get brilliant ones with a reversal bleach using Agfa film.
And you can use pyro now instead of D- l9...
I'm just talking about how much light you have captured in a
standard reflection hologram vis-a-vis an image-plane. That's the
bicycle of the present--the imageplane.
There's also an aesthetic--some may want a piece to be specular
as opposed to diffused.
I've made some image-planes. They came out bright, but it was a
trade-off. I didn't like the narrow viewing angle and I didn't like the
demands it puts on the lighting system. I was using standard gallery
lighting, just putting in spots instead of floods. My show traveled that
way. My whole trip in holography was to make it accessible, and I got it
into art places. There was a group show in Brooklyn-- part of an attempt
to revitalize Brooklyn, to bring art back to Brooklyn. I took a stack of
bricks and put a hologram with them. I beamed a 7-milliwatt laser down
into this hologram sitting in an industrial-looking holder in the middle
of these bricks. When you looked you saw two white feathers floating in
this solid pile of bricks, mysteriously lit by a laser. The image was in
something very solid. It was a very beautiful piece. At the opening I
was watching to see the effect, because there was no other holography in
the show. Finally I saw two very soigne couples--typical art folk in
their thirties. One woman said: "Did you see the hologram?" One
answered, "Yeah" --very blase. "Well, I liked it," she said. But her
companions couldn't accept the work because it was a hologram. They
refused to go into the imaginary space of light, something material and
something that materializes. They were holographic snots. They were the
world of art that is challenged and frightened to death by holography.
Do you think the art world is actually biased against
The whole attitude of art versus something new and revolutionary
is human nature. Look at the poor critics. They have climbed up this
little mountain, and all of a sudden there's something they don't know.
They put it down and ignore it because they have no background. They're perfectly
right to say, "God,talk about the content." That's what critics are for. When something
is new, it's a challenge. It takes time to see it. They have to get a handle on it.
They don't even understand what it is.
In her paper at the SPIE conference last January, Melissa Crenshaw
commented that this medium has been laboring under such limitations--when
you get green, that's all you get. Color control in terms of content has
been lacking, even with bleach and development processes.
I did a piece in '75 in which I color- conformed cubes to the
color of the hologram I had made. Artists would come in and say: "Wow,
look at those cubes go from green to red." Pseudoscopic, of course.
Virtual time and space never interested me. I like things that move,
that do strange things in space. I'm very kinetic. That piece worked
because they saw content that made them think.
The 20th century has seen a lot of experimentation with color--from
its negation in the black square to extreme experiments with color
What you're saying doesn't apply to me. You're talking about how
holography has a color problem? I had color all the time-- mixed colors
with the subject matter. It was difficult--I couldn't get pretty blues
and lavenders. But I knew that between red and green I had this field. I
eked out what I could. I attempted to get out of this new medium what it
had to offer technically. I can't relate to the scene out there. I can't
relate it to what I'm doing. I went to the Light Dimensions show in
Bath, England and the first thing I saw was a revolving Japanese table
with 8-inch dichromates and a beautiful support system. If you could
imagine the battle I go through to get one man to make me one holder for
one holographic plate. I have to fight tooth and nail. I was quite
stunned by the show, because I hadn't seen what was going on in Europe.
I was still an artist alone in her studio and I had been waiting for
holography to come up from underground. And it has. I almost lost
interest in holography. Everything had been done. There was no more to
explore --I was relieved of the pressure of exploring or experimenting.
It took a while for that feeling to go away. Then after a month, I
looked at my little notebooks and sketches and said: "This is still an
interesting idea." l went back to the things I had in mind to do.
I agree with some that a lot of what we see is just mindless technical flourishes.
It becomes a technical exercise for people with a basic vocabulary in graphic design.
My early works were minimal, geometrical, constructivist. And
I'm not doing it to please people. My sculpture was more accessible.
When you get into holography, you've got a heck of a lot of distance,
but you're still immersed in working with light. A lot of people coming
to it are stuck in this fascination. What's going to happen to young
people who come to holography without any real background in other art
forms, given the technology and their mindset?
I think they're really interested in what more established
holographers are saying about the medium. They're interested in
criticism. More debates are happening now. They're interested in getting
a handle on what is meaningful in this medium. One very good technical
holographer in San Francisco told me he's been working in a conceptual
vacuum. He now sees that no matter how good the piece is technically,
the subject matter is -
Now, he didn't go to art school to learn about the history of
art and he didn't come to holography from another medium.
He's a good holographer with no imagination.
Addressing aesthetic issues is crucial from an historical
If you draw a graph of the development of holography, you start
asking how much of it was research, and where did research maybe slip
over into the art part of the pie and how much of it was entrepreneurial
The problem is that the art part of the pie always includes an
incredible amount of deprivation on the part of artists. I don't like
that definition that we have to live in garbage cans.
But the point is, an artist isn't feeding anybody, okay? If you
want to look at someone who's been discriminated against, take me. Take
a middle-aged, well-to-do, bourgeois housewife who is an artist. Who can
patronize someone who isn't starving? The patron wants to help artists
who give him the ego trip that he is hobnobbing with some marvelous
artist. But I can't be patronized. I'm not one of those freaky fringe
groups. I am what I am -- well-to- do, middle-aged, white, so it's: "Get
lost, lady, get lost." The whole art scene is a commercial hype job
anyway. It's trite. It's nauseating. When art became an investment, that
was it. It's a money game. I would be invited to shows by new
curators in L.A., and I'd say: "I'd love to be in the show. I'd love to
be on some prestigious campus." Then I'd sit back and wait, because once
they got into the local scene and mentioned that I was in the show, I'd
get shunted out.
Because of your wealth
Of course. Because of who and what I am.
Most people know holography from dichromate pendants, the National
Geographic cover and the Michael Snow show at Expo. If someone like
Sally Weber or Melissa Crenshaw goes to a party and says "I'm a
holographer", that's the worst thing they can do, given the context in
which holography is understood. That's where reeducation is necessary.
In '75 when I was doing work in L.A., I wanted people to see
holography because it was a new art form. I was trying to proselytize
and evangelize it. I'm thrilled when someone says: "I've seen your
work." Now there's a lot of holography floating around L.A. and I've
just done a retrospective at the Western States Museum of Photography in
Santa Barbara. When I left painting and sculpture and got into light and
color, they had a novelty to them. My work has always had a fun aspect.
I take myself seriously, but I laugh at myself taking myself seriously.
I'm doing a series of holograms now that pertain to
reading--holograffiti. The series is called Blah, Blah, Blah and' plays
with printed material. The pieces won't be facile, so that viewers walk
by and say: "Oh, isn't that lovely." They'll have to stand there and
figure out where they can read something and where they can't. These
pieces are going to be really mysterious.
Holography has finally come to terms with some sort of hybrid
form between sculpture and holography, and between painting, graphics
and holography. I think it's really important for that to be
That's definitely what my early work was. I realized that just
strictly holograms were a no-no. What I had seen wasn't art, just little
images. I didn't want to recreate the images. I immediately went to
playing. I make a hologram of something interesting--an abstract form.
Then the fun is in the composition. I do an awful lot of composing after
I've got the holograms. For instance, there's Sphere and Collage, which
was at my first show in '74.1 left a lot of the plate clear. I like to
have something show through, and in those days, in the processing, you developed dark
and it stayed opaque, but if you kept fairly light around the edges, you got a clarity.
And I like soft edges. I don't want a hologram that just runs to the edges and stops. I would work with that space and use collage, paintings, writings or photographs
to work something against the holographic image. Most of them were abstractions.
Sometimes I used objects, as in the hologram of the eggshell, The Hatched Egg. I
made hybrids, as you say. I was working
with sculpture; I was working with light. I would compose, and
that's the fun of holography. The doing of it is not fun. You're very
tied down when you're doing the actual hologram. The fun is the first
concept. Then you get the plate and study it a lot and think about what
will work with it. Did anybody else ever do it that way? I think most
were doing holography for holography's sake, making pure holograms. I
was trying to keep it involved with other art so people who didn't know
holography would still have a handle somewhere. I'd even put white graph
paper behind the hologram, which gave it the hardest contrast for the
eye to see. You're looking at white paper and then you're looking at an
image. In the Word Series, I built a rock wall, a mosaic. That
composition took me a long time. I wanted content that people could
recognize emotionally. There were rocks with a little abalone shell and
a feather--something you'd see in a tide pool maybe, an organic form.
Then I wrote the word "rock" on the hologram. The shadow of the word
came out on the rocks. When I flipped the plate for the
pseudoscopic image, the viewer saw rocks on one plane on the glass,
and the shadow of the word "rock" on the rocks. It immediately gave more
kinetic value to the piece --the fact that the pseudoscopic image moved
and the virtual image was always static. With my holography, you have to
walk back and forth. I hate to see someone come up to a piece and freeze
and focus. The minute you move a bit, they're much more accessible. I
always tell people my holograms are like sculpture, and they should move
around them. They have some dimensionality, even though they are
rather flat. That's one of the demands I put on myself. That's
why I didn't like imageplaning even though they were bright, because of
the limited aperture plus the demand on the lighting system.
You've just acquired a pulsed ruby laser. What do you want to do
with pulsed holography?
I'm going where no woman has gone before! I had some projects
planned, for which I went all the way to Europe to use someone's pulsed
ruby, but it was a messy job and a waste of time. Another schedule to
work with someone in England didn't work out because they didn't have
time. Back here in the U.S. there was one, but their time wasn't my
time--it just didn't jibe. So I kept thinking of getting a pulsed ruby.
It was very difficult for me to make the decision, but I realized I do
that with every new laser I get, even when I go from a 5-milliwatt to a
15-milliwatt. I think about it a lot and wonder if I deserve it. Since I
had to rationalize it, I thought: "Well, gee, I haven't bought a new car
in 16 years, so what would I spend on that?" So I asked my brother what
a good Porsche would cost. When he told me, I said: "Wow--it's a toss- up
between a really neat car and a pulsed ruby laser, isn't it?" So I
finally resolved to make the leap of faith. One of the pulsed projects I
had been trying to work on was of things that floated, which I was going
to call Lifeboy. My idea was to image-plane off of reflection things
being projected out in space. I did a test on bubbles. I love bubbles. I
can't wait to see bubbles out there, those nebulous, beautiful things
that reflect light. And white feathers. To see them floating
holographically would be an exciting visual. There's the possibility of
utilizing human action. My reflection holograms are basically a static
form, but I make them as kinetic as possible. With a pulsed ruby I can
be doing things that are very full of motion. I'll have to see when I've
done an image plane of feathers coming out, or the bubbles, if they're a
little too static. I might want to invert them--do a second reflection in
a virtual mode and flip them over again. I want the objects to have more
than just that marvelous delicate immediacy of being right there, and
just being light. I don't want them to freeze. In all the imageplanes
I've seen, the objects look stuck in space. And I don't like that
feeling. So that's what I want to see. I'll do transmission masters, but
the work will be reflection when I'm finished with it.