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This Photo Was Made With Radiation From Vintage Dishes |

This Photo Was Made With Radiation From Vintage Dishes

What does radiation look like? If you’re looking at a textbook, the high-frequency beam of energy is probably represented by some dull squiggly red arrow. But if you’re artist Peter Shellenberger, radiation appears as an eye-catching pool of purple.

That’s because Shellenberger makes autoradiographs—photos created through exposure to radioactive materials. His source of radiation? Dishes. Specifically, Shellenberger uses Fiestaware, the popular brand of dinnerware that for a period used uranium oxide in its red-orange glaze. (Yes, really. However, that glaze hasn’t been used for decades.)


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To make the images in his Radiation series, Shellenberger takes old Fiestaware pieces salvaged from flea markets or garage sales and places them in a light-tight box below a frame of 4 x 5-inch Ektachrome color film. Sandwiched in between the dish and the film is a small object—a Cracker Jack toy, a computer chip—that over time blocks the radiation from hitting the frame, leaving its shadow behind.

Most of the prints take one to four months of radioactive baking to yield a good image. And over the years that he’s been experimenting with autoradiograph methods, Shellenberger has discovered the length of exposure, object, and type of film can all yield different results.

For Spring (above), Shellenberger used his techniques to capture the mainspring from a clock. The image is a bit of a metaphor, a representation of the fears many people have when they hear about radiation. “The clock’s function and time relate to the Doomsday Clock and the beginning of our nuclear time,” says the Edgecomb, Maine-based artist. “Over the 45-day exposure, I would tap the box that the spring was in to create movement as it unfurled.” That movement is visible in the whorl that extends beyond the coil’s silhouette, a display of energy amidst the decaying environment of the box where Shellenberger captured the image.

If you’re wondering whether Shellenberger worries about working with potentially radioactive materials, he does. He took a break from autoradiographs last year after claiming he “didn’t feel so good.” (Although now he says the reaction might have been psychosomatic.) These days, he takes additional precautions when handling Fiestaware and processing film. He adds, however, that some curators are hesitant to show his materials in their galleries for fear of exposing visitors.

Shellenberger, however, says he’s going to continue making the invisible visible—he just might have to change how he dishes it out.

Category: Dinnerware  Tags: ,  Comments off
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