Lionel Rolfe and Nigey Lennon
When Jeff Allen opens his eyes to a sunny morning in his warmly paneled Los Angeles bedroom, it is a much different kind of morning from the one that most of us mortals awake to.
The bright Southern California sun does not illuminate his bedroom in the conventional and oh-so-drearily-boring way. Instead, it literally dances and bursts in a thousand different hues and waves, making the room into a visual orchestra of shimmering kinetic light.
When the sum comes up for Jeff Allen, it comes into his bedroom, not through a window, but through a vinyl “diffraction grating.” A diffraction grating is a hologram, only in this case the hologram is not utilized for the three-dimensional images it can create. Rather, it is being used simply for the psychedelic tricks it plays with light.
A hologram is nothing more than a kind of film. If you look at it in the right light, you see a three-dimensional “picture.” The picture is the hologram, however, is made without lenses and is usually illuminated only by a laser beam. The laser light is split into two beams actually, one which hits the hologrammatic film itself, and another which strikes the object being holographed. Some of the laser light from the object is reflected onto the hologram. Thus, the two beams of light hit each other and create an interference pattern. The resulting diffraction grating will recreate the object three-dimensionally only when a laser or some other concentrated light is shined through it. Under normal light, the diffraction grating looks like an exposed piece of gray film.
But when, as Jeff Allen does, you cover your window with diffraction grating material, it plays strange tricks with the sun.
Allen, a former promoter of rock and roll groups, has set up a Holographic Creative Service organization in Hollywood, as might be expected. He is convinced that soon the whole world will be deluged with holographic technology, and the impact, he predicts, will be greater than the impact of the so-called counterculture on the popular music of the 1960s.
Allen represents a Salt Lake City inventor named Mike Foster who, only a few months ago, discovered a cheap way to emboss holograms on plastic. This advance in technology means that it will soon be possible to print holograms for little more than it now costs to print colored ink on paper.
If so, holography will have come a long way since the process was first discovered, almost inadvertently, buy a Hungarian-born scientist named Denis Gabor. In 1947, Gabor was trying to find a way for the electron microscope to take a picture of the atom. The electron microscope could come awfully close to taking such a picture, but not only were the physical problems hard to overcome, there were theoretical ones as well. Gabor decided to try an entirely different approach.
The inadvertent result of Gabor’s work was the world’s first holograph. It was a very poor holograph of a microscopic subject but it was three-dimensional. Gabor’s primary goal was never attained. Scientists have yet to take a true picture of the atom, although they have pictured the double helix of virus nucleic acid.
It wasn’t until 1963 that two University of Michigan scientists, experimenting with the laser beam, then only three years old, somewhat accidentally created a genuine hologram. The hologram was a tree-dimensional image of a model train, and it was so impressive that thereafter large corporations and military agencies began pouring millions of dollars into research and development of holography. At the same time, there also sprang up an underground network of holographers, people who wanted to make their own holograms. Many of the advances in holographic technique have been discovered by basement laboratory tinkerers.
But now, suddenly, holography is coming out of the closet; indeed, if all goes according to plan, one of the major men’s magazines will soon put out an issue featuring a holographic centerfold. This means that, instead of merely ogling the centerfold model, the magazine’s readers will be able to gape at her from all angels” up, down, sideways, behind. They will almost be able to touch her, she will look so real.
“Imagine the holograph as a window,” Jeff Allen says, smilingly. “It will be able to do so many things including pander to some people’s voyeuristic desires.”
More evidence that holography is about to deluge the hoi-polloi (that’s us): in the last year or so, it’s been the rage among so-called “jet set” and in-crowd people to throw hologram parties. Instead of unveiling a new painting, the host brings out a few holograms for the guests to play with. Some say this trend is a direct result of Salvadore Dali’s fascination with holograms. Dali, usually ranked among the world’s top artists (especially when Dali himself does the ranking), spends much of his time with that crowd, since they are the only ones wealthy enough to afford his art. The crowd is quick to recognize the “coming thing, and just as quick to drop something not sensational enough for their jaded tastes.
But they are to dropping holography. The trend-setters of the fashion world, for example, have gone gaga over holography. The idea of embossing real-looking three-dimensional objects on vinyl clothing (or even cellophane, such as is used for gift-wrapping) is a lot more than a 90-day wonder.
Imagine, for instance, the artsy/camp value of a hologram-generated Art Deco face peering up at its wearer from the toe of her shoe when illuminated by beams of concentrated white light in a boutique.
One of the “hot little items” Allen carries around with him is a piece of black fabric-backed vinyl on which has been embossed small, light-defractory prisms. This eye-catching innovation could certainly be expanded to include fabric used on furniture and walls. Certainly it would be visually stimulating to wear a suit of defractory clothes while sitting on a defractory sofa surrounded by defractory walls and ceiling.
There has also been talk of creating a hologram of a shapely nude body which one could war on the garments covering one’s own dumpy physique. However, one would then have to consider the consequences once out of the light source.
How large a part holography will play in fashion is open to conjecture. Bur there is no doubt that it is going to have an early impact on the record industry. Holograms can be embossed directly onto records by using many of the same techniques already used for pressing the sound grooves into the vinyl. Grand Funk, a rock, will soon put out a long-playing record made out of defractory vinyl, simply as something nice to look at. In the center of the record, a giant finger will be pointing up and out in 3-D.
Musician Stevie Wonder, though himself blind, recently said that he wants to put out a holographic record cover. Former Beatle George Harrison wants Allen to design a holographic press kit for public consumption. Of course, Salvador Dali has already completed a 360-degree holographic portrait of rock star Alice Cooper, with a very fashionable price tag. Then again, nearly anyone can get a holographic portrait nowadays. The School of Holography in San Francisco’s upper Mission District, for example, will make you one for under a hundred dollars.
Still, Dali will probably continue to command high prices for his holography, and people with money will lap it up. He is planning his own holographic museum in Figueras, Spain, Dali’s birthplace, near Barcelona. At the grand opening of this museum, Dali himself will film a holographic documentary starring (who else?) Dali, his wife Gala and their international set of sycophants. Dali favorite model, Donyale Luna, will serve as holographic “High Priestess,” wearing a costume of defractory Lumilar. She is the same model who will adorn the cover of the magazine mentioned above.
All of this attention from so many frivolous people may make holography seem not terribly important, but such is not the case. Rather, holography has managed to keep the ennue-ridden hipsters fascinated, and there is no indication that the fascination is lessening. It is strange, maybe, to contemplate the bizarre juxtaposition of Dennis Gabor inventing the holograms as part of his quest to see the lone atom, and Zsa Zsa Gabor wearing it, but such are the times.
No one could accuse Mattel Toys of creating products having much to do with the jet set, yet the company has already leased an option on Mike Foster’s embossing method and is planning to market a new line of holographic toys in the near future. Included will be a small, holographic movie-viewing device. Mattel also plans to manufacture games building on the principle that two people looking at the same hologram from different viewpoints see different things. The firm also sees a big market for holographic playing cards featuring everything from baseball players to antique cars.
Last year, the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science predicted in its magazine, Science, that the ability of holography to crate real-looking objects would soon revolutionize advertising. In the world of display advertising, it already has. McDonnell-Douglas Electronics created a holographic hand which was placed I the window of Cartier Jewelers on New York’s Fifth Avenue and which appeared to be offering a diamond ring and bracelet to anyone who reached toward the window. The image so unnerved one passerby that she assailed it with a umbrella and declared it to be the work of the Devil.
Part of holography’s commercial value is tied in with today’s interest in metaphysics. Holography poses some mind-boggling questions about the nature of reality. It certainly has the potential to upset many of our current conceptions of reality, a fact that science fiction writer Ray Bradbury has used to create nightmare scenes involving applications of holography in some of his short stories.
Similarly, a television serial, Banacek, featured a episode centering around the theft of a very valuable jet engine. The thieves steal the engine from a laboratory and replace it with a hologram, i.e., with nothing. The only wrong with the plot is that such a hologram would be more expensive to produce than the most expensive jet engine prototype but no good television scriptwriter ever worried about such trifles.
The ultimate in holography, of course, will be the development of a real holographic cinema. Dali’s crude attempts notwithstanding, this is still many years away. When Denis Gabor won the Nobel Prize in 1971, he spoke most excitedly about solving the problems of harnessing holography to movies and television. He believes it is a long way off, although some pioneering efforts have been made.
Lloyd Cross of the San Francisco School of Holography has been experimenting with a film projection technique called multiplexing. As the audience walks around a curved holographic screen, the figures “inside: the screen perform lifelike motions. One of Cross’ efforts features two people kissing. Another shows a girl winking at the viewer. Still another is of a baseball player striking out. The last shows Cross himself. As you walk around the screen, Cross’ eye follow you. Then, at the very end, Cross’ image actually gets up out of its chair and starts coming toward you!
A major problem with holographic “photography” is that the subject matter shot must be bathed in laser light or conventional light in a special, concentrated form. Such light can only be produced in limited quantities and only in a laboratory. Thus, one could not create a holographic landscape, or even a holographic cityscape. Every shot would have to be a studio shot. Still, it is a sure guess that the technology will keep developing. Some large corporations have hired staff holographers just to keep tabs in case there are anyi technological breakthroughs. Such firms as RCA, Hughes and TRW have reportedly spent millions on holographic research.
One of the applications of holography that these firms are interested in is its enormous potential for data storage. Because a hologram is three-dimensional, one single hologram has an almost infinite number of planes on which to record bits of information. Regular microfilm is only two-dimensional. With holography, it would not be unreasonable to store the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica on a hologram the size of a sugar cube.
Other industrial applications of holography derive from the capability of a holography to pinpoint the degree of stress acting upon a moving or changing object. Holographic techniques are widely used in everything from spotting potential problems in aircraft wings and tires to ascertaining the degree of decay in the paintings and sculptures of Venice. In the field of medicine, holographic microscopy enables researchers to study human cells and tissue in three dimensions, a considerable aid in the understanding of diseases such as cancer.
Holography involves some very far-fetched ideas, but with all the research being done, each new breakthrough seems more incredible than the last. In addition to the giant corporations, there are many independent holographers at work. Lloyd Cross’ School of Hologaphy in San Francisco is a communal research center for architects and photographers. The New York Art Alliance and Holex, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, are studying the uses of holography for marketing and promotions. Since a simple holograph-making device can be had for under $200, there is a network of holographers and holography courses springing up across the country. Moreover, in the past year, revolutionary methods have been developed that enable you to view holograms without projecting a laser beam on to them.
It has been only eleven years since the advent of holographic technology. From Gabor’s first crude microscopic holograms, it now appears that we will soon be inundated with a promiscuous, mass embossing of holograms that can be made for literally pennies. The implications and applications are unlimited, for holography is much more than a new kind of 3-D, and you don’t have to wear glasses to see it.
Holography as a technology enables people to see that reality is not what it seems. It is a way of manipulating a larger reality. In this sense, it really is no more miraculous than the old Baron Munchausen tale in which a bugler steps outside his tent to blow reveille one cold morning, and no sounds comes from his horn. He returns to his barracks and is hanging the instrument up when suddenly he hears a faint sound, and then the full notes of a bugle call bursting forth as the sound “thaws out.”
Holography is strange and absurd, if not downright magical, which no doubt accounts for Dali’s interest in it, and the interest of people like Jeff Allen and Mike Foster. Allen, in fact, believes that Foster is so ahead of his time that Foster-produced holographic movies are right around the corner.
Already, says Allen, Foster has patented a device called a thin lens, the implications of which could have the most profound effect on the field of optics since Galileo made his lenses. Basically, the thin lens is made holographically, but, more important, it can be embossed on plastic. Theoretically, it will work as well as the most expensive lens ground from glass. Yes, Foster might be the biggest thing in optics since Galileo–or there could be another possibility. Perhaps Jeff Allen is a hologram that Foster created. Perhaps Foster has created hundreds of Jeff Allens, and this advancing army of holographers is going to be taking over any day now . . . .
Lionel Rolfe and Nigey Lennon, a Los Angeles-based writing team, have contributed to numerous publications.