ESSAY BY TACO HIDDE BAKKER
THE TIME OF PHOTOGRAPHY
ON MARJOLEIN BLOM'S "DOUBLE-SLIT EXPERIMENT"
One of the great paradoxes inherent to photography is its convoluted
relationship to time. As a technique it is a child of the industrialisation
of the 19th century, the era heralding the triumph of clock time. But
since a photograph is able to so naturally portray the features of, say a
loved one, the emotional powers it conveys carry it through time in a
very different way than according to the laws of chronometrics.
As the popular saying goes a photograph captures a moment, but the
photo itself carries momentum, is perhaps itself an event more
important than the scene it depicts. A photograph is akin to the angel of
history, blown forward by the winds of progress, but facing the future
backwards. Its magic presence is eternal, carrying under its wings all of
the past and future at the same time.
Could perhaps the immense popularity of time travel in literature and
subsequently in cinema be seen as an attempt by laymen, unable to get a
grasp on the mind-bending theories of the quantum physicists, at
reconciling two worlds growing increasingly apart: the mathematical
foundations of time/space and the inner workings of the universe (a
scientific model) versus the lived experience of ordinary human beings
(La durée in Henri Bergson's philosophy against clock time)?
In her artist's book and photo series Double-Slit Experiment,
Marjolein Blom also tries to reconcile the extreme poles between
advanced quantum science and everyday experience. Whereas time
travel might be physically impossible (for the time being), human
imagination has proven that mentally almost anything is possible, for as
long as we dream and remember and project our dreams and memories
into the great unknown that is the future.
Blom takes as a title and a general framework within which to situate
her experiment an experiment in physics performed by Thomas Young
in the early 19th century. A light source beaming through two slits
doesn't project two small bands of light on a screen behind, but shows
an interference pattern that looks like a wave. A century later this
simple experiment would turn the scientific world on its head.
Blom's photographic essay is by no means meant as an illustration to
the almost untranslatable (in language or images to be understood by
laymen, that is) theories of quantum physicists, but rather expresses a
personal fascination for time travel and wormholes and everything that
these unexplainable phenomena might upend in the general ideas about
time and history, and commonplace notions about the past, present and
future. If time travel would not only allow us to visit the future, but also
to unobtrusively visit the past, we might "once again be able to speak
with those loved ones we miss", as Blom states in her book.
Theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler, responsible for the
term black hole, once said that time is nature's way of keeping
everything from happening at once – to which Richard Feynman added
that space must then exist so that everything doesn't happen only to you.
A consoling thought, to say the least.