Newton’s squidgy-vision.

I have Kevin Miller to thank for leading me to this wonderful page from one of Isaac Newton’s notebooks. At the same time as he was producing colour by refracting light with glass Newton was also perceiving colour by directly palpating his own eyeball with a wooden bodkin and deforming the wet squishy sphere, thereby putting direct physical pressure on the sensitive interior surface and sending signals which the brain interpreted as light and colour.

I tooke a bodkine gh & put it betwixt my eye & [the] bone as neare to [the] backside of my eye as I could: & pressing my eye [with the] end of it (soe as to make [the] curvature a, bcdef in my eye) there appeared severall white darke & coloured circles r, s, t, &c. Which circles were plainest when I continued to rub my eye [with the] point of [the] bodkine, but if I held my eye & [the] bodkin still, though I continued to presse my eye [with] it yet [the] circles would grow faint & often disappeare untill I removed [them] by moving my eye or [the] bodkin.

If [the] experiment were done in a light roome so [that] though my eyes were shut some light would get through their lidds There appeared a greate broade blewish darke circle outmost (as ts), & [within] that another light spot srs whose colour was much like [that] in [the] rest of [the] eye as at k. Within [which] spot appeared still another blew spot r espetially if I pressed my eye hard & [with] a small pointed bodkin. & outmost at vt appeared a verge of light.

 Had glass and the newly discovered laws of diffraction written the soul, the spirit and the imagination out of vision, he worried? No, because colour could be produced in vision by something other than the vitreous diffraction of light in either eye or prism. From our point of view his experiment at least established that the body, if not the soul, was deeply implicated in vision. But his notebook drawing of his heroic experiment, which Kevin and I found  at a Cambridge University Library online exhibition Footprints of the Lion: Isaac Newton at Work, is wonderful: the tiny hand inserts the bodkin, the sphere is indented like a foot kicking a football in a Harold Edgerton photograph, the concentric circumferences of the origins of the rings of colour are plotted on the retina, but then! — a virtual projection of what he perceived is projected out of the eye into the world. The eye is therefore not only a camera obscura but also a magic lantern! Virtuality, about to stage a comeback with the Oculus Rift is predicted!

8Bodkin

Art Gallery of New South Wales Dark Matter symposium: expand our discussion of the enterprise and the apparatus too!

The Art Gallery of New South Wales’s symposium Dark Matter succeeded in expanding the category of ‘photographer’ and ‘photography’, as set out in Geoffrey Batchen’s keynote, and deepened by Kitty Hauser’s and Michael Aird’s talks. Certainly the idea of photograph, right from its invention, always had multiple forms and multiple authors — from the wood cut to the literary simile. And intrepid chameleon daguerreotypists followed imperial, cosmopolitan and global vectors of trade winds and population ‘rushes’. But the way we talk about the technological apparatus also needs to be expanded, from just ‘camera’ and ‘photograph’, to spectacle and phenomena. One of Geoff Batchen’s examples, J. W. Newland, for instance, was certainly one of Australia’s most important daguerreotypists, pausing for most of 1848 in Sydney and Hobart, during an almost decade long swing from London, through America and the Pacific and back via Calcutta. He certainly made significant daguerreotypes and exhibited a stock of two hundred cosmopolitan portraits in his George Street Gallery. But he was, at the same time, and as part of exactly the same enterprise, a lanternist, exhibiting colour and optical enlargement and light itself as a phenomenon. We need to generate the theoretical capacity to also include this in the framework of our discussions. For instance my imagination has long been stirred by this report of a Newland lantern show at Maitland, first brought to my attention in Elizabeth Hartrick’s PhD on the lantern in Australian Consuming Illusions.

Maitland Mercury and  Hunter River General Advertiser 9/8/48 p2

Exhibition of Dissolving Views

On Monday evening, at the Northumberland Hotel, Mr. Newland gave his first exhibition of dissolving views and chromatropes, and of objects shown by the oxy-hydrogen microscope. Seventeen views and three chromatropes were first given; of these views several were very good, amongst the best being Inside of Caen Cathedral, Mount of Olives, Tintern Abbey, view near Paris, and capital representations of Punch, before and after dinner; the first and third chromatrope were also very beautiful, and of the most dazzling effect. The whole of these scenes, as well as the displays which followed, were thrown on a screen of prepared linen, placed upright at one end of the room, and occupying its whole height and nearly its breadth. Some specimens of minute objects in natural history, including a mosquito, placed before the lens of a powerful oxy-hydrogen microscope, were then shown; of these the most surprising objects were-the specimens of lace and fine linen, and the most beautiful were the wings of dragon-flies and moths; but a display followed of live weevils, whose extraordinary size and quick and ferocious movements almost gave rise to feeling of fear in the mind. Several wild beasts, birds, &c. were then shown on the canvas, illuminated, but not enlarged!. Another series of eighteen views and three chromatropes followed, of equal beauty to the first; several were particularly good, and amongst them were A Vine Press House in Lorraine, Army and Navy, Mount Vesuvius by day   and by night, Sligo Cathedral, Lion’s Head, Shirbrook Bridge, and the Kent. East India man, in a gale and on fire. The chromatropes were again of most dazzling effect and brilliant colors. The exhibition concluded with an illumination of the room by the Drummond light: the room was too small to fully show the power of the light, but the operator tested its intense heat by burning in it a gimblet, which he actually burnt into three pieces, the iron giving out brilliant sparks just before separating. The whole exhibition was of first-rate character, excepting the figures of beasts and birds, and Mr. Newland showed great skill in the gradual fading away of one view and encroachment on it of the succeeding one, until one had finally disappeared, and the other was revealed. In ail its beauty. The audience was not numerous, we were sorry to observe, for the exhibition well deserved a crowded room. Last evening the exhibition was repeated, the audience being more numerous. The exhibition will also be given again this evening and to-morrow, and we can assure our readers that if they attend they will not leave disappointed.