This post was originally published in January 2015. 

Our friend and colleague Jay Peterson, who works with Coffee House Press on their CHP in the Stacks program (which facilitates writer and artist residencies in libraries and archives–super cool!) sent us this interview with photographer Eric William Carroll, a photographer and visual artist who uses archived materials in his work. Below is an excerpt from Jay’s interview with Eric–we encourage you to check out the full interview and explore more residency projects on the CHP in the Stacks Tumblr! ~ Laura

Eric William Carroll is a Twin Cities-based photographer and visual artist with a long history of using archived materials from scientific research in his work. Since 2013, he has been working in the personal archives of Nobel Prize winning physicist Donald Glaser (1926-2013).

CHP: How did you come to know Glaser’s work?

EWC: I came across his work at two different times, really. The most recent time was during my research for my ongoing project about art, nature, and science called “G.U.T. Feeling”. I was reading about the history of physics and came across this amazing invention called the bubble chamber. I was fascinated by it, the images it created and wanted to know everything about it. It turns out Glaser invented it and received the Nobel Prize for his invention. The other story is that one of my favorite records is the Strokes’ “Is This It”. The image on the cover of that record is a bubble chamber image. I like to think that this stuck with me since 2001.

A bubble chamber event from one of the larger chambers built at the University of California Berkeley. This particular image was a favorite of Professor Glaser’s as the formation on the right hand side bears a striking resemblance to a treble clef. Photograph courtesy of Lynn Glaser.

 

CHP: What stands out about his life and work? Why is it of particular interest to you?

EWC: Now, I really haven’t researched any other scientist’s careers, but Glaser stands out to me for several reasons. First of all, as far as scientists go, Glaser made a lot of pictures! Now, this was all done for his research, but his data could’ve just consisted of numbers, too. This was/is huge to me—as a non-scientist I can approach his work from a purely visual standpoint.

Secondly, I’ve always been interested in obsolescence and the struggle that comes with keeping up. The bubble chamber is completely obsolete (I don’t think there’s a single working one left in the world), but the images it created are completely unique and beautiful—the new technology that replaced it (digital detectors) just isn’t the same.

Lastly, there’s a wonderfully human aspect to Glaser’s scientific career. After winning the Nobel Prize he switched fields from physics to microbiology. This may not seem like a huge shift, but it’s like winning an Academy Award for acting and then taking up painting. And in his journals, he’s completely honest about why he shifted. He didn’t like the way “big science” was going—he preferred to work alone, but the bubble chamber (again, his invention!) made research so much more efficient that it shifted from individual scientists working alone to large groups of scientists working together. He saw his role shifting from scientist to manager and he wanted no part of that. So he left!

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Events in a 6-inch bubble chamber. Photo courtesy of Lynn Glaser.

 

 

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A selection of magic lantern slides from Prof. Donald Glaser’s collection. Photo courtesy of Lynn Glaser.

 

CHP: Is this something that’s influenced your overall process? Or does it have more impact on the outcomes, the art itself?

EWC: As an artist that makes very different/disparate bodies of work, it’s reassuring to see someone in a different field be successful in many areas. It’s also making me reevaluate my older art, and try to figure out the connections between what I previously thought were completely separate bodies of work.

Read the full interview on the CHP in the Stacks blog.

View an exhibit of Donald Glaser’s papers from the Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley.

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