Rob Munday: «Holography is the perfect combination of art and science»
ES Magazine interviews Rob Munday, an artist who has created many unique holographic works and light sculptures that can be found in collections and galleries around the world.
I was impressed by the fact that you studied many fields, which I think allowed you to create something different and new. You created the world's first 3D digital hologram printer and created the world’s first 3D digital holograms, it is amazing!
It’s true that not so many artists understand the wave properties of light, have a knowledge of optical engineering, and can write their own computer programs! This may be the reason why so few artists work with this wonderful medium. From a very young age I was equally passionate about art and science. At school however one was expected to become either an artist or a scientist, certainly not both. I spent many years searching for a way to combine my interests, going first to art school, then studying science and mathematics before returning to art college to gain a degree. Then in 1981, whilst still at college, I discovered holography. It was a revelation, the perfect combination of art and science. I taught myself how to make holograms and became one of the UK’s first generation of holographers. My good fortune wasn’t just an interest in these opposing subjects but also the timing. I graduated (in 1983) just as holography broke free of the scientific laboratory and became a new and exciting creative medium. We often referred to this time as the ‘Fox Talbot’ days of holography. Almost everything we did was the first time it had ever been done and it was quite easy to make and invent new things. We felt like explorers discovering a new world. Around every corner lay a host of new creative possibilities.
Karl Lagerfeld was a genius! How did this commission come about? What do you think about the relationship between fashion and the visual arts?
I was offered the commission by Jefferson Hack, the CEO and co-founder of Dazed Media and publisher of the cult fashion magazine AnOther Magazine. Jefferson had seen my work and, in particular, my portrait of the Her Majesty the Queen and wanted the world’s first 3D fashion magazine cover for his limited edition 15th anniversary issue. I shot Karl’s portrait at his private studio in Paris and it was an unforgettable experience. As a photographer himself, Karl was acutely interested in the process and method of capturing three-dimensional images and, at the end of the shoot, was enthralled to see himself in 3D. Some weeks later, I hand-made the 3D covers for the magazine and created a large format light sculpture, 92 x 120 cm in size, which Chanel gifted to Karl and which he hung in his office. Karl later purchased a second copy for his home. Whist this light sculpture was not commissioned to promote an item of clothing, clearly fashion could not exist without being portrayed and promoted using photography and film. Fashion however is a sculptural medium that can only truly be conveyed by another sculptural medium. Whilst fashion holography does not yet exist, it is bound to play an important role in the future.
The Queen’s portrait, created by you, can also be seen adorning the world's first £100 banknote. How did you feel when you realised that you would have to meet the Queen of England and be the first to make an official holographic portrait of her?
I was of course greatly honoured to meet the Queen and shoot her portrait. It may sound a little presumptuous, but I think I always expected to shoot her portrait one day. Prior to the commission I was the only holographic portrait artist working in the UK and had already come close to shooting several members of the Royal family. The Queen had also previously unveiled two of my holographic works and received one as a gift, and so when the opportunity finally arose it felt like destiny. Neither was there any time to be nervous. I had been approached to shoot the portrait only six weeks prior to the first sitting and, in that very short time, needed to design, build, program and test a completely new 3D camera system, as well as set up my studio in Buckingham Palace. It was an intense period. When the day of the shoot finally arrived I just got on with the job. It was only afterward that I realised the enormity of the project. This was no ordinary celebrity but one of the most famous and photographed people in history. The portrait was the first-ever officially commissioned 3D-holographic portrait of the Queen and has since been described as one of the most iconic portraits of the Queen ever made. It was voted by visitors to the National Portrait Gallery in London as their favourite portrait. It also featured on the front cover of Time Magazine’s Diamond Jubilee issue in 2012 and will inevitably define my work in holographic portraiture.
You have also created holograms and light sculptures for many companies including Christian Dior, Guerlain, Mont Blanc, De Beers, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Ferrari, British Airways, Walt Disney, and others. Can you tell us what was the most important for you?
I would classify these as high-end commercial projects, the most important and exciting of which was the commission from Guerlain in 2016 to shoot and create a light sculpture of Angelina Jolie. I shot Angelina’s portrait in Hollywood and so all my equipment had first to be flown to LA. I then had one day to build a studio and 2-3 hours to complete the shot. Angelina was charming and, as with Karl Lagerfeld, was greatly interested in the process and particularly keen to make the most of the dimensionality on offer. Angelina first requested a private, quite stately portrait in the style of my portrait of the Queen, after which I shot the more sensual images needed by Guerlain for their campaign. It is thought that Guerlain was the first luxury goods company in the world to use a light sculpture to launch a flagship product, in this case the perfume Mon Guerlain, and large format light sculptures were shown in the world’s leading stores. In fact, Guerlain liked my portrait so much that they used a 2D version in preference to the shots that they had separately commissioned from a world-renowned photographer for all their magazine adverts, such as in Elle, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, etc., and also for their in-store POS. Not only that but a colour version of the same portrait was used two years later to launch yet another new product, namely Mon Guerlain Florale, which I think must be some kind of a world-first.
You also enjoy flowers and natural subjects. Why? What do they mean to you? Where do you find your inspirations?
The following fact, which can be established using Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2 (2=squared), captures the inspiration behind my series of images entitled Naturalium:
’The energy contained within a single flower would light a candle for a billion years’.
As I mentioned above, I have always been equally interested in art, science, and the natural world. To record the beauty and wonder of the natural world using the most realistic imaging medium ever invented would perhaps be enough to justify the work however some years ago I became fascinated by the world of quantum physics and the true nature of substance and reality. I decided to create a range of works using the energy of light to convey that matter and energy are the same and that it is pure energy that creates the beautiful forms that we perceive to be objects and entities. To convey such metaphysical ideas what better natural subject than flowers. Flowers are beautiful, sculptural, radiant, and universal. In order to capture the flowers at their most vital, I choose to grow them myself and shoot only living, uncut flowers, sometimes waiting for several years for them to bloom. I have depicted the flowers without stalks and as large-format works to further convey them as discrete sculptural entities.
What does mean art for you? Where is your art heading in the near future?
Like quantum physics, art has an abstract and undefinable quality. Perhaps our appreciation of art, beauty, and even our very consciousness is a quantum process and so art and science may be inextricably entwined. Art for me is to examine and question the nature of reality and our lives within it.