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Images in “The Big Bang” series hint at the creation of new galaxies and stars in the nether reaches of the universe. As indicated by their titles, however, they are bullets of varying caliber and type that have been fired into bullet-proof Plexiglas. The photographer Minor White once said, “One does not photograph something simply for what it is, but for what else it is.”
This project began primarily as a visual exploration. The transparency of the panels provides a dramatic way of seeing ballistic power outside the usual frame of reference and enables the eye to view what it can’t normally see. At first glance, many people assume that the images are photographed in real time because of the spray of metal and plastic caught within the Plexiglas. But the bullet-proof panels captured the projectiles themselves within their layers as well as the traces of the impact (shards of metal and plastic, trajectory lines, heat and pressure markings).
At a deeper level an uncomfortable psychological tension exists within the images as the jewel-like beauty of the fragmented bullets draws the viewer in before the horror of their inherent destructiveness rises to consciousness. Little imagination is needed to conceive of the impact these projectiles have on muscle and bone.
My interest in the project also relates to the pervasiveness of guns as cultural symbols and their enduring role as part of the American heritage. This seems particularly relevant in Texas, where I live. There are an estimated 51 million firearms—two guns for every man, woman and child in the state. Law enforcement professionals from the Public Safety Institute at Houston Community College fired the shots into the Plexiglas for the series. The photographic images were made in the studio—well after the gunshots were fired.
Deborah Bay is a Houston photographic artist who specializes in constructing macro-imagery. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. She exhibits nationally, most recently at Wall Space Gallery in Santa Barbara, California. Bay has been an artist-in-residence at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, and her work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz. The British Journal of Photography featured her work on its cover, and her images have appeared in a variety of national and international publications. www.deborahbay.com