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Rotch Library Exhibit


August 8, 2016 - October 9, 2016

Location: Main gallery
Opening reception: September 9, 2016

Curated by Dr. Sharon C. Smith


A studio photographer by trade, Mike Walker approaches subjects with the intention of drawing something out that one might not see or notice at first glance. In the Elements series, he captures exquisite, ephemeral, and volatile qualities of scientific phenomena. These collaborative works, shot at various locations in Illinois and Ohio, began while he was on assignment at the Kent State NEO Beam facility—a four-story-tall, five-million-volt particle accelerator. In the photographer’s words:

This is where I photographed Lichtenberg Figures (lightning in acrylic) for Popular Science. Each piece of acrylic was exposed to three million volts and then released by striking it with a nail. There is an element of danger in doing some of these experiments/demonstrations, along with the technical challenge of capturing the moment to tell the story—but that’s what makes it fun. There are always technical matters to deal with when photographing any subject, and in this case there were many obstacles to overcome, but the camera is a tool that does one thing very well, and that is capturing a moment in time.

elements-imageAccording to the photographer, “Phosphorus Hand … was literally shot in the dark. The only light came from the home screen on my assistant’s phone illuminating an edge, which I was using to do a focus check when I noticed smoke/steam coming from his hand.”

Shedding light on his process and praxis, he continued,

[A]fter getting used to the intensity of the blast [of Hydrogen/Oxygen Bubbles] I got down to the business of timing it. Once oxygen is added, the reaction has a much faster duration and all I could capture was a large fireball leaving the frame. Using a half-second shutter speed, I took an educated guess as to when the bubble would be released and float toward the flame. This is the end of exposure and the beginning of the explosion.

Using some very dangerous and explosive elements that the earth supplies and treating them with respect, I have created a documentation style reminiscent of early pioneering photography. Luckily we’ve never had to call the fire department or an ambulance.

About the artist

Mike Walker, a photographer with over thirty years of experience, owns Mike Walker Photography in Chicago. His clients have included National Geographic, Mattel, Popular Science, the Joyce Foundation, Newton Running, Jones Dairy, Kemper, Sony, American Girl, Oxford University, Headwater Financial, and Peapod, to name a few. Mike’s work has taken him from the campus of Kent State University to Guatemala, Colombia, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and France, ever in search of that perfect image. To learn more about Mike Walker Photography, please visit