Etienne Leopold Trouvelot.
Direct electric spark obtained with a Ruhmkorff coil or Wimshurst machine, also known as a “Trouvelot Figure.” Photograph, c. 1888.
Fleeting moments in an infinite flux: artists and other windows on eternity
by Emily Ann Pothast
In the late 1880s, the French astronomer and artist Etienne Leopold Trouvelot created a series of photographs of electric sparks. Perfecting a technique pioneered by another scientist a few years earlier, Trouvelot generated his images without a camera, directly exposing photosensitive plates to brief bursts of electrical energy. The resulting snapshots reveal forking, infinitely self-similar patterns that resemble tree branches, rivers, vascular systems, coral, neurons, city maps, mountain ranges, microchips, mycorrhizal networks, galaxies, flow charts, family trees and feathers—basically everything in the universe whose structure is determined by growth, movement or the transfer of energy.
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