Fine Art Photography

Michael McNulty is a native of Tucson, and has filled untold hours photographing the Sonoran Desert over the last thirty years. The vast majority of his work has focused closely on desert botany. Until 2007, the primary themes reflected in his work have been the form, scale, and hue of nature when viewed through the eyes of a kit fox. Such a view of nature would dominate our scenery in every direction were we a Lilliputian species.

With the advent of digital infrared technologies, Mr. McNulty became fascinated with the forms and textures nature shows us when she is bathed in lightwaves longer than those that we can see with the naked eye. Light visible to humans travels in wavelengths of 390 to 780 nanometers (.39-.78 micrometers), more or less. Just below this range (smaller wavelengths) is the ‘ultraviolet’; and just above, the ‘infrared’. From 800 to 1100 nm is the ‘near infrared’ (to which silicon, and silicon-based CMOS chips, are sensitive); and above that (longer wavelengths) is the ‘far infrared.’ The filters that McNulty uses allow light to be captured in a narrow spectrum between 800 and 1000 nm.

Michael McNultyOne of the two most noticeable characteristics of the infrared spectrum is the striking reflection of light by living plant tissue (which usually appears as a dazzling white). The other is the absence of atmospheric interference: longer wavelengths come through our atmosphere without scattering, and so the sky essentially disappears. This allows us to look directly into outer space – a daunting and perhaps even intimidating concept. Thus, skies appear as a void in shades of very dark grey to black, and water surfaces that reflect the sky are just as black.

His images reflect a dynamic between light and dark that is deeper and more mysterious than that found in typical black and white images. The darks are darker, and the lights, lighter. The blacknesses seem ready to swallow the world, and yet the whitenesses are undeterred, even inspired, creating an alternative vision of our planet strikes him as profoundly hopeful.

Innumerable discussions with botanists have lead to dozens of studies in which the identical scene is photographed in both visible and infrared spectra, and displayed side by side, to illustrate the seen and the unseen – to compare and contrast these two worlds.

All of Mr. McNulty’s work is digital. He uses Mamiya medium format photographic equipment, including Mamiya 645AFDII, the Mamiya ZD digital back with infrared pass screen, Mamiya lenses, and Schneider Optics’ B+W infrared filters.