Infrared images reveal the unseen

Phil Coomes
Picture editor

image copyrightEd Thompson

A photograph is always a simplified representation of a complex world, but Ed Thompson's latest work, The Unseen, takes this a step further. By recording the infrared spectrum he creates images that transform the world around us, forcing the viewer to search for visual clues to anchor the image in what we know.

The project was born in 2010 while he was researching a way to document the "haunted village" of Pluckley in Kent and came across articles suggesting that ghosts could be recorded using infrared photography.

"Under normal conditions, we see [wavelengths] between 400 and 700 nanometers, the range of light most film records," says Thompson. "However, with the correct filtration, infrared film will reveal light between 750 and 1,000 nanometers. It allows the invisible to be photographed."

His pictures resulted in a series called The Village and from there he sourced the last 36 rolls of Kodak Aerochrome - the film was discontinued in 2009 - and set about researching subjects for The Unseen, keeping in mind he was limited to 360 exposures.

image copyrightEd Thompson
image captionThe Village

"Some of the project directly makes use of the film's abilities. The Red Forest (2012) uses infrared film to document the condition of the most radioactive forest in the world and in turn reimagines Ukraine in deep Soviet burgundy," says Thompson.

image copyrightEd Thompson
image captionThe Red Forest, within the exclusion zone around the nuclear plant at Chernobyl

Thompson's other pictures reflect previous uses for the Kodak film, from the medical application seen in the picture In The Vein (2014) to its deployment by the military in aerial surveillance.

image copyrightEd Thompson
image captionThe Vein

The film was used to photograph military paintings, Thompson says, "simultaneously manipulating the film's historical military application of uncovering camouflage and also revealing hidden charcoal underdrawing".

image copyrightEd Thompson
image captionThe War, Windy Corner, Givenchy. Lt Richard Tennant Cooper (1915)

Like photographer Richard Mosse, who also worked with Aerochrome, Thompson is clear that despite the otherworldly look, these pictures are as real any documentary image.

He said: "There is much debate in contemporary photojournalism and documentary photography about manipulations, both in the construction and post-production of photographic imagery.

"Although the infrared photographs in The Unseen look strangely sensational, they are not constructed or manipulated. This is documentary."

The Unseen can be seen at Four Corners Gallery, London, until 18 April 2015. Prints of the work are available.

For more information and to see his other work, go to

image copyrightEd Thompson
image captionThe City. Studies in Pollution #7, River Thames (2014)
image copyrightEd Thompson
image captionThe Flood, Untitled (2012)
image copyrightEd Thompson
image captionThe Vein, Neck (2015)
image copyrightEd Thompson
image captionThe sign for Pripyat stands outside the workers' village near the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, site of a nuclear accident in 1986

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