‘Helio’ is a series of 7 images that explore the primal experience of confronting the sun. In the 19th Century, scientists such as Brewster and Fechner undertook experiments by looking directly into the sun to experience the afterimage burning onto the retina,  some of  which resulted in permanent blindness.

Evoking the ‘visionary’ preoccupation’s of  Romantic painters, such as Turner,  with the corporeality of vision, illumination and heliocentrism,  the images represent what is almost impossibly luminescent and blinding to the naked eye – a fusion of the eye with the sun. Charting the extremes of the very physical impact that the sun would have on the eye through the protective blindness of the camera’s shutter, the images literally measure the intensity of the sun’s rays by the way they burn into the photographic film.

From the searing white void of its midday zenith, to the sublime blackness of its burnt shadow, each image is as singular as the iris of an eye and conflates the sun and pupil through a circular vignette.  The sun is made to belong to the body by burning its image onto the retina. In this sense the images become a kind of self portraiture, an internalisation of light and subject.

Printed to emphasise the richness of the subject’s mythic status, each image charts the extremes of engulfing illumination in a circling arc around the space. In an ideal installation, the images would be hung in a space where the constantly changing light of the sun could continue to affect the images in the gallery space and create different moods throughout the day.

The scale of these images (approx 60″ x 40″ ) evoke  a strong resonance with the body in confrontation with this phenomenon, at the size the sun would be seen if it could be looked at directly.


One of the ‘Helio’ images presented as an extra large print billboard at the entrance to The Royal College of Art’s Show 1999

© Charlie Murphy, 1999