Celestial Holograms

1997, 2021 John Fairstein

In 1973, one of my Antioch classmates, Lon Moore, returned to San Francisco after a brief stint in his family's textile business in Puerto Rico. Back in San Francisco, Moore spent his days with Lloyd Cross and the School of Holography, working odd jobs to support himself. Together we rented a house in the Sunset District. Moore convinced Fred Unterseher and me to work together to start an independent holography studio. Constance Lubin was an active and enthusiastic supporter from the getgo, and gave the studio the name "Celestial Holograms". Later Randy James, another classmate, Nancy Gorglione, and her friend Dave also joined. .

Fred Unterseher, a skilled carpenter as well as a gifted artist, constructed a darkroom and also an apartment for Moore in the basement. Then we built an enormous 5X10 foot sandbox holography table. (I'll never forget my chagrin when the sand I ordered proved to be too dusty. Only washed silica sand works).

Michael Kan built us a 15mW laser for $400. He used a surplus tube mounted on a triangular optical rail with exposed mirrors. The power supply, running at 6 kV was also completely exposed. More than once people were shocked by brushing against it in the dark. In one jolting instance, the arc also blew out one of the filter capacitors which shut us down for several days. I built a set of optics mounts out of particle board and PVC pipe. Immediately after completing the set-up, we began making reflection holograms to sell.

Over a period of a few early morning sessions, I produced 3 focused image reflection holograms (FIRH): Crab Claws, Flower, and Butterflies. Looking back, these holograms are crude compared with today's crystal clear dichromated gelatin and photopolymer holograms, but I was excited about them at the time. Constance Lubin assisted me on Butterfly. These were produced from 4X5 master transmission holograms shot on Agfa 10E75 glass plates. We used Cupric Bromide as the bleaching compound for the masters. The reflection holograms were recorded on Agfa 8E75 glass plates. We used a variant of Monckhoven's Intensifier, a mercuric chloride "bleach" for the reflection holograms. Moore extracted the the process from "T.J." Jeong of Lake Forest College during a visit to the School of Holography. Though at the time we did not realize its dangers, this process is extremely toxic.

Moore also produced several reflection holograms, including "Bees" (with assistance from Constance Lubin),"Shadow", and an interesting image using, I think, a peach pit. We carefully wrapped our holograms with paper towels and headed down to the waterfront where other artists offered there work in a street "gallery". I remember my delight at promptly selling a copy of "Crab Claws" for $10 -- our first sale.

Eventually financial pressures and personality conflicts began to effect our organization. First Fred Unterseher left to create Holografix and co-author the popular Handbook of Holography. Then I left and returned to Tennessee. Nancy Gorglione went on to pursue her interests in holography and other art forms including vacuum deposition with Mike Kan. Randy James joined up with Steve McGrew at Light Impressions (now defunct) and later founded Pacific Holographics.  Moore eventually moved the equipment to Marin County.

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