Mathematical Photography

The art of Justin Mullins

 

In the same way an ordinary photograph is a snapshot of natural beauty, a mathematical photograph is a snapshot of mathematical beauty or ugliness, power, humour, romance…
NEXT EXHIBITION: Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill London N6 5HG
3-29 April 2019

Photon family life

Meet the five entangled particles in this friendly photon family. They share the same existence despite sitting in different parts of the gallery.

The burden of life

A formula for compound interest, a phenomenon that condemns millions to lifetimes of debt and misery.

An evening in Hannover

I once spent an evening in Hannover with a mathematically-minded friend laughing uproariously at this joke while discussing the mathematics behind it.  

Young boy with paper

There are limitless proofs of the Pythagorean theorem but this is the one most often taught at school. As such, it has probably inspired, bemused and terrorised millions. 

Veteran

A sign carried by a man sitting with a cup in Times Square 

Working man with a grin

As a student, I spent months studying by contour integrals, fascinated by their power and elegance. But in all the years since, the only time I have ever needed this mathematical knowledge was when somebody told me this joke, which seemed all the funnier for the work I had put into understanding it in advance!   

Middle-aged man with paper

Pythagoras’ theorem is one of the great relations in mathematics. There are an infinite number of proofs to choose from, some 367 of them published in The Pythagorean Proposition by Elisha Loomis. This one–a proof using vector geometry– appears in slightly different form at the end of Loomis’ book.  

THE SHOCK OF SUDDEN DEATH

Entanglement can sometimes end in an unexpected way called sudden death. These matrices show the difference between entangled states that fade away and those that end in sudden death. 

Entanglement

The connections between ordinary objects are fleeting and superficial. Two atoms may collide and separate, never to meet again. Others can stick together by virtue of the chemical bonds they form, until the day that bond is broken.

But there is another type of connection that is far more powerful and romantic. Certain objects can become linked by a mysterious process called entanglement. Particles that become entangled are deeply connected regardless of the distance between them. If they become separated by the width of the Universe, the bond between them will remain intact. These particles are so deeply linked that it’s as if they somehow share the same existence.

FALLACY

Mathematics evokes many emotions but the most  powerful often come from errors. This derivation contains an error that is easy to make but difficult to spot generating puzzlement,  frustration, amusement and more.

EULER’S RELATION

One of the great wonders of mathematical world, at once surprising, insightful, awe-inspiring and profound.

About the art of Justin Mullins

For many people, their main experience of mathematics is sheer blind terror. Show them an equation and cold beads of sweat appear on their foreheads as they succumb to the icy grip of fear. For others, the experience is quite different. Some are bemused or irritated; others feel a surge of curiosity and a powerful sense of achievement when the hieroglyphics have been conquered.

Then there is the sense of beauty, elegance and power that mathematics conveys. Many mathematicians have remarked on this exquisiteness as well as on its inevitable counterpoint: a tortured ugliness that is sometimes almost suffocating.

All this points to an extraordinary but rarely remarked upon role for mathematics: as a vehicle for social, emotional and cultural exchange. That’s where my interest lies.

I am not interested in mathematics as it is often portrayed: as a silver thread of logic that leads from hypothesis to proof. This is a kind of ivory castle of mathematics, a perfect but ultimately unreachable world.

For me, mathematics is human activity—at times it is awe inspiring and mind blowing but it is also infuriating, puzzling, unsatisfactory and often wrong (at least when I think about it). Reuben Hersh describes it refreshingly in his book What is mathematics, really? “Mathematics must be understood as a human activity, a social phenomenon, part of human culture, historically evolved, and intelligible only in a social context.”

My work attempts to capture this element of mathematics. I often use it to remember people, things and important moments. I try to use it to capture vignettes of ordinary moments, to create portraits of people I know or snapshots of mathematical landscapes that have inspired or terrified me. I too know the icy grip of fear! For me, it is an emotional experience, indeed it is a roller coaster ride.

 Let me say upfront that I am not a mathematician. I lay no claim to the equations I have selected in my work. Those are the discoveries of the philosophers and scientists who spend their lives exploring the mathematical world and revealing its great wonders. For me they are like the great explorers returning from distant shores with tales of fantastic lands and magical creatures.

If mathematicians are explorers, then my role is that of a photographer who retraces their steps. During my journey, I photograph what I find. By that I mean I frame it, record it and later present it.

There is nothing particularly special about this process. In the same way that an ordinary photograph is a snapshot of an area of outstanding natural beauty, a mathematical photograph is a snapshot of mathematical beauty.

I would be happy to hear how visitors to this site feel about my work. If you have something to add, contact me at: justin@justinmullins.com.