Freeform: Palm Springs Through a Vivid Infrared Lens
For a new take on California Modernism, photographer Kate Ballis captures Palm Springs through a candy-coloured lens and injects vibrant life into the familiar city where architecture and nature coexist.
From the pristine succulent-filled gardens to the palm-scapes of the city, there is a large amount of time and skill that goes into creating and maintaining Palm Springs. Infra Realism is Melbourne-based photographer Kate Ballis’ photo series that reinterprets the familiar California city in a manner reminiscent of a lucid dreamscape. Using a specially-converted infrared camera, the result is a trippy infused colour cast of deep violets, electric blues and magenta reds.
The unseen spectrum of light that emanate from plants sits just beyond what is visible to the human eye. Straddling science and magic, Ballis is fascinated with the unseen energy and her photos highlight the world that exists just outside of our perception. “Like a memory you can’t quite pinpoint,” Ballis tells LYFSTYL. “There is more out there.”
Ballis’ photos refresh the city she had become accustomed to over time. “Palm Springs is almost a second home to me, so after photographing its deserts, houses, pools, and cars many times it started to become a bit ordinary,” she says. “Although I was still in love with the place, my wonderful friends, and mesmerised by the light on the mountains, it was no longer my artistic muse, and I really wanted to re-enchant the city and the high-desert landscapes.”
The mid-century architecture that has become a well-known staple of Palm Springs is characterized for its embrace of the natural desert surroundings. Often referred to as Desert Modernism, the homes evoke a lifestyle of simple elegance and informality, with many of the neutral coloured buildings blending into the rocky mountains and succulents. Through her infrared technique, Ballis brings an alternate view of Palm Springs’ famed mid-century architecture and greenery.
“It provided me with a window into another world.”
“When I started taking photos in infrared I was able to focus in on hidden things in nature that as humans, we’re not equipped to see,” Ballis admits. “Things that lie just outside of our physical perceptions.”
The infrared spectrum of light emanating from healthy plants take a certain colour through the process, from that that sits just beyond the light spectrum visible to humankind. From the wild California deserts to the many pools and iconic or recognizable architecture, the photos provide a layer a vibrant hue of colours that she felt allowed her to “question reality and create ambiguity in everyday scenes.” The aesthetic, which undoubtedly makes the series what it is, allows for a natural use of infrared, bolstering what we’ve come to expect from traditional landscape photography.
“I love traveling to and capturing landscapes, such as Joshua Tree, Sedona and the Atacama Desert that have an otherworldly feel and are reminiscent of what we have seen of Mars, but strangely, the view of what another planet looks like has been made somewhat familiar by space imagery and movies,” Ballis adds. “So through the infrared process I attempt to make these foreign landscapes seem surreal again. I am trying to convey a mysterious realm that sits between reality and the surreal.”
Another aspect of focus for Ballis was an attempt to make the unseen, seen. “I’m really interested in energy and how we can feel it, but it’s not so easy to see,” she adds. “I love the fact that there are spectrums of light, such as infrared that cannot be seen by the human eye, but the process of photography can make them visible.”
“It has been fascinating to photograph a landscape that appears muted and dead but realise that the shrubs and cactus are actually alive and well and in infrared glowing brighter than anything else in the scene. What appears to the eye as a dusty brown scene is actually a glowing world. It’s a search for life and colour in places where you would not expect it to exist.”
Words by Braeden Alexander – Discover more Kate’s work here.