Diane Tuft was flying in a helicopter over the Great Salt Lake in 2005, on her way to photograph Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, "I looked down at the Salt Lake and thought, 'Oh my god, I've never seen anything more beautiful in my whole life.'" That was the beginning of Tuft's adventure to understand why the pictures she took with her digital camera on that trip were so brilliant in color, even more striking than what she saw with her own eyes.
At 4,200 feet, the elevation of the Great Salt Lake, the air is thin, allowing 15% more ultraviolet light to reach the ground than at sea level. This fact leads Tuft to believe that the intense colors in her pictures are because her digital camera captures more reflected UV light than a film based camera. "Many of my photographs were done simultaneously with film and as digital, and the digital photos were very different than the film camera's," she says.
"Ultraviolet light [at the Great Salt Lake] is enriched by altitude, wind, depth, pigment and salt. With her camera lens, Diane has found all of these," says Bonnie Baxter, professor of biology at Westminster College and Director of the Great Salt Lake Institute. She has been studying the effects of UV on the lake's ecology for more than a decade.
"When I first saw Diane's work, my impulse was, 'I want to sample there!' What I saw were the fantastic colors of the living part of Great Salt Lake," Baxter explains, "These are the microorganisms that I study. They have pigments that make them green or pink or red. I was seeing my science in her art."
Tuft's discovery of the interaction between UV light and the environment has sent her on a search to Iceland, Greenland, and New Zealand to see how UV light impacts her vision, and her photographs, of the world.