Rudie Berkhout Memorial

rudienov1999When Rudie Berkhout died on 16th September 2008, the holography community lost something special.  Not just the ‘normal’ loss of a friend or a colleague or an associate or a passing encounter, but the loss of someone who believed in the creative aspects of the medium. 

Gabor always thought that his invention was destined for creativity (along with all the more measurable, practical and sometimes salable avenues it developed into),  but it was Rudie who helped highlight just how creative it could be. Along with his peers who pushed the boundaries of the medium in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, he established a benchmark.

I remember interviewing Rudie in New York some time in early 1981, during my Fulbright Scholarship at the Museum of Holography.  He was incredibly generous with his comments and insight.

What was fascinating was his clear understanding that what he was doing deserved a degree of respect from the creative establishment.  For some that smacked of arrogance, but it was based on the premise that all work should be treated with respect.  It was a time when people were incredibly excited about holography.

When I asked him how he did what he did (the actual technical process involved in creating something like his seminal piece 12mW Boogie) there was an immediate response, coached with a smile.  If he told me that then I’d be able to reproduce his technique which would undermine his own work and sales.  I found that shocking, having been ‘brought up’ for the past 5 years in an excited university environment where art and technology offered the promise of new areas of research and a possible new aesthetic.  Sharing cutting edge discoveries was a prerequisite.  But in holography, this was a time of ‘possession’ and keeping techniques close to the chest, just in case the phenomenon became ‘big’ and you missed out on the millions.

rudiehologramsI thought he was wrong.  I had no desire to reproduce what he did, (as much as I admired it), I had my own questions to ask.  Later I began to understand what he meant.  He did protect his ‘technique’ for many years, but actually it wasn’t really an issue.  There are hundreds of Berkhout look-alike works which neither display the power, soul nor integrity of the originals which inspired them.  There will always be pale reproductions of any pioneering work and some of them will be made with a respectful passion, but in the end a Berkhout is a Berkhout – something we can learn from, feast on and remember with enthusiasm – like the man who made them.

‘Blazing a trail’ is a bland platitude thrown in the direction of many, but in Rudie’s case it was true.  He scorched a path and set his standards high.  In a field which was happy to reproduce the ‘object’ as a demonstration of a remarkable holographic effect, Rudie chose the ephemeral, the condensed and the sensitivity which is only manifest in a balanced work which explores light in its own terms.

He had a quiet calm, and an intense commitment.  He will be sadly missed.

Andrew Pepper

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