Deborah Bay was in a store that sells building materials in her hometown of Houston, Texas, when she saw a display of bulletproof plexiglass. A few different types of ammunition were lodged in the hard plastic to demonstrate the strength of the product.
“I thought it was intriguing,” says the photographer. “You could see all the fragments of metal. You could see the spray of the shattered plastic and then you could see the trajectory lines that were running through the panel of plexiglass.”
Bay did some research, talking with people and poking around online, to try to find some law enforcement officers who would create some similar plexiglass panels for her. She was about to give up when she found a willing group of professionals at the Public Safety Institute at Houston Community College. The officers shot several different weapons with a variety of bullets at panels of bulletproof plexiglass. The result was an array of beautiful explosions in the plastic—a static testament to an energy that was once violently kinetic.
From there, Bay photographed the plexiglass panels against a black backdrop, different colored lights cast on them, using a medium format camera with a macro lens. She calls her series of about 20 images “The Big Bang.”
“When I go in and start working with the camera,” says Bay, “it really does take me to another world.”
The patterns that the projectiles leave on the plexiglass on impact look like galaxies, stars and meteors flying through space. The more the photographer combs collections of images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, the more she sees the resemblance. It’s this intuitive leap from the macro to the cosmic that inspired the series’ clever name.
Of course, once viewers are brought back down to Earth with the knowledge of the actual subject, they can sometimes experience what Bay calls a “psychological tension”—that is, the unsettling contrast between the beauty of the images and the destruction that comes with a gunshot.
“As arguments about the right to bear arms fill the media, guns continue to fascinate and to repel—sometimes simultaneously,” says Bay, in a statement on her website. The issue hits home for her as a resident of Texas, a state with about 51 million
registered firearms or, as she notes, “two guns for every man, woman and child.”
“Only a small amount of imagination is needed to realize the impact any of these bullets would have on muscle and bone,” she says. “I just want people to think about what these bullets can do.”
“The Big Bang” series will be on display at Wall Space Gallery in Santa Barbara, California, from July 16 to August 25, 2013.