How to Make Your Grandchildren Holomillionaires
James D. Trolinger, Ph.D.
Presented at Interferometry ’99
Pultusk Castle, Poland
I am a holographile, a collector of holograms. I measure the value of a hologram by both the esthetic pleasure it gives me and the feeling of accomplishment I get from possessing it and sharing it with others. Collecting can turn life into an everlasting treasure hunt. I believe that collectors fall into two categories, those who collect with the idea of making money and those who simply have a passion to expand and enjoy their collection. The market value of any collectible is determined by supply, demand, and the existence of a marketplace. The purpose of this paper is to show that holograms and holographic art are absolutely fascinating to collect, ……..AND that a well conceived collection can make your grandchildren holomillionaires.
The Eight Stages of a Collectible
Collectibles evolve through critical stages usually beginning with a collector’s fascination and a more or less illogical decision to retain an object in one’s possession. Stages common to many collectibles (though not always occurring in the same order) are:
1. Fascination (with an item)
2. Discovery of the Genus or set to which the item belongs
4. Demand for Brokerage
5. Demand for Quantity
And two final stages that signal the end of financial opportunity for the collector.
Fascination with holograms caused me to hold on to the first one I acquired in 1966, perhaps to enable me to see it again later, or perhaps to share my fascination with someone else. It was a hologram of a chess piece, painstakingly made by a friend. Chess pieces were used extensively as subjects in the beginning because they were white, small and recognizable, needing little light to record. Holograms had just come into existence and so few were available they were not recognized as collectible. A few years passed before artists seriously considered the medium for use.
Someone, somewhere, will find fascination in almost everything in existence (e.g. Edsel hood ornaments), but a very limited number end up with a significant market value. In the first stage of evolution, collectibles may have no intrinsic value since their original purpose has ended. They can even have negative value of taking up useful space.
Soon I recognized that my original hologram was part of an emerging genre, a class of many, and ultimately many classes of many. Still fascinated with holograms, I saved a second, then a third, and finally, almost unconsciously became a holographile. I began the hunt, actively expanding my collection and developing search and find techniques. I am a first generation holographile since I discovered their collectibility for myself.
In the third (socialization) stage, I observed the emergence of other holographiles who quickly became both competitors and friends. Some of my own league of helpers, originally enlisted to send me holograms, became holographiles themselves. Communities of holographiles began socializing with collection at the center of the social group. In this stage, collecting provides an outlet for the human need to be a part of a community. Meetings are held to discuss holograms, newsletters emerge and museums are started, and the framework is created within which a supply and demand can exist. This stage cannot develop and stabilize unless the collectible is rich and complex. Challenge and foundations for discussions are vital.
Holograms as collectibles have passed through stage three and have just entered stage four. In the fourth stage, two major changes occur. The number of collectors expands rapidly creating a demand, and the collectible acquires a market value that is unrelated to its original purpose. Secondly, entrepreneurs recognize a business potential because the number of collectors is sufficient to produce a reliable and long-term growing customer base. Brokers, organizers, critics, promoters, appraisers, and maybe even collectors can make money as long as the number of collectors is increasing. Hologram brokers can be found in many countries and there are also many World Wide Web sites where holograms can be purchased (and sold?).
Once so many collectors enter the activity that the demand becomes too large for the original supply sources, different types of entrepreneurs and collectors emerge. The collectible is emulated and manufactured solely for the purpose of collecting. The values of the new additions to the genre are almost totally controlled by the manufacturers. Collectibles such as stamps, baseball cards, dolls, plates, etc., passed through this stage many years ago. Some collectibles successfully created by manufacturers begin with this stage. With a few exceptions, holograms have not entered this stage.
In stage six (maturity) the manufacturing company and other sources become stable and financially capable, and larger companies virtually without financial limits, recognize and enter the market. When this happens, the vast new supply capacity can saturate the market and the new additions to the collectible pool are essentially worthless until the manufacturer ceases producing. The serious collector must now become much more sophisticated and discriminating. Collecting becomes more challenging and rewarding than ever, though sometimes frustrating. How this stage evolves is critical to the growth and survival of the collectible genre. Most of the people who want to collect because they consider this a good investment begin to drop out. How do you convince someone that a mass produced product that costs almost nothing to manufacture will be in such demand that it will be worth something in the future?
If the collectible survives and grows through stage six, other entrepreneurs will discover ways to imitate (stage 7) the original genre to capitalize on the ever-increasing number of new collectors who can be stolen away from the original genre. For example, when baseball card collecting became so widespread, many large companies began producing vast numbers of collectible baseball cards. The process was imitated in cards with movie stars, hockey players, cartoon characters, TV characters, singers, and even fishermen. This quickly reduced the growth rate of collectors of baseball cards.
Stage eight (saturation of the public) occurs when so many collectibles of roughly the same type exist that anyone can have as many as he so desires with little expense and effort. A stage 8 collectible (e.g., newly minted stamps and coins) can still be fascinating though not to be considered a moneymaking investment.
The Positive Aspects of Holograms as Collectibles
Holograms can be collectible as cards, stickers, stamps, money, magazine covers, advertisements, packaging, jewelry, works of art as well as many other classes. They possess fascinating characteristics as well as natural features that protect their rarity. Many early holograms, produced in relatively small numbers, and many first edition holograms are still available for little or no cost. These are not likely to be produced again; the cost to do so is prohibitive and many of them, such as magazine covers, are trademarked and dated. Getting the first hologram magazine cover, the first hologram greeting card, the first hologram baseball card, and so on, is achievable at the present time by almost anyone. This state of affairs will be true only for the next few years after which the cost of such acquisitions will be prohibitive, comparable to the cost of acquiring the first baseball card, or even the first photograph. Counterfeiting is virtually impossible or at least not economical. For instance, the halt of production of Agfa photography plates in 1997 automatically limits the number of Agfa-based holograms in existence.
Since holograms are not language specific, they can be universal and will be equally collectible in all countries. Collecting, storing, displaying, categorizing and identifying possibilities are almost ideal. A collector who begins collecting holograms today can almost certainly be guaranteed a good return financially, if not for himself, at least for his grandchildren. A fine collection of today’s holograms in the hands of tomorrow's grandchild can, as a minimum, be equated to having a fine collection of early 19th century photographs today.
Holographic art exists in the forms of original unique pieces, limited editions, collages, sculptures, and installations, and can be mixed with all other media. It has risen and fallen in popularity several times in several countries and continues a struggle for recognition. The numbers of serious holographic artists, galleries and collectors is still extremely limited. The number of serious holographic artists in the entire world hovers around 100. Most of the first generation of holographic artists are still alive and few are truly well known outside a narrow community at present. The medium is not widely accepted by the fine arts community for many reasons. Experience has convinced me that science has largely gotten in the way of the widespread acceptance of holographic art. Many artists feel the need or desire to become scientists, the art is contaminated by the science, and art lovers are frightened, turned off, distracted or even intimidated by the science. Science tends to make gimmickry and cuteness out of holograms, which can be distracting from the art itself. To be widely accepted as an art form, holographic art must be collectible because of its art value, not simply because of novelty. In promoting holographic art, one of my objectives as a holographic scientist (who loves art) is to separate the science from holographic art and concentrate on the art itself. The discussion here will reflect this strategy.
Almost anyone who sees a holographic art piece immediately asks, “How does it work?” Curiously, the same person rarely asks that question when looking at a painting, perhaps because he already knows vaguely how a painting is made, or perhaps because he accepts that one does not need to know how art is made. After failing to satisfy many viewers, I finally realized that art viewers are not asking for a scientific answer. Here then is an artist’s answer to that question.
Holograms are made somewhat like photographs; however, laser light is used (except for computer generated holograms). The unique properties of laser light allow the artist to capture and reproduce all of the optical information in a scene so that we can look at the complete realistic 3-D scene again in the hologram. Holography enables manipulating light and color more directly than photography.
For a more complete answer the reader is referred to articles on critiquing holographic art in the MAGHIC Gallery.
The medium of holography provides almost limitless possibilities to an artist. Holograms deal with light rays directly without the use of absorbing and reflecting pigments, so images and colors can be much richer and brighter. The full three spatial dimensions are available for use, plus time. Scenes can be produced that are completely impossible with any other medium, even sculpture. Moreover, with modern lighting, the display of holographic art is no more complicated than that of a conventional painting. The availability today of good, low cost lighting for hologram display is a fortuitous but major breakthrough for collectors. The modern tungsten-halogen, high-intensity lamp is precisely what was needed by the field to make display practical. Before such lamps were available, the choices were expensive and cumbersome. Most available lamps were too extended to create a sharp image.
The appearance of holograms is much affected by rapidly evolving technique. The techniques for recording and processing, the chemistry, bleaching methods and the optimization procedures are in a high but still rapidly developing state. Artists publish some of the procedures while others are being kept secret and proprietary. Consequently, the technical quality of a holographic work of art can vary drastically from one artist to another, simply because the superior techniques and the superior materials are not yet available to or even known by all artists. Holograms sometimes have a technical signature over and above that of the artist thereby limiting who could have produced the piece. Like photography, this art form often employs a separate specialist to create the work for the artist and the technical quality of the final product may have nothing to do with the artist. The artist may not even know how the final work was created. This does not, however, rule out the possibility of the artist and technician being the same person. The technology and vocabulary of holographic art will likely be in a rapid development period for at least another twenty or thirty years.
The technology involved in holographic art is much more complex than that of most other art forms. It involves elements of the most advanced fields of physics, including optics, quantum mechanics, chemistry, lasers and others. Consequently, the technical quality of today's holographic art varies drastically from one artist to another.
Examples of Collectible Holograms
Examples of holograms and a complete discussion and critique of these are included in the Critique Section. These include limited edition art works, simple holographic images, and portraiture. Portraiture served as a primary use, and moneymaking task, of art beginning with the Renaissance. Artists who could glorify the patron stayed fully booked. Portraiture is almost certainly to become a primary use of holography and it is truly amazing that this has not already happened. Where else can one obtain an image that is just as real as the actual person staring from behind a window? Boone has been one of the most prolific holographic portrait artists in the world having made portraits of kings, queens, astronauts, AND……………the author. Having a portrait of Boone in one’s collection will some day be like having a self-portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci.
More recently, Ron and Bernadette Olsen have taken the lead in holographic portraiture with their gallery “Laser Reflections” in San Francisco. They now routinely produce portraits on a regular basis, including celebrities, politicians, playmates and ordinary people who want more than a photograph. They have developed and/or adopted efficient and high quality processes that repeatedly produce holograms of high technical quality. One of their projects, known as BACH for Bay Area Center for Holography is intended to provide a laboratory where artists can work without having to develop their own technology. This should offer an incentive to the artists who would like to explore the medium, but who have not been able to afford or learn the required technology. This should also provide a new source of collectibles for serious collectors.
Summary and Conclusions
We have shown how holograms fall within a collector’s framework, placing them in a stage that is still early enough to allow much growth potential as well as potential for collectors. Many first edition holograms and works from first generation artists are still affordable. This is an opportunity for anyone to be a part of the birth of an art form. The field of holography will continue to have ups and downs but is almost certain to evolve eventually into a factor in the art world. The art form is more complex but also has more to be enjoyed because the medium offers the artist an ability to communicate with the viewer that is not available in any other art form. . You may not become a holomillionaire, but if you become a holographile, your grandchildren will.