Topographic Projections and Implied Geometries

Jim Sanborn: Longsturn County Cork, Ireland, 1997
Jim Sanborn: Horse Valley, Utah IV, 1995
Jim Sanborn: Cainville, Utah, 1995
Jim Sanborn: Notom, Utah, 1995

The compelling body of work entitled “Topographic Projections and Implied Geometries” of Washington DC-based artist, Jim Sanborn, explores the relationship between light and environmental structures through precise mathematical, scientific and archaeological analysis. Developed In the late 1990’s, Sanborn sought to capture and emphasise parts of Ireland and the American Southwest that are often overlooked and combine that with the scientific phenomenon, the ‘coriolis effect’ or cryptography, mapping the earth’s magnetic field.

For each of his images, Sanborn, “would drive many miles off-road to a remote site where city and car lights could not reach. [He] used a hand-held device [he] made to determine… how far away the… 200lbs… projector and 4×5 camera had to be and at what angle as well”.[1]

The geometric light projections, which were all designed by Sanborn himself, were powered by a generator which was transported by the artists’ assistant in order to continuously produce the light shape for an extended period of time, whilst simultaneously captured in a long exposure photograph. The result is ostensibly superimposed mathematical and grid-like forms streaming across rock formations and jagged coastlines.

I think what is quite remarkable about these images is that they portray the perfect combination of eeriness and divine beauty. So many projection mapping artists I found when researching the field work with man-made structures and architecture, so it was rather refreshing to see a different approach, especially 10 years ago when projection mapping had not even hit its prime yet.

“Most people though assumed they were computer generated – they missed the point.” — Jim Sanborn

[1] Alderson, R. 2011, Jim Sanborn: The Topographic Projections and Implied Geometries Series, It’s Nice That., viewed 1 April 2017, <;.


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