What is Slag?

slag-rock-sample

Slag, as I’ve learned, is sort of a catch-all word for the waste product produced particularly in metal working and glass making. In the case of glass slag, also know as “glass cullet”, it could be the parts that are snipped off in the making of glass products or blobs of melted glass that are spilled, dropped or discarded. Some of these waste pieces are collected, ground up and recycled, others are just thrown away. Some of these waste pieces are broken into smaller pieces and used as landscaping gravel, the bigger pieces are used as ornaments in landscaping design or even as aquarium decoration.

Occasionally pieces of slag find their way into stores that sell rocks, gems and minerals. It was in one of these stores where I bought a piece of slag. It was about 4 pounds, was clear in some areas, transparent blue in others with streaks/specks/pockets of red, purple, yellow and black. It was chipped and cracked, had thousands of tiny bubbles and I thought I had found some unique type of rock. I had no idea what slag was nor did I know it was relatively worthless. I thought it was beautiful enough to shine some lights on it, maybe make it “glow” and come out with a somewhat interesting photograph. What happened as I started to photograph this piece (about 3 years after I bought it!) was something totally unexpected.

WHY PHOTOGRAPH SOMEONE ELSE’S TRASH?

Shooting slag (yes, those are legos!).

Shooting slag (yes, those are legos!).

As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and this seemingly innocuous piece of scrap turned out to be a treasure. I photographed it conventionally and it was “ok”. I then started zooming in with a macro and discovered that an area, some no bigger than a postage stamp, contained a fantastical world of color, texture, shapes, swirls, streaks, smears, specks, bubbles, cracks, reflections and light. Within this trash, within a square inch of this scrap, was a universe of beauty. I then started shooting multiple images and focus-stacked them which gave a greater depth of field. Ultimately I wanted to give these images a “painterly” quality to them and by stacking and compressing these multiple images I believe I achieved that goal.

Each of these photographs is a magical “universe” of it’s own. Each is unique and beautiful and unexpected. Each is minimally “photoshopped”, what you see is basically what was shot. Sure the color has been enhanced a bit, but no more than another photographer would enhance a photo to bring out the colors of a sunset.

It would not be too much of a stretch (maybe a little) to compare this to the Hubble Deep Field photo where the Hubble telescope was trained on a seemingly empty part of the sky, a part no bigger than your thumb held at arms length, and discovered that it was filled with tens of thousands of galaxies. Except in my case it was in reverse. When I pointed my camera on a seemingly tiny part of a piece of “lawn gravel” I discovered something magical. Each piece contains it’s own universe of galaxies, nebulas, gas clouds and stars. What is captured in these photographs is truly unexpected beauty in a very unlikely subject.

dan