John Archibald Wheeler for Vanity Fair
I stalked John Wheeler for over 20 years, and ultimately made this photograph purely as a pretext to meet him. There was no one I wanted to meet more than this somewhat obscure theoretical physicist that I regarded as one of the most important minds of the 20th century. More than any other scientist, it was Wheeler who sparked my interest in science that continues to this day.
Wheeler literally lived three life times as a physicist, a field where ones life's work is usually accomplished by the age of 30. As a young man he was Niels Bohr's assistant and an important figure in early particle theory. He went on to teach at Princeton where he mentored a young Richard Feynman and later collaborated with him on the theory of Quantum Electro-Dynamics and other important ideas in quantum field theory. Upon his retirement from Princeton at 65 he founded the relativity group at the University of Texas at Austin, where he brought important new insights to our understanding of the General Theory of Relativity. Eventually, he returned to Princeton where he mentored yet another generation. Wheeler died shortly after I made this portrait at 92.
Of all Wheeler's work it was his theory of the "Participatory Universe" that most captivated me. Vastly oversimplified, the theory holds that while the universe does exist independently of a conscious observer, it exists only as information/history. With observation the universe becomes concrete and "real". Thus, an object like the moon becomes ever more real as it observed repeatedly by many consciousness' over time, but an object like...-the dust bunnies under my bed-, only became possible as you read the sentence you just read, and they only become concrete when someone actually looks under the bed. All very well and good until you realize that you yourself are an object in the universe, your consciousness is itself a product of the universe, and the universe is in turn a product of your conscious observation.
Any photographer with half a brain has gotta love the implications of that.
"In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it."
-John Archibald Wheeler