Internal Ballistics: Deborah Bay

This week on the Flat File we feature two projects included in our new exhibition, Internal Ballistics: The Photography of Deborah Bay and Sabine Pearlman, and projects that compliment it. This two-person exhibition showcases the discomfiting beauty of morally fraught objects: bullets.

.357 Hollow Point © Deborah Bay. From "The Big Bang"

.357 Hollow Point © Deborah Bay. From “The Big Bang”

We have an exciting announcement to make! wall space gallery is pleased to welcome Deborah Bay as a represented artist and celebrate her work with an exhibition opening today in our Santa Barbara gallery.

Internal Ballistics features Deborah’s series entitled The Big Bang. In this intelligent and daring project, she worked with law enforcement professionals at the Public Safety Institute of Houston Community College to visualize impact patterns of different kinds of bullets. Shot into Plexiglas, The Big Bang captures the horrifying yet gorgeous effects of fired guns. The results are large, wondrous prints that recall galaxies, snowflakes, and cellular development. Scroll down to read our short interview with Deborah about this work.

Exhibition dates – February 4-March 31, 2014

Reception with the artists – Friday, February 21, 6-8pm

Artist talk – Saturday, February 22, 2-3pm

Gallery hours – Tuesday-Saturday 11-5, Sunday 12-5, and by appointment

Gallery address – 116 E Yanonali St, Santa Barbara Funk Zone

.45 Hollow Point © Deborah Bay. From "The Big Bang"

.45 Hollow Point © Deborah Bay. From “The Big Bang”

wall space gallery: How did you first get the idea for The Big Bang?

Deborah Bay: I was purchasing a piece of plexiglas, waiting for them to cut it to size, when I noticed a display of bullet-proof plexiglas that had several projectiles embedded in it. The small panel of plexiglas captured the fragmentation of the bullets and provided a dramatic way of seeing ballistic power outside the usual frame of reference. The metal shards and trajectory lines demonstrated the huge amount of energy released when the bullets were blasted into hard plastic.

wsg: Your statement mentions that these bullets came from shots fired by law enforcement professionals at the Public Safety Institute at Houston Community College. How did this collaboration come about?

DB: I know very little about guns and before starting this project had shot nothing more than a toy capgun. To help establish a sort of psychological framework for the series, my husband and I took a shooting lesson at one of the local firing ranges. Very nerve-wracking to hear all the gunfire all around you in the shooting gallery. It was quickly apparent that I had no aptitude for hitting the target, so I knew someone else would have to do the firing. I made quite a few inquiries before connecting with Johnny Sessums, director of the Public Safety Institute at Houston Community College. The institute trains police officers and firefighters, and he agreed to help with the project.

wsg: How did you decide which bullets to include in the series? Did you rely on a documentary interest in the impact patterns or were there ever ones you decided just didn’t look right?

DB: One of the benefits of working with personnel from the Public Safety Institute was their access to a variety of ammunition. I thought it would be especially interesting to see what some of the most familiar bullets looked like on impact, such as the .38 special or .44 Magnum.

Because of the shallow depth of field in shooting macro photography, some of the bullets were particularly challenging to photograph through the plexiglas. One of them, the Daniel Defense (generally a military/law enforcement type of bullet), has proved especially elusive. I haven’t yet put one of them on my website.

wsg: Do you think you would see your own images differently if you’d been the one to fire the bullets?

DB: If I’d had to depend on my own shooting, the project likely would never have gotten off the ground!

wsg: One of the most provocative aspects of the series as a whole, I think, is that the images step aside from making any conclusions about gun use. These jewel-toned impact marks transport the viewer, as your series title suggests, to a remote appreciation of the natural beauty of the marks. Yet they were made in Texas, where guns are a notorious part of culture. Can you expand on this tension?

DB: There is a certain psychological tension created, I believe, by the push and pull of the potential for horror inherent in the images and the seductiveness of the jewel-like beauty created by the metal fragments. So a sort of dissonance or unease is created when the viewer realizes that this imagery of intergalactic bling is actually a shattered bullet, with all its related meaning. I’ve found that even among gun enthusiasts, viewing ballistic power within this alternate framework does sometimes give pause. It doesn’t require much imagination to realize the impact any of these bullets would have on muscle and bone.

wsg: Do you have a personal favorite from the series? What draws you to that image?

DB: I have various favorites on different days. When I was shooting the series, I would find myself wanting to dive deeper into the image in the viewfinder – that was when I knew I had the shot I wanted.

Artist’s statement

Imagine a time of no time and no space, a time before time began.

In that abyss of nothingness the Big Bang occurred, a moment of singularity when the cosmos was born: a brilliant, millimeter-sized ball of light expanding in a flash, instantaneously transformed into the vastness of the universe.

New images from space renew our sense of awe as we push back through billions of years of time, through the heavenly primordial soup to the earliest stars. Inspired by visions of time traveling through space, the images in ”The Big Bang” hint at these cosmologic regions and encourage viewers to wander among unknown galaxies, speculating on their genesis.


Deborah Bay specializes in tabletop and constructed photography, creating enigmatic in-camera images as well as digital composites. Her most recent series, “The Big Bang,” examines the fragmentation of bullets embedded in plexiglas, tracing the energy released from the projectile well after the gunshots are fired. She has exhibited work at the Dallas Contemporary, Griffin Museum of Photography, Dishman Art Museum, New York Hall of Science and Southeast Museum of Photography, among other venues. Her work is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and has been featured on the cover of the British Journal of Photography. A variety of international publications have featured her images, including PM Magazin and Welt der Wunder (Germany), BBC Focus and MailOnline (UK), and (USA). She lives in Houston, Texas, and holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from The University of Texas at Austin.


Photographs from The Big Bang by Deborah Bay are available in two limited-edition sizes. They archival pigment prints.

30×40”| $2,500 | edition of 7
18×24”| $1,200 | edition of 10

Please contact the gallery at (805) 637-3898 or gallery@wall-space gallery to inquire or reserve your prints.

.44 Caliber Deborah Bay. From "The Big Bang"

.44 Caliber © Deborah Bay. From “The Big Bang”

.357 Jacketed Hollow Point © Deborah Bay. From "The Big Bang"

.357 Jacketed Hollow Point © Deborah Bay. From “The Big Bang”

9mm Glock Ball © Deborah Bay. From "The Big Bang"

9mm Glock Ball © Deborah Bay. From “The Big Bang”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s