Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mystic Flame Portfolio

After devoting almost four months of work to my Micro Worlds portfolio (which I'm delighted to announce has recently been published in Lenswork issue #76, print and extended DVD editions) - a project that required me to be painfully hunched over my tripod like a old pretzel - I naturally wanted to choose a follow-on project that would give some much needed rest to both my back and eyes. But I didn't necessarily want to back away from the kind of abstract images that make up Micro Worlds. Indeed, while I've always been attracted to abstract forms (perhaps driven there by my admiration - awe even! - of my dad's paintings), I am finding my photography descending to ever deeper levels of abstraction.

And so, in a step that seemed a natural one to take (at least I could temporarily free myself of a tripod and not be scrunched up for hours on end in some inhumanly back-breaking stance; see my attempts to photograph a time exposure of fast breaking waves at Miami beach in a stiff wind to see an example of just how inhumanly scrunched up I can get!), I turned my attention to the wonderfully abstract and ephemeral patterns of fire.

“All things, oh priests, are on fire . . .
The eye is on fire;
forms are on fire;

eye-consciousness is on fire;

impressions received by the eye are on fire.”


All one needs to start a fire is some flammable or combustible material and an adequate supply of oxygen (or some other oxidizer). Subject the two to enough heat to initiate a chain reaction and...voila. On a more technical level, fire - or, more precisely, combustion - involves a complex series of molecular interactions. The burning of even comparatively "simple" few-atom molecules may involve more than 100 unique chemical reactions. The flame itself is an exothermic, self-sustaining, chemical reaction that produces energy and glowing hot matter (a tiny fraction of which is plasma). It emits both visible and infrared light; though the actual frequency range is a function of the chemical composition of the burning elements and intermediate reaction products.

Aesthetically, flames can be quite mesmerizing; displaying rapidly shifting patterns and complex nested tones and textures. Of course, capturing such patterns presents somewhat of a challenge, not unlike that of capturing images of flowing water and breaking waves. One cannot readily predict what specific patterns will arise. The best one can do is get whatever equipment will be used (camera, lens, tripod, exposure time) in place, and take as many shots as necessary so that interesting patterns can be "discovered" after the fact.

As I've only just started my new project - with the working title, "Mystic Flame" - I can offer but a small preview of shots to come. But judging from the results thus far, I foresee this project consuming at least as much attention of my photographic eye (and passion) in the coming weeks (months?) as "Micro Worlds" did before it.

Please click here to see my - still quite nascent - Mystic Flame portfolio. What you will be seeing are actually digital negatives. That is, a collection of reverse-toned images in which the darkest portions (of the "real" image) appear the lightest, and the lightest portions appear darkest. The most striking feature of these photographs, at least from a philosophical point of view, is that they provide a glimpse of the unseeable. Because the exposure times for most of these images lie between 1/500th and 1/4000th of a sec - or, in a slice of time that is far shorter than what our eyes need to "see" (and/or discern) patterns - they depict a reality that is fundamentally inaccessible to us. Yet here it is...simultaneously a beautiful enigma revealed, and an invisible reality not quite completely exposed; for once a pattern is "captured" by the camera, its ephemeral form vanishes forever.


Lilly said...

I absolutely love these images. You have picked two of my favorite things, fire and negative photography. My wife and I are hobby fire performers. You can find some photos that a friend took at a couple of our fire shows here:

If you happen to find yourself in central Florida this winter, and would like to experiment with some images, let us know. We will make sure we schedule a fire show for you. :-)

Anonymous said...

congratulations on Lenswork 76, a wonderful portfolio, I enjoyed viewing the pictures.

Diane said...

What an intriguing post! Your "Mystic Fire" portfolio was especially interesting, which reminded me of the movement and energy found in gesture drawing. In a sense, you're capturing the image in a digital negative instead of using traditional charcoal.

Congrats on your Lenswork issue!

Your father's work is quite wonderful as well. I can see why you are in awe.

Itsolusenz said...

Really great ideas. I like every example. Just might have to try these...
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