Sparks, Dominos & the All-Encompassing Laboratory.


The process of ideation is often graphically depicted by gears; each one applying motion to the next, ad infinitum. It’s a great analogy. It’s how we reason, how our logic works, going from one point to the next, making one connection that in turn affects another; fuelling a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

The creative mind works along those same principles, although it’s often much more chaotic and difficult to control, jumping from A to C to B. It also has qualities of the domino effect, a self-sustaining event that can no longer be stopped once initiated. Inevitable. But unlike dominos (or gears), the end point remains imprecise, a quantic mess of possibilities. That’s the attraction: never really knowing the final destination, never quite certain of the outcome.

The images below are a direct result of Robert Boyer’s latest response to our ongoing winter challenge. But it’s not my reply per se, more like inspired by. I happen to love where Robert went from my shower shoot: instead of replicating the concept, he used the same basic idea to emphasize its opposite. Instead of freezing motion he painted with it. The results are beautiful. And not at all what I expected.

When he posted a BTS shot of his setup I couldn’t help myself. Out came the X-Acto knife and cardboard for a makeshift gobo. I found an old diaphanous scarf and hired my son as model. Again. He’s a good sport but as most of you know, kids whose dads are photographers tend to have a limited threshold for this sort of thing. Hard to blame ’em given our propensity for being slightly shutter crazy; so yeah, time was of the essence (!).

The studio is a cave, so no ambient light to contend with. I used a single gridded strobe (20°) aimed through the gobo. I tried a few different settings but settled on 1/4s f/7.1 at ISO 200. I was going for an extra of painterly.

You’ll notice some of the images show a lot more smearing than others: that’s because in those cases I disabled the remote trigger and shot using just the modeling light (set at max power). Without a flash burst no portion of the image ever freezes beyond the shutter speed. Same settings as before except for bumping the ISO to 500 (to account for the diminished light output).

Robert used rear-curtain sync on his shoot which is obviously the way to go — by flashing at the end of the exposure you create a still that appears after (or on top of) the motion trail caused by the slow shutter speed. But I can’t do that with my current setup. The X-Pro1’s rear-curtain sync mode is only available when using a Fuji flash unit. This probably means I could use something like an EF–X20, dial it all the way down and trigger the big lights optically at rear curtain… I’ll need to look into how much manual control that flash provides (the idea being to use it purely as commander in this case and affect the exposure as little as possible. We’re talking 1/128 power ideally). Syncing front-curtain makes the results much more diffuse and airy since all the blurring occurs after the initial flash burst. It also means you’re much less likely to get a clean shot if that’s what you’re after.

But enough technobabble.

We all need a push at some point, a reason to go further and explore the lesser known territories. This back and forth between Robert and I is forcing me into a laboratory of sorts, the purpose of which is to allow for errors, false starts and possible moments of illumination.

All you ever need is one spark.
A single push on that very first domino.

Shot with the X-Pro1 and Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 LM OIS set at 42.5mm. Elinchrom BX500ri with 20º grid.