In Tricycle Magazine

My photographs of gasoline explosions have been getting a lot of attention lately, and I'm always eager for someone to put them to creative use. Tricycle Magazine has used them to illustrate an article about monks and self-immolation. I think it's a pitch-perfect use of my images, because they are both beautiful and violent, and because an abstract image is so much better than a literal one to illustrate such a fraught topic.

The article describes the long history of the act of self-immolation, and is surprising. Preview it at

The Difference between Very Little Photoshop and No Photoshop

Today, much like with taking pictures, pretty much anybody can do a little Photoshop. There has always been artifice in photography, there has always been deceit. In fact, all art is lies. Art is just made up. Novels aren't true, paintings aren't true. Photographs aren't true. They may lead one to conclude something that is true, but they are not true themselves.

We've come to be believe that they're true because, in addition to making art, we use them to document our lives, and so we trust that they depict things accurately. They don't. People blink. People in photographs do not blink.

The difference now is that people think they know what's going on. And at the same time, some people are frustrated, because everything is retouched so much that even the things that aren't retouched are suspect, and one can't even trust that the things in the photograph ever existed at all.

And essentially, I share their sentiments, even if my objections are about aesthetics rather than integrity. Much of my photography process is a reaction to the prevalence of retouching in contemporary photography, and all that entails.

All that said, here's what I do, and here are some pictures that show it.

This is the finished photograph.

This is the finished photograph.

The first image is the finished photograph.

As in camera.

As in camera.

The second image is as it looked in camera. The darkness on the left of the frame is the shadow of a tree falling on the white foam core background that I set up. The slightly darker streaks are because the reflectors that I'm using to bounce sunlight onto the background are made of aluminum foil glued to foam core, and the surface is irregular.

You can see a lot more in the third and fourth images. In the lower left, you can see my hand with the spray bottle (that's right, one hand on the sprayer, one on the shutter release), the nozzle of the propane torch above that, and the A clamp holding the foam core to the light stand - which also tells you that I rotated the image 90 degrees left. In the right-hand image, also rotated, you can see the square reflection of the large, glass mirror I used to bounce light, as well as the split between pieces of foam core, and more shadows from the tree.

There is a distinct difference between very little Photoshop and no Photoshop. Of course, it's a fools errand to try to convince anybody, because we're ever closer to the point where using a photograph as proof of anything at all is ridiculous.

Technical Mumbo-Jumbo

There are plenty of images of Poi performance, and most of them look like the above picture, which is great for showing the energy and movement of the discipline.

I'm really only interested in the fire.

I'm really only interested in the fire.

Naturally I wanted to show it differently. 

So, two improvements here at the loading dock: new Speedlites with radios in 'em, and, looking like it got fished out of some espionage film, a Wave Sensor. The two improvements together allow these meteor-looking things, and take my ratio of usable to unusable shots from 1 in 12, to 1 in 1. Hear, hear, progress.

I'm never going to get this one white enough for me, because the strobes hadn't fully recycled, but notice the row of curls coming off the bottom of the wick. Go ahead, look at it bigger. There's a lot of wind dynamics happening in there, and I'm eager to try different wick shapes.

Another cool thing about these is the coexistence of smoke and fire.

And finally, dual, simultaneous fireballs.

You can see the best of the images from this round on my portfolio website.