Lights (After Menken) #1 (2021)


There is something so emancipating about Marie Menken’s experimental short film, Lights – the prompt for The Kick-About #34. It expresses a sort of child-like wonder in the way in which the camera transforms what it sees – municipal Christmas decorations into streaking discs of glowing colour and traffic into living electrified scribbles. You get a sense of Menken playing and exploring, embracing the ‘failure’ of the technology at her disposal to cope with light, time and motion, producing vibrant smears and patterns from otherwise rather ubiquitous components.

With this playfulness very much in mind, I tried something quick and dirty: painting a sheet of glass with black acrylic paint, before scratching parts of the painted surface away in the form of lines of irregular dots and dashes. Very simply, the painted sheet of glass was then positioned in front of windows, bright environments and television screens, and the surface of the glass photographed. Sometimes, during one exposure, I would push the focus from pin-prick sharp to diffuse, which had the satisfying effect of ‘spherizing’ the scratched patterns on the surface of the glass, producing the illusion of strings of lights or illuminated bubbles. I don’t mind admitting some of the resulting images had me laughing out loud with pleasure, so closely did they recall the aesthetic of mid-century avant-garde animations and the like. It gave me a secret squizz of pleasure too – the trick of it, the very fact of me not, in fact, photographing strings of fairy-lights or pastel-coloured Christmas baubles, or those long balloons out of which you might fashion a poodle: no, just a sheet of glass, painted black, with marks scratched into it using the end of a matchstick and a zester swiped from the kitchen drawer.

After that, there was no stopping me, and for days afterwards, I was lying on different floors around my house trying a bunch of different things with this same sheet of hurriedly painted glass. There have been moments over this last fortnight when I have been completely at peace creatively, just trying stuff out and worrying not at all about the other things a man of my age and responsibilities should probably be thinking about. I tried a whole bunch of set-ups and produced a tonne of images, which I’ll be sharing on here over the coming days. It’s been great.



5 thoughts on “Lights (After Menken) #1 (2021)

  1. I adore this Phil! The resulting images and the creative process that brought you so much joy – it’s insane what a few scratches on a pane of blacked out glass can achieve! And how it made the light bokeh so beautifully like that! X

    Liked by 1 person

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