Lights (After Menken) #3 (2021)

A third set of photographs produced in this same way, with contrasting results, inspired by Marie Menken’s 1966 film, Lights. It’s likely there’s a discrepancy between a person’s interest in looking at these images and my fascination with having created them. All I can say about that is… sorry, there’s many more to come, and one day, when budget is of no issue, there’s a much more ambitious body of work to be produced this way.

Lights (After Menken) #2 (2021)

The Kick-About No.34, inspired by experimental film-maker, Marie Menken, was all about working directly and playfully, emulating the way Menken had turned her camera on the Christmas lights of New York to transform them into abstract patterns and ‘drawings’. For my part, I fashioned for myself a very simple piece of apparatus – a sheet of glass, painted black, scored with dots and dashes – and set about using it to produce some in-camera lightshows of my own. This second set of images represent a different approach to the previous bunch, with the sheet of painted glass being pivoted away-and-towards the camera, or shoved left-and-right in front of it. In one of the resulting images, the Chrysler Building looks set to materialise…

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.

Tin Toy #6 (2021)

A final clutch of bird-based photographs, kicked-off by The Kick-About #33, and the method was a little different this time. An animation sequence was created from this previous set of photographs, which was then layered twice, with new stills exported from the resulting composite. I wanted to see if I could further efface the original subject, while dailling up the ‘flutter’. I enjoy the delicacy of the resulting images, evoking birds, of course, but also butterflies and other more exotic wisps. At time of writing, the mechanism inside the blue bird has worn out. We’re both done with all this for a while at least.

Tin Toy #5 (2021)

With the addition of an old mirror, I was now able to get my little pecking blue bird ‘ice-skating’ in imperfect circles, producing these barely-there photographs that somehow bring to mind decorative motifs of the 1950’s. Again, the illustrative effects of long-exposure on this little tin toy and its lo-fi domestic set-up fills me with satisfaction – and ideas for more ambitious games one fine day. I’m quite a long way from Herzog’s dancing chicken now.

Tin Toy #4 (2021)

A change of light and space for the little wind-up blue bird toy, the camera working harder, the subject of the photograph softening still further, with the highlights rim-lighting the toy’s outline producing whirling white propellers. I always love it when the in-camera transformations are so unexpected; I clapped by hands with child-like pleasure at some of these images – at the unknowability of their more matter-of-fact provenance. Surely this is magic, these games of time and light. This is what I’ve come to so enjoy about The Kick-About, the way it gives me license to pick something up – in this instance, something as unlikely as a dancing chicken – and then run with it until my curiosity expires or other commitments intrude. More transformations ahead!

Tin Toy #3 (2021)

Another day, another tin-toy, and this time a rather wonderful clockwork ‘blue bird’ that pecks elegantly at the ground while turning in circles. Inspired by the creative gauntlet set down by The Kick-About #33, I continued to enjoy the vanishing effects of movement + long exposure, with the design and motion of this particular toy promising lots of enjoyably ephemeral outcomes and ideas too for further play.

Tin Toy #2 (2021)

So, recap… The Kick-About #33 got me thinking about dancing chickens and long-exposure photography, and in lieu of actual chickens, I sufficed with the clock-work variety. One of the tin-toys I sourced to meet this latest creative challenge was a little pecking chick, which, once wound-up and released, bounced around frenetically. I particularly liked the way the longest exposures transformed the pecking chick into a vibrating little molecule.