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Large format film photographs of exotic plants being illuminated by direct lightning strikes at a quarter million volts.
Large format film photographs of exotic plants being illuminated by direct lightning strikes at a quarter million volts.
69 backers pledged $4,547 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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NEWS!   200% FUNDING REACHED 12/15!  Coffee-Lightning prints will be added to all rewards!  New Stretch Goal Announced! (see below)

NEWS:   F295.org has sponsored this project with a large donation of Kodak Portra 400 Film!

NEWS:  Hackaday.com has written a wonderful review of this project and it's creator's other work!

NEWS!  This Project's Founder was selected to be Artist In Residence at Autodesk's amazing and highly competitive Pier-9 Advanced Digital Fabrication Workshop!

Electrified Flowers of Hawaii
is a series of exquisitely detailed photographs of exotic plants representing Hawaii’s incredible biodiversity, being illuminated with direct lightning-strikes. In this technique,  Luminous electrical blossoms and tendrils sprout from plants, and are recorded on the highest fidelity large format analog film.

The technique I’ve developed produces images whose clarity and detail far exceed all prior examples of kirlian photography known to me.  It is a significant improvement over kirlian photography in two major ways. First, Kirlian photographs are made as contact prints, so any non-flat features of the subject are unavoidably blurred.  Second,  in kirlian photography, only subjects smaller than the film size can be photographed,  and so kirlian photographs invariably feature small leaves, coins, fingerprints, and keys.  

this is a 3" wide crop of a 16x20" photograph I made of a fig-leaf from my garden.
this is a 3" wide crop of a 16x20" photograph I made of a fig-leaf from my garden.

I have no such limits.  I will be photographing large foot-wide leaves and small, delicate, flowers.  I’m also using a special lightning machine, of my own construction, which delivers blinding arcs at a quarter-million volts. The lightning is so loud, I need to wear hearing protection and sunglasses.

I’ve been making these photos for several years now, and have had several gallery shows and publications.   The technique is well established.

Costs

I’m appealing to  crowd funding because making photographs this way is extremely expensive.    Each exposure of large format film costs nine or ten dollars - five dollars for one sheet of color film,  and another five dollars to develop it.  Scanning of negatives can cost another $5 to $10 each.    I aim to make about one hundred exposures over two weeks-- about eight plants each night -- from which the best ten will be selected for the final series.  That’s a thousand dollars in film and development alone before making prints.  

Additional costs include shipping high voltage equipment,  which the TSA could rightly be expected to find too interesting,  and renting a car  for two weeks to transport this equipment in.  

You’ll note that I’ve not included my lodging,  food, or airfare.   That is to say, this is *NOT* a plea for a paid vacation, and I’m investing a lot of my own resources to make it happen, too.  I’m going to work *very* hard to give you something unique and truly awesome.   My principal goal is to make this unique project happen, and to share with you some of the first prints made with a gorgeous new technique, of some of the most exotic plants in the world.

This project builds towards something larger.

I should mention the larger context of this work.   A long range goal, outside the scope of this campaign, but towards which it builds, is to author a definitive book detailing the methods,  results, and theory  of all of the various techniques of high voltage photography.   Nothing like this exists to my satisfaction.  In that void, the history and literature of kirlian photography is rampant with pseudoscience, mystics, and opportunistic marketers.   The book I’m writing answers with the most cohesive synthesis of glorious imagery, circuit diagrams,  and the most grounded discussion of the real mechanisms and physics at play. 

 I am pleased to be joined in this work by the distinguished astrophysicist and radio astronomer,  Dr. Jeff Peterson of Carnegie Mellon University,  who has agreed to act in the capacity of scientific advisor.    You can be sure that this will be a serious endeavor which will have a most grounded and real narrative.  I aim to satisfy the most thorough and wide-ranging curiosities. 

Thanks so much for your support.   I look forward to providing you with a truly interesting print to hang on your wall!    There are a variety of reward levels,  ranging from postcards to museum quality 20x24” prints,  and so I hope that nomatter what your means,  if you like these photographs,  you can have one.

STRETCH GOAL #1 HAS BEEN MET!

Thanks everyone for helping me achieve 100% funding on the third day of this 10 day campaign, and 200% on it's 9th day!   As a result,  stretch goal #1 will be added to everybody's rewards:   an additional print of the COFFEE plant acting as the substrate of high voltage breakdown.  

STRETCH GOAL #2 ANNOUNCED!

If this project reaches $5000,  I will include a recording of me playing cello to every reward.  I'm a semi-professional cellist and have played for most of my life.  Here's  recording of a live improvisation I made in October...

 

I am also excitedly beginning to think about potential cross-overs from this project to the work I'll be doing as an Artist in Residence at Pier 9,  following.  

Thanks again,  I feel great right now, knowing that there are so many people who find this as interesting as I do!

Risks and challenges

Safety - high voltage: I've a long history of working with this technique and am pleased to say I have never had a safety-lapse resulting in an electric shock. I will continue my scrupulous adherence to safety protocols in the field. I have experience with high voltage professionally, working on the Peace Canyon Dam's massive Hydroelectric generator's transmission line, operating at 400kV and 1,300 amps, 3-phase, and also as a prior operator of a 200kW research nuclear reactor.

Safety - theft / robbery: By necessity I will be traveling with exotic-looking camera gear, and perhaps the greatest setback would be if I were to experience robbery or theft in the course of this project. If the project is funded I will be able to safeguard against this better, by renting a car whose trunk I can secure materials in. The alternative may be to transport gear in a bicycle trailer.

Weather - I require at least momentarily dry weather, to create and apply voltages up to 250,000 volts. Hawaii gets regular rain but by being there for more than two weeks I trust that I will have at least several windows of opportunity to work.

Traveling with undeveloped negatives - I will either develop my negatives on the island, or use a lead-lined pouch to protect my negatives from increased cosmic background radiation at high altitude during the flight, and from careless TSA agents at the airport.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    a post-card image of a select image from the series will be mailed to you.

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    You will receive a 5x7 print from the series (your choice). All non-postcard photos will be printed with archival grade papers and ink.

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    A pack of five postcards with selected (my choice) different images from the series will be mailed to you.

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    You will receive an archival quality 8x10" print of your choice from the final series. Prints will be made on highest quality photo paper with archival inks.

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    Pledge $40 or more About $40

    A pack of all ten postcard images from the series will be mailed to you.

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    The Complete Series at 5x7"
    a folio of all ten prints from the series, printed at 5x7" scale, will be mailed to you. Prints will be made with archival grade papers and inks.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    I'll meet you and talk lightning photography (or anything else you like) over lunch - at a location and time of mutual convenience to be arranged between Dec 15, 2014 and Jan 12, 2015 on the Big island. (If for some reason it doesn't pan out, I'll send you a signed print of comparable value.)

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    Early Bird Special!
    The Complete Series at 8x10"

    A folio of all ten prints from the series, printed at 8x10" scale, will be mailed to you. Prints will be made with archival grade paper and inks.

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    Pledge $175 or more About $175

    The Complete Series at 8x10"

    A folio of all ten prints from the series, printed at 8x10" scale, will be mailed to you. Prints will be made with archival grade paper and inks.

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    Pledge $175 or more About $175

    Early bird special! A signed and numbered 16x20" archival grade print of your choice of any photo in the series. Suitable for framing.

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    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    A signed and numbered 16x20" print of your choice of any photo from the final series will be mailed to you. Prints will be made on highest quality photo paper with archival inks. Suitable for framing.

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    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    A very limited number of toned silver albumen prints will be printed at 16x20". These museum quality prints will be printed using analog darkroom techniques from special, black-and-white-only negatives made during the series. 4x5" film negatives. Prints will be made on museum grade, silver emulsion, double-weight fiber baryta paper. Frame this.

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    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    I will carve your initials into a leaf or flower in Hawaii, apply lightning, and record an incredibly detailed luminescent print of lightning dancing around your name within the leaf, sending you an archival quality print of your choice of size up to 11x14".

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    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    A signed and numbered 20x24" print of your choice of photo from the series. The largest prints made of this series, showing off the exquisite detail captured with this technique. Compelling from across the room, or showing fine detail even under a magnifying glass up close. A truly gigantic print.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    Join me for a day in Hawaii between Dec 14 and Jan 13, and I will teach you how I make large format lightning photographs, safely. Safety is important when dealing with a quarter-million volts! You will also receive a 16x20" print of your choice of image from the series (perhaps one you help me make!) and a personalized message on the print.

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    Pledge $2,000 or more About $2,000

    The Complete Series, in signed, numbered, 16x20" prints. Only five complete series will be printed at this size.

    Suitable for framing, this is a complete exhibition. Decorate a whole room with unique, unprecedented, and gorgeous lightning photographs of the exotic plants of Hawaii.

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Funding period

- (10 days)