With the recent bevy of the colorful crackling fireworks over the Hudson River this past fourth of July, I was reminded of two very different artists I’ve been meaning to feature whose clever experimental art is based on gunpowder and fireworks – Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957) and British born, but New York and Monaco based, photographer Damion Berger (b. 1978). Today it’s Damion’s turn.
In his “Black Powder” series of remarkable photographs, Damion, once an assistant of famed fashion photographer Helmut Newton, documents the beautiful explosions used in grand celebrations all over the world – whether the end of a voyage on a ship, a celebration in the Jardin des Tuileries or the opening in Dubai of the tallest building in the world. But these are not your ordinary pics.
Using an analog process of photography (as opposed to digital, my peeps), Damion transforms the colorful images one may see in person into stark, wonderful, almost abstract works of art that have been decontextualized. What is left on the negative is a mix of fiery trajectories and explosions that look like wonderfully rendered contemporary drawings.
Capturing these images is as dramatic as the images themselves. Damion uses techniques he’s learned through years of trial and error in which he mixes long and overlapping exposures with different focus and apertures to craft and multiply the pyrotechnic explosions into one sheet of film. What we get and see are the negatives he prints of the exposed film. So while his technique is terribly controlled, the reality is that his medium and subject matter are actually quite unaccountable and uncontrollable. I dare say he has no clue what the final visual outcome will be. But that is what makes him so good in my book – he’s mastered the mechanical skills for taking this type of photo and he just lets the outcome be … with marvelous results.