I am interested in recording unusual, improbable,  ephemeral , or
otherwise unseen real phenomena in gorgeous detail.

Vase spilling over lightning. Copyright Gordon Kirkwood 2012
Detail from larger photo of fig leaf, above,  showing incredible resolution of this technique.  Contrast this with any other example of "kirlian" photo,  which is dramatically more blurry.
Detail from larger photo of fig leaf (full view below) showing incredible resolution of my technique. The detail, depth of focus,  and field of view are all significantly improved beyond existing examples of high voltage or ‘kirlian’ photography.

Under the constraints I impose on myself, nothing is simulated,  edited, collaged: everything must be real.  And so I build apparatus to shape electric and magnetic fields,  fluid jets, smoke rings, soap films,  and lightning arcs to orchestrate the forces and phenomena I am interested in.

I am currently working on a photo series called “Electrified Flowers of Hawaii”,   in which the exotic flora of the island of Hawaii is photographed in a technique of unprecedented detail and illumination.    Lightning bolts of several megawatts power,  and a quarter million volts,  are applied around gorgeous leaves and flowers, and the resulting arc paths recorded on incredibly detailed 4×5″ analog film.

Another body of work,  begun during my artist residency at Autodesk in Spring 2015,  is a novel portfolio of soap bubbles being perturbed by air and water jets,  and electric fields.

A stun-gun was modified to be triggered by a high voltage thyristor,   which was triggered by the interruption of a red laser beam through which the drop fell.  The stun gun's terminals were routed to pencil-leads which concentrated the arc in the region through which the drop would fall.
The first photo I ever made using a synchronized high voltage arc applied to a falling water drop.


Fig Leaf from my Garden at 240,000 Volts, with dielectric breakdown and electrical perforation of glass.
enlarged view of the body of the leaf in previous photograph
enlarged view of the body of the leaf in previous photograph
Strawberry Leaves at 180kV. 16×20″ chromogenic film print made from 4×5″ large format negatives. Copyright Gordon C. Kirkwood 2012. See above for a tight zoom on the central stem, showing incredible detail.
Close detail of 2″x2″ portion of 16″ x 20″ print of “strawberry leaves at 180kV”,  shown in it’s entirety below.


To make these photographs I studied high voltage physics and built a  personal lightning machine.   It produces incredibly brilliant lightning at potentials of up to a quarter-million volts.    I have also built a triggered spark gap and optical slave trigger circuit so this lightning machine can be commanded to issue it’s burst at a precise moment.

Another alternative photographic technique which,  to my knowledge, is of my own invention,  is a method of recording transient and often complex flow patterns in fluid media:

Copyright Gordon C. Kirkwood
Lenseless photograph recorded straight to an 8×10″ photographic emulsion of patterns of waves surrounding an impinging fluid column.


An exploration of hydrologic instability of cascaded fountains
An exploration of hydrologic instability of cascaded fountains


In the news: 

HACKADAY:  Ephemeral Photographs Staged with Artful Inventions

KICKSTARTER:  Electrified Flowers of Hawaii

FACEBOOK:  Electrified Flowers of Hawaii

One thought on “Photography”

  1. Gordon- great to meet you last night. You perform beautifully on your cello. Always impressed with talent, art, music and so much more creativity. Good luck with your future endeavor, adventure with the kinetic sculpture….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>