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.

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 spark applied to a falling water drop. Red light in background, and red artifacts surrounding droplet in foreground, are due to a red laser beam being used to detect when the droplet is in the desired position. The laser detector circuit triggered a high voltage thyristor which dumped a 700V storage capacitor into the high voltage coil of the stun gun. This relatively low energy apparatus was eventually included as an optical trigger for a much (much) more powerful, 240kV, 8 joule,  marx generator which  I built from scratch.

Photo my Renee Rosensteel at Pyrotopia 2014
Smoke ring launching art installation, with 200mW green laser planar illuminator revealing the fluid wake of the vortex ring
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.

Homemade 240kV marx generator with copper-sulfate aqueous high power resistors,   8J stored energy, and 240kV peak voltage.
My homemade 240kV marx generator, during construction.   Blue tubing is homemade high power high voltage copper-sulfate  resistors.   Stored energy totals  8 joules.   Windows in the central column reveal brass spark-gaps.


lindseys hand arcing to stellate lens
240kV discharges from a plaster cast of Lyndsey Scherloum’s hand, to a glass lighting diffuser sitting in a saltwater bath
vase at 240kV
Repeated Discharges of 240kV across a glass vase, partially filled with saltwater, and sitting in a saltwater bath.
heatsink HV
Radial Computer Heat Sink with 20kV dielectric breakdown

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….

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