Fine art meets fire
In early November, I was sent off to Paris by my agent Suzy Johnston + Associates to create a fiery series of images for sculptor and artist Cyril Anguelidis’s “WOM dog”. Of course, when I heard Paris and Fire, my first step was to call up my epic pyrotechnician buddy Andrey DAS and his crew to get them in on the action.
Our job was to create an eye-catching series of images that would feature a friendly but mysterious sculpture in a unique location surrounded by a variety of flaming effects. Though I’ve seen photos that blend fire and objects, no one (as far as I know) had ever attempted to create a series that involved sculpting fiery structures around an object. This meant that we’d have to custom build and design the effects we wanted.
DAS and I spent a lot of time in pre-production – sketching out ideas and concepts trying to figure out which would work best. We treated the WOM dog as a luxury art piece that it was to create imagery that would convey a sense of mystery and movement. While planning, it was imperative to take no risks so that the piece of art that the artist entrusted us with would not be damaged.
A detailed storyboard was required to be certain that we would get the images we needed within the time constraints given to us. This meant that we had to break down each photograph to not only ensure a striking image but also to plan out the security procedures and careful manipulations that are required when playing with fire. These unique and novel technique to mould and sculpt fire into a unique piece of artwork is a process we have dubbed “Pyroplasty”
Nicolas Sarkissian from EyeMOOV was contacted to help us cover the Behind the Scenes of this shoot and we hope you enjoy it:
I know that a lot of you are curious about the camera settings that were used to achieve this shot so I’ve listed the gear + camera settings. As you probably know, there is no “magical formula” to getting the perfect shot but hopefully this helps you a little
In addition to the four target shots, I toyed around with the colours in post production and came out with this shot I quite enjoy that reminds me of Moses parting the oceans! Though it doesn’t quite fit the series, I’ve grown quite attached to it and decided to put it up and share it with you guys!
Q: I know DAS was wearing black, but in the second shot did you have to remove him at all from the image? After all, he was lit by the fire!
Not at all. Since DAS is passing through an area that is very bright (burned) by our curtain of fire, any slight trace of him gets “erased” by the flames. Also, I was shooting at a very high aperture so the light wasn’t intense enough to cause any sort of blurring The fire from the rope is exponentially brighter than the light hitting DAS’s face!
Q: What were the lighting conditions that you had to deal with?
The reason why we were able to do such long shutter drags is that there was virtually no lights bleeding in from the streets where we were shooting. There was definitely light streaming in from the “pillars” as you can see since that building doesn’t actually close so that had to be dealt with but if anything I felt that it added depth to the image!
Q: Any weather challenges you had to deal with?
Actually the weather was quite mild. We were in a sheltered environment (walls on all side) so wind was not an issue. The temperature was slightly cold (approximately 10 degrees Celcius) but no danger of the fuel freezing so we were all good!
Q: How many people were on the crew?
We had 3 pyrotechnicians on set to help prep things efficiently. The rest were photography support (4) and BTS cameramen (2) and myself as well as the client.
Q: How did you come up with the shoot ideas?
Same way we always come up with ideas: Thinking composition, story and effects. I would toss an idea at DAS, ask him if it were possible and he’d toss back ideas. Together we overcame the challenges of lighting and special effects
Q: Did you need to do anything to protect the WOM dog?
Nope. The WOM dog, though flammable would not spontaneously ignite on contact. It did mean that we had to avoid certain effects such as steel wool, but as long as the WOM didn’t enter into direct contact with the flames there was nothing to worry about. The only shot that we were slightly worried about was the one where the WOM dog is riding a “cloud of flame”. To be certain that it was safe, we put one of our camera assistants in the flames to make sure it was safe
Q: Were DAS/the crew/the artist uncomfortable with any of your ideas?
I think that Cyril was quite apprehensive throughout the shoot… logical I suppose as his art pieces are worth around 6000 Euros each!
Q: Any problems with the police or spectators?
The shoot took place at 11 PM on a relatively cold Paris night so we were left alone from the spectator front. A couple people did pass by and ask curious questions but none weathered the cold very long. The police had already been notified so there was also no problem from that front!
Q: Did you have to do anything special to alter the environment for the photoshoot?
Yes! We actually poured water from a fountain onto the ground to make everything nice, shiny and reflective. We used a plastic bag to pull water from the pool and a broom we found to distribute it all over the place. Made the place quite slippery… but totally worth it !
Q: Were any of the ideas altered because of the limitations of others?
Not really. As with every shoot, there was an organic evolution of what would look best ! There was a slow but steady evolution. For example in the following shot, we knew we wanted a ring around our model. While we initially thought that a ring of sparklers would look great, we noticed that it lacked a bit of shape and structure. A naked circle wasn’t “filled enough” so we combined both together!
And finally, for those of you who are looking to do shots like these on your own, be sure to check out these 7 tips to help you shoot with fire!
- I’ve been nominated in the [FRAMED] awards as one of the best conceptual photographers! If you like what I do, drop me a vote or two to support me: http://bit.ly/10QntqG
- Like the fire stuff? Did you see my previous BTS video with Andrey DAS?
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- I will be giving a CRAZY 2.5 day workshop in London, UK on the 22/23/24th of March… Check it out HERE
- Photo: Von Wong
- Pyro: Andrey Das
- Pyro Assist: Jerem Cotte, Joe Guillian
- Photo Assistants: Nicolas Vallet, Benjamin Lecomte, David Mozelman, Felix Barjou, Virginie Marcerou
- Video: Nicolas Sarkissian from EyeMOOV
- Second Camera: Mathieu Hery