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The darker side of photography

Photography is growing a darker side with many photographers choosing to experiment with blacklight when taking pictures.

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spinning fire Photo by Toby Keller.

"Dance into the fire, that fatal kiss is all we need." Dance into the fire, to fatal sounds of broken dreams."

Duran Duran sing these lines as a woman with fluorescent orange painted nails unzips her top, her chest spilling with 007 stamped across it which blazes out in contrast to her dark body.

This is the opening credits of A View to a Kill, the 1985 James Bond film with Roger Moore and Grace Jones.

As is always the case with Bond films, the opening celebrates the female form, this time with the girls wearing just UV paint which are lit up with a black light.

Such dramatic results are created by playing with UV black light and there are now quite a few photographers who are using it to create stunning pictures.

It is unclear who created blacklight photography as an art form and when it was first used, but many professionals - such as the police and archaeologists - have used it for many years to discover evidence or find objects, for example coins on digs.

But it doesn't matter if a photographer or forensic scientist is using it, blacklight always works in the same way. It involves photographing ultraviolet radiation which can be divided into three wavelengths. Firstly, the short wavelength (which is the most dangerous and the one that causes sunburn). the middle range (which is used in sun beds and is found in sunlight) and the longwave length which is black light - the one we are interested in.

It is great fun to experiment with different materials and objects under UV black light.

black light photography Photo by Toby Keller. 

Many objects can glow to some extent but if you wish to intensify your images I suggest you use fluorescent paint.

To make full use of the fluorescence effect all other lights must be turned off and this can make setting exposure tricky. Use the light meter in your camera or a separate handheld meter to take a reading. If you're using a filter on the lens be sure to take the meter reading through the same filter as an added precaution bracket to make sure you capture the fluorescent colours at the correct exposure.

Of course you will need blacklight to produce these sorts of images. Many light sources emit in the UV range but blacklight usually comes in fluorescent tubing, similar to that of a fluorescent light tube only without the white coating. These can be bought from most general electrical retailers or hand-held models are regularly on offer on eBay for around £20.

Playing with blacklight can be quite easy and browsing around on Flickr I found plenty of photographers who use the technique. Some of the most interesting were the photographers who are associated with the club, festival and alternative music scene.

beach art Spinning by Toby Keller.

One German photographer, who calls himself Beo, specialises in blacklight photography and has produced a huge array of extremely high quality images. He lived and worked in Barcelona for five years where he put on big performances in Spain's party capital Ibiza and in it's famous club Pacha, as well as taking pictures.

"I once put on a spectacular performance in a striptease club," said Beo "The police closed the club down after my show."

The show, which was held in Caramelos, Palma de Mallorca Spain in 2005, had girls wearing handmade plastic fluorescent bikinis with whips, masks and spikes. As well as helping make the outfits and taking the shots, Beo was a director, giving the girls ideas which they then developed into a show.

Beo got into blacklight photography when he was running a gallery in Cologne which showcased light objects. There he met and was inspired by artist Donald Van Der Velden who was painting abstracts with fluorescents. He then met an industrial designer Rolf Bender of Depro Design and Production who specialised in producing fluorescent plastics and these two aspects came together. Beo then became involved in blacklight photography and moved to Barcelona in 2000 where he opened his own studio.

Beo has created many beautiful images such as some of a performance artist with her face painted in tribal masks wearing long flowing clothes and girls covered in silver crystals.

Three other photographers who use blacklight photography are Stuart Meikle, Kyle Hailey and Toby Keller.

Stuart Meikle came across Croatian Damir Tiljak's blacklight photography work four years ago and uses the technique as an exercise at a youth group he works at in Newcastle.

"All the young people at the groups are into fashion and at first they just want to write their names as tattoos on their bodies with the fluorescent paint. But after we showed them tribal masks that got them thinking more creatively and they now come out with some great things" said Stuart.

wall art Photo by Kyle Hailey.

Kyle Hailey from California takes pictures at counter-culture music events and festivals and he came across blacklight at the Shambala festival in British Columbia in 2005 where he took the picture shown to the right and has seen blacklight at the annual Burning Man Festival in the middle of the dessert in California.

Toby Keller, another Californian, experiments with light and came across blacklight by just playing around.

"I'm a light painter, it's a performance," said Toby. "It's all experimental really, just playing around."

Toby took the two amazing pictures shown above at his local beach by opening the shutter on his camera and then running around with the blacklight and pointing it back into the lens.

"There is a limited time, about five minutes, so I have to do it very quickly, dancing around almost. I traced over the rocks with the blacklight and this created the stripes on the picture," he said.

Toby said the blacklight doesn't show up very much to the human eye but it lights the whole area up on the photo and for this reason he wants to get a big bright light and experiment with it.

"I want to get a very large one metre long black light, but those have to be plugged in so I'll have to sort that out when doing landscapes," said Toby "It is all about playing with it really."

You can visit the websites of the photographers listed by clicking on these links:

Words by: Natalie Truswell

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