• 11.13.12

Swirling Spirographs of Light, Made With A Turntable And LEDs

Inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kim Pimmel makes long-exposure magic out of hacked-together hardware.

The stargate sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey totally blew Kim Pimmel’s mind, a reaction that’s pretty consistent among anything with a mind to blow. But while the rest of us were going on about what it means, Pimmel was more interested in how the stunning interlude of light and color was created. Years later, he says, he drew on that inspiration in his own experiments with light and photography, resulting in a series of formal studies of luminous swirls, circles, and rays made from simple tools like LEDs, turntables, and even an iPhone screen.


Pimmel’s shots are far more arresting than most amateur dalliances in long exposure photography, though his technique is the standard one we’ve all tried from time to time: Give yourself a nice long shutter speed, find a moving light source, and let the magic happen. What makes Pimmel’s photographs different, however, was how deliberately he went about experimenting, and the saintly patience required to create his intricate patterns.

The photographs can be divided into a number of subcategories, each the product of a unique process. The earliest shots date back to the release of the original iPhone. The 3.5-inch screen, Pimmel says, was “just begging to be used as a light source,” and with the help of some custom-built videos of color cycles and animated shapes, he was able to turn some blind waving of the device into ethereal bands of light.

Then, he started wondering what he could do with some more intentional movement–so he duct-taped his iPhone to a jerry-rigged propellor (read: a spinning 2×4). That setup gave way to a more sophisticated set-up involving a Technics turntable, which he used in conjunction with other contraptions to create a series of spirographs–many of which took several minutes to expose.

Not quite satisfied with those, Pimmel then worked on a series of harmonographic shots–turning his camera into a pendulum itself. “My DSLR swung back and forth from packing twine, shutter locked open,” he explained, “while underneath it a single LED attached to a 2×4 plank oscillated back and forth in a different direction.” One gets the sense that Pimmel is the type of person that might benefit from opting for the extended warranty plan when he buys his gear.

Other projects involved tracking LEDs with Wiimotes, photographing frames from Conway’s Game of Life on his laptop screen, and something involving a rice cooker (really).

Lately, Pimmel’s been working with magnets and macrophotography, and the fourth installment in his series of unsettling, hugely popular Compressed videos should be hitting the web soon. But his experiments with light eventually paid off in a way befitting their cinematic inspiration; using some of the techniques he learned in the process, Pimmel recently contributed visual effects to the Discovery Channel TV show Through the Wormhole. In the end, it all comes back to trippy tunnels snaking their way through the fabric of space.

Check out more of Pimmel’s work on his personal site.


[Hat tip: Ruines Humaines]