Experimenting with fireworks and more mundane household items in his garage darkroom, Ross Sonnenberg makes photograms that suggest galaxies and solar systems. Inspired by artists such as Adam Fuss and Marco Breuer, as well as pictures made by the Hubble telescope, Sonnenberg’s series “Color Bang” imagines a kaleidoscopic, multicolor version of the universe, scenes “like those created by the first Big Bang millions of years ago,” he writes in a statement. Working with colored gels, plastic lunch plates, tinfoil, sand and water, Sonnenberg makes shapes that “to me look like pin point stars and nebulas,” he tells PDN by email.
In addition to the color from the gels, more color comes directly from his light source, an array of fireworks—“firecrackers, bottle rockets, ground flowers, fuses, etc.” Sonnenberg says, which he ignites under careful control on the surface of the paper. “Through trial and error I have found a few ways to control certain types of fireworks. For ground flowers (the ones that spin on the ground and change colors) I built a wood square with two by fours. I place the square around the paper and light the ground flower on top. The firework bounces around the box like a pinball. For bottle rockets I place one on the paper, light it and place a circular metal can on top. The rocket spins inside the can and explodes creating circular shapes and burns on the paper.”
When he tried a roman candle, “The first ball of fire skipped off the paper and went into the corner. I freaked out and stuck the end of the candle in the bucket of water. The candle was still lit inside and blew up the water. I am now soaking wet and the candle is still wet. I jam it into the ground several times to extinguish it.” Lesson learned. To minimize the danger of fire and injury, “I take precautions such as gloves, eye goggles, and a fire extinguisher,” says Sonnenberg. “I look like a mad scientist and I like it.”
Once the images are exposed, Sonnenberg then develops and fixes the paper by hand. “A successful image is one that I deem to be just the right exposure, which is very hard to get,” he says. “Not an exact science, but when it works to me it’s magical.”