Photographer Explodes Gunpowder onto Images to Create Wonderful ‘Works of Fire’

Every once in a while you come across a series of images that explode off the page with a beautiful simplicity and Christopher Colville’s photographs have quite literally done just that – because they’re created using gunpowder!

Christopher Colville's 'Works of Fire' series
Christopher Colville’s ‘Works of Fire’ series

Christopher Colville’s stunning ‘Works of Fire‘ series was created by artfully pouring gunpowder over a silver gelatin print and igniting them, with each resulting image becoming totally unique. Preferring to work at night, Colville became interested in looking at the darkness of the universe and much like Emily Scaife’s Cosmic Crispies, the images he creates could be mistaken as NASA images of celestial bodies.


The gunpowder provides the flash in the darkness alongside a searing heat, reminiscent of stars bursting into incredible brightness or a meteor streaking across our skies. Colville quotes Carl Sagan as an inspiration in his statement;

‘When I look into the night sky I am awestruck by the darkness that is the universe. As the sparse light of the stars descends, I am entangled in a state of wonder, searching for a better understanding of who I am and where I fit in to this world. Carl Sagan wrote, “…the universe is mainly made of nothing, something is the exception. Nothing is the rule. That darkness is commonplace; it is light that is the rarity.” This sense of wonder cast by light in the otherwise impenetrable darkness is a driving force behind this current work.’




‘Works of Fire’ by Christopher Colville.

Colville’s work is highly creative, each image appears carefully scanned and yet still manages to convey the very textual quality they have, revealing the pits and abrasions caused by the explosions. Once you know how they are created you can imagine the smell of burning gunpowder remains, they step beyond photograms as we know them and transform into inspired objects.


We’ve seen artists burn polaroid photographs previously but before you start thinking I could do that, lets see how Colville describes his process;

The images in this series meditate on the dual nature of creation and destruction. They are created outdoors at night by igniting a small portion of gunpowder on the surface of silver gelatin paper. In the resulting explosion, light and energy abrade and burn the surface while simultaneously exposing the light-sensitive silver emulsion. I loosely control the explosion by placing objects I have gathered in the field on the paper’s surface, but the results are often surprising and unpredictable as the explosive energy of gunpowder is the true generative force creating the image. I believe that by working in these ways, the images push the material and symbolic limitations of the medium. The images are the residue of both creation and obliteration, generated from a single spark.


By further refining his technique for his ‘The Dark Hours‘ series, Colville has concentrated on creating a line across his work, revealing a reconstructed horizon which returns to Earth while retaining an abstract aesthetic. The images now take on a stormy Turner-esque appearance and become more akin to the desert landscape that envelops Colville in his outdoor darkroom.



‘The Dark Hours’ by Christopher Colville.

Christopher Colville is one of LensCulture’s 50 best emerging photographers for 2015 and his wonderful images from ‘The Dark Hours‘ series are being shown at the Duncan Miller Gallery, exhibition opening 19th September 2015 – 6th November 2015.

Christopher Colville’s ‘The Dark Hours’ exhibition at the Duncan Miller Gallery, 19th September 2015 – 6th November 2015.

Seen via LensCulture

Many thanks to Christopher Colville, all images used with permission.

Here are a few more of our favourites from Christopher’s work, chosen with difficulty from the many beautiful images shown at







2 thoughts on “Photographer Explodes Gunpowder onto Images to Create Wonderful ‘Works of Fire’

  1. Steven September 19, 2015 / 2:48 pm

    Very nice stuff. Reminds me of Cai Guo Qiang’s gunpowder work.


  2. RTFM September 20, 2015 / 1:47 am

    deflagrating not exploding


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