by Lilea Duran
UK photographer Martin Kimbell has taken the Internet by storm with an ongoing series of photographs being described as “dramatic tornadoes of light” by the likes of Boing Boing, This is Collosal, Daily of the Day, Petapixel, and even the good folks at Wired Magazine. In fact, Kimbell told Wired that he warns the locals first before going out in the British countryside at night to take pictures. “I’m sure I’ve freaked out a few people who have happened to walk by at the wrong time,” Kimbell told them. What he is using to create his dramatic images, however, is something quite familiar to all of us. To others his work may look like an alien invasion, but to us we know right away that he’s spinning up hula hoops with LED lights as his main subject. We talked with Kimbell to find out more about him and his work.
Kimbell’s interest in photography ignited after taking a course at the age of 16. Inspired by Stu Jenks’ works with light and fire, which have been featured on hooping.org in the past, Kimbell began his own exploration with long exposures and light about a year later.
He’s also creating his own LED hoops to use for his photographs too and hasn’t experimented with the LED hoops or smart hoops currently on the market today. “When I first started I would just use any hoop I could find, usually in toy stores, and then connect LEDs to that,” he explained. “Recently, I’ve been making my own hoops using MDPE piping and the connectors from Fancy Tapes. It has allowed me to experiment with different sized hoops, and the ones I’ve made myself have been much stronger than anything I’ve used before.”
Kimbell’s work requires strong and sturdy hoops as he achieves the patterns and vortex-like shapes by tossing and throwing them in various ways. “Right now my favourite hoop to work with has a diameter of around 4 feet, a small battery pack adds a bit of weight, but it is still very easy to throw. I’ve also tried adding weight to change the flight path of the hoops as I throw them, as shown in this photograph:
Kimbell has also created incredible photographs using sparklers and steel wool. When asked if he had interest in exploring fire hoops he replied, “I’ve not had the chance to photograph a fire hula hoop before, I’m sure it would make for some great photographs, but it is probably something I shouldn’t be attempting by myself without proper training! I would love to try it one day if I had the chance to work with a professional.”
While hoops may be Kimbell’s current muse, the talented photographer has yet to become a hooper himself. “It was only after I started to do research on how to make your own hula hoops did I get a sense of the size of the hooping community which exists,” he told hooping.org. He does, however, have advice for hoopers interested in photographing their own LED hoops: “I would just say get out there and try it out, most digital cameras have some sort of long exposure function, so if you have an LED or fire hoop then it is very easy to try out. Even if you just wrap some cheap fairy lights around a hoop, like I did when I first started, it is possible to get some really great photographs.”
Contributor Lilea Duran of Sunglow Hoop Dance found herself in the hoop in 2009 and hasn’t stopped spinning ever since. Now serving as the west coast director for Vegetable Circus and co-founder of the Napa Hoopers group, Lilea teaches and performs throughout California and has appeared on Hooping.org numerous times, including two seasons of Hooping Idol. She currently lives in Napa, CA, USA with her husband and two little hoopers. She’s on Facebook.