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Fluid Dynamics Art Photography -- How I Do It

Updated on January 9, 2015


A modest film camera with tripod, plus various acrylic paint remnants mixed in water and oil, staged on a primitive set-up, where sunlight serves as the only illumination, leads to a body of art work that symbolizes the fundamental fluid nature of all physical reality.

The Art Of Fluid Dynamic Photography

Fluidism began as the staging of liquid events whose dried residues were presented as artworks. Liquid paints were poured, pooled and manipulated on sheets of paper taped to rigid boxes. Spontaneous patterns formed within the liquid paints, and they eventually stabilized as wet-paint structures. These stable wet-paint structures subsequently dried to produce tangible artifacts from the original liquid substrates.

Photographic Fluidism advanced this process to a new level, past actual dried-liquid substrates, to virtual wet-liquid, "frozen events", by way of static film recordings.

PHOTOGRAPHIC FLUDISM Aspect 775 by Robert G. Kernodle
PHOTOGRAPHIC FLUDISM Aspect 775 by Robert G. Kernodle

Paintings That Cannot Exist

Beautiful, short-lived patterns emerge in chaotic fluid flow. These patterns develop and disappear faster than paint can dry to capture them. In fact, such patterns CANNOT EXIST in dry paint, since they critically depend on the fully-liquid state. Such patterns are fluid dynamic. Their appeal is in their motions. Motions are the sources of their emotions. Consequently, NO intended expressions underlie these patterns. Rather, the patterns themselves spontaneously summon desires to preserve them. In other words, neither concrete nor abstract emotions motivate creation of these patterns. Instead, improvisation enables pure discovery of them. These patterns simply produce resonances in the person discovering them, and resonances are the motivations for locking the patterns into being as stationary, artistic compositions.

In this instance, artistic compositions depend on transient, chaotic conditions, under which some of the most beautiful forms in nature can occur. Here motions precede emotions. The human hand, thus, provides only unthinking nudges to encourage the universe's most primitive creative actions. Under these unpredictable conditions, any one pattern lasts for only a fleeting moment. A freely flowing liquid, therefore, never produces multiple patterns with the same appearance. Similar appearances can emerge, but no two appearances are ever precisely the same.

Ephemeral Forms

Patterns within a liquid substrate (that remains liquid) will degrade. The patterns dissolve. They dissipate. They run away. A single outstanding pattern or substrate peak performance, however, can be captured on photographic film and preserved as a visual art form.

While I have always regarded real liquid substrates as the true artworks, I have come to realize that real liquid substrates in their most creative conditions can never exist as stationary wall hangings, unless they transcend their common substance (paint). Consequently, photographs have given rise to a new version of fluidism -- a "transcendental action-painting" style.

Original fluidism involves dry paintings that capture stable wet patterns. Photographic fluidism involves photographs that capture unstable wet patterns. Original fluidism involves the idea of "painting" in its traditional sense (noun). Photographic fluidism involves the idea of "painting" in its fundamental sense (verb). Original fluidism produces original paintings that can exist in original fluid materials. Photographic fluidism produces imprints of original paintings at peaks that cannot exist in original fluid materials past a limited time. The paintings of photographic fluidism, thus, cannot exist in the traditional sense of painted objects.

From a practical standpoint, verbs cannot be nouns. Objects cannot be events. The paintings (or four-dimensional happenings) of photographic fluidism cannot exist as three-dimensional, flat objects of their original substances.

PHOTOGRAPHIC FLUIDISM Aspect 524 by Robert G. Kernodle
PHOTOGRAPHIC FLUIDISM Aspect 524 by Robert G. Kernodle

A Pollock Moment

The motion picture, Pollock (2000), features a scene where the actor, Ed Harris, plays American artist, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) during a moment of epiphany, when the artist accidentally drips paint onto a surface where he is working. This scene depicts Pollock's discovery of a painting style for which he would became one of the most famous artists of all time.

Before I ever saw the motion picture, and before I ever thought much about Jackson Pollock, I lived a similar scene, during which I experienced a similar "a ha!" moment.

The setting of fluidism's discovery was a small, efficiency apartment, located on the outskirts of a university that I had attended on-and-off for years, during various courses of study that never amounted to any single, recognized degree. The particular apartment where I lived had become an extension of my self-taught lifestyle, developed over preceding years.

One day, I was comparing two shades of acrylic paint, side by side on a small piece of paperboard. While handling the paperboard and adjusting it through various angles to observe the paint colors in different intensities of sunlight, I suddenly lost my grip, fumbled, and accidentally dropped the paperboard into a small kitchen sink over which I was working. There were no sweeping crescendos in a music soundtrack. There were no dramatic zooms of a moviemaker’s camera. Instead, there was only a fumbling artist cursing over a quiet, unrehearsed, and unanticipated sequence of seemingly ordinary events. Then there was instant where I contemplated the aftermath.

The most remarkable circumstance here is the precise manner in which that piece of paperboard made contact with the sink's hard metal surface. The board landed on its edge, in such a way that the force of impact acted through its length, driving one blob of acrylic paint into the other, in a straight line across the plane. Furthermore, after the initial impact, the board fell to rest with the paint side facing upward. The board could have merely floated downward, cushioned by air across the entire area of its flat plane, on a gentle descent to a soft landing that would have left the paint blobs undisturbed. The board also could have flipped to its reverse side, hiding the first evidence of this minor catastrophe from view, even smearing out any interesting traces of it. The board hit hard, however, in just the right orientation where I could see clean, first consequences of the fumble.

ORIGINAL Painting FLUIDISM Cataclysmic Symphony No.1 by Robert G. Kernodle
ORIGINAL Painting FLUIDISM Cataclysmic Symphony No.1 by Robert G. Kernodle

From Accident To History

I was so impressed with those first colliding paint blobs, that I began colliding paint blobs on purpose. I spent a couple years at this, first calling the style, "catastrophism", then settling on the name, "fludism", mainly because the word, "catastrophism", has familiar associations with certain religious points of view. The word, "fluidism" on the other hand, seems more obscure, most notably associated with the ideas of Ancient Greek medicinal philosophy (equally mythical, although slightly less controversial than a religious point of view). Consequently, I borrowed and readapted the word, "fluidism", to label my art style of manipulating fluids.

After a few years of creating traditional paintings under this label, I extended the style to photography, for reasons that I have explained.

To be clear, let me emphasize that a fluidism photograph requires a fluidism painting, in the sense of a fluid dynamic event. The event is the painting in progress.

Within any one fluidism, painting-in-progress event, there can be multiple, short-lived, relatively stationary, appealing formations that a camera can capture. In photographic fluidism, I capture what appeals to me as the most outstanding moment of any particular series of fluid dynamic moments within the totality of any one staged event. I set up the stage, pour the fluids, position the camera, observe, and ultimately record what impresses me the most. I shoot multiple images during any one session. I later study these images, and I choose several images among many that I judge as best at the time.

After numerous sessions during which I produce numerous images on 35mm color slide film, and after selecting a collection of slides that represent the best of the numerous sessions, I entrust these slides to a photo lab for scanning into digital files. I next review the digital files, confirm my judgments about the best images, and then I slightly enhance the digital images, using photo editing software. I tweak for contrast, hue, saturation, and crop for maximum visual appeal (according to personal preferences).

In short, a four dimensional event becomes a three dimensional flat artifact, which becomes a digital file, which, in turn, can become a variety of bigger, more impressive, flat artifacts -- no longer the original painting events, but primary artworks that absolutely require the original painting events.

Compared to fluidism original paintings, photographic fluidism's painting events are very small, usually around two or three centimeters. In the language of photography, we may call photographic fluidism, "macrophotography".

PHOTOGRAPHIC FLUIDISM Aspect 166 by Robert G. Kernodle
PHOTOGRAPHIC FLUIDISM Aspect 166 by Robert G. Kernodle

The Primitive Setup

[see photo at the beginning of this article]

  • small metal cooking pot
  • small plastic cutting board
  • two plastic clips
  • white plastic mixing bowl
  • wet paper towel
  • old broken window fan
  • 35 mm film camera
  • slide film
  • camera tripod
  • sunlight

Place the cooking pot on top of the old broken window fan. The fan serves as a narrow tabletop to allow maximum close positioning of the camera. Attach two plastic clips to one side of the cooking pot, as angle adjusters for a small plastic cutting board. The cutting board sets the proper incline of the white plastic mixing bowl. Use a wet paper towel as a friction control to prevent the white bowl from slipping out of its proper alignment. The white bowl is now set to serve as a parabolic sunlight reflector surrounding a small basin. Position the tripod and camera (loaded with slide film) to focus on the small basin. Pour various colored fluids into the small basin to form miniature, shallow pools. Study, record, review, refine, and repeat.

Reading the preceding paragraph, I remember an old TV series, The Beverly Hillbillies, where a producer asks Granny to reveal her recipe for prize-winning cooking. Granny reveals her secrets in terms of "dashes" and "mayonnaise jars", instead of in terms of standard measures such as "teaspoons" and "cups".

The moral of the story is that art creates the standards, and art emerges from what works.

The Simple Insight

Reality is fluid, yet we human beings often operate with a bias that solidifies categories and overly fragments our perceptions.


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    • Robert Kernodle profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Kernodle 

      6 years ago


      Glad you stopped by.


    • Angelo52 profile image


      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Very interesting. Your photos are excellent. vote up +


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