Hide In Plain Sight ; Chip Simons’ Light Strategy Page 2

Chip realized that the probe did more than eliminate the issue of hiding one's light. "It's the age-old thing of, you're a photographer but there's no one to photograph. Well, you've got your light, and the light kind of becomes a replacement for me, and the color becomes a replacement for my emotions and impressions. I may be kind of lonely and blue or feeling very happy. And by changing the color of the gel, I change the world."

The thing is, when you talk to Chip about any specific photograph in the series, he'll say something like, "Well, that's the one where's he's..." He? "Oh, right," Chip says. "I always had the feeling that he was this character who was searching the earth and analyzing stuff." Well, sure--probe as in "alien probe visits Earth."

Okay, maybe there is the slight suggestion of personality in the little bend in the flexible gooseneck. "So he's looking at the power lines," Chip says, "and he's saying, `Are you my mother?'"

It may be artless, but it's not without its own methods. Sometimes Chip will loosely tape the color gel "so the light bleeds out, and you get white light spilling down below and color light in front. The white light kind of backlights the light stand in those photographs."

Only one of the probe photographs has sold--"The New Mexico film commission bought the yellow highway shot," Chip says--but that doesn't bother him. The purpose was never sales, though that'd be nice if it happened. "Almost everybody stays away from them," he says of the probe photos, "and when I give talks and show them, pretty much everyone thinks I'm insane."

When we asked Chip to send us a selection of probe photos, he got a chance to revisit the work. "It was really fun and exciting, after 10 years, to see them come up on the screen and laugh at the sheer contradictions they pose," he wrote in an e-mail. "They contain all the elements that make for a good photo, yet they fly in the face of the illusions and tricks most photographs hide. They are funny and beautiful, yet bizarre.

It is weird to anthropomorphize a light stand...just because of [the] bend of a flexible neck and a colored gel and lotsa power. I wonder if anyone besides photographers and insane people will get it."

Probe Tech
Chip took the probe series with a Hasselblad SWC, which has a fixed 38mm lens. The camera was always handheld. The light stand is an old Balcar; on it is a Comet PMT-1200, the power pack hanging on the stand.

The flexible neck that gives the probe its personality was made by Balcar. Chip's not sure of its exact name, but remembers that "it was an add-on that Balcar used to sell." A comparable item today might be Bogen's Heavy Duty Flex Arm.

"I put a quick release-quick receiver thing on it, and I could turn it sideways and turn it into a boom," Chip says, "so the head could bend down to the ground. Angle it correctly and he looks quizzical, confused, reverent, or sad."

Note: You'll find several of Chip's photo series, including probe and I Am a Dog at his website, www.chipsimons.com. Check both the slideshows and portfolios sections.