a burning pumpkin faq

Question: Did you do the fire effect in Photoshop?

Answer: No, none of the flames are faked. I got the "fire effect" the old fashioned way - with gasoline, a BBQ lighter, and great disregard for personal safety.

Anyway, Photoshop's pretty useless for me because it doesn't run on Linux. I used the Gimp or XV for what little image editing was required here.

Question: Isn't this dangerous?

Answer: Oh, you betcha! I have come near setting myself on fire on a number of occasions. It's also really hard on the lungs. I wouldn't recomend it to anyone. The only reason I'm still alive and un-scared (from this anyway) is because I've been *very* careful.

Question: Are *you* dangerous?

Answer: Yeah, er, no. No, the goal here is to make evocative images. Fire in and of it's self isn't that interesting. So I won't be burning anyone's house down or setting anyone's pets on fire (both have been suggested.) This really isn't about fire, it's about creating photos that evoke emotion.

That said, I understand why some people think the photos of pumpkins, the teddy bear, or Santa Claus are, somehow, cruel. People get attached to inannimate objects - especially if they have faces. This is the sort of struggle every kid feels the first time he/she carves a pumpkin.

Question: Where did you get the idea to do this?

Answer: Here's a list of my prime influences:

"Sleepy Hollow" - the Disney animated version. This was one of my favorite shows as a kid. Loved the image of the headless horseman hurling the burning pumpkin. This is certainly where I got the idea of a jack-o-lantern engulfed in flame. Here's the IMDB info about the movie. Wow. The original was produced in 1949!

George Goble - George and his friends were the ones who used liquid oxygen to light bar-b-ques. This was one of the big sensations of the early web. It was the first video I ever downloaded from the Internet. It was insanely cool. This is probably where the idea came from to turning a simple act of "arson" into a web site. George's page is gone, here is a link to a mirror.

"The Wicker Man". A very strange movie from the early 1970's. Sargent Howie goes to Summerisle to invesitage a murder, and winds up being sacrificed (burnt alive in a giant wicker statue) by followers of the Old Ways. It's not an easy movie to like. However, it is steeped in the iconography of ancient Britain - which I find facinating. What's more he central image is extremely, er, potent. Here's a good plot summary

Question: Can I use your pictures on my page?

Answer: It's possible. While I retain all rights on my pictures, I'm am willing to share. Please ask first. Also, please do not direct link to images - it drives up my bandwith utilization (which I pay for) without giving me credit for my work.

Question: Have you ever tried using Sterno?

Answer: I have tried a number of accellerents - Sterno, rubbing alcohol, kerosene, lamp oil, BBQ starter fluid, lighter fluid, and others. None of them have worked as well as gasoline. I've also tried things like fire-place crystals - the chemicals that create blue and green flames. My lungs still hurt when I think about that little mis-adventure. :(

Tried making a Napalm like concotion by cutting gas with styrofoam, laundry soap, and Ivory liquid. The idea was to make something that would stay where it was put. Never really worked.

Question: Have you ever tried using explosives?

Answer: That would be pretty difficult to photograph with a digital camera. Even if you could capture the thing flying appart, it probably wouldn't carry much emotional content. Sure it would be cool, but what would it say?

I did try incorporating smoke bombs in a few shots. Basically, it just made for fuzzy looking pictures.

Question: Why not shoot sunset or flower pictures instead?

Answer: Everyone and their dog shoots that sort of stuff - and some of the dogs' photos are really good. Heh. No really, it's been done to death.

Question: Did you get the idea from the Extreme Pumpkins guy?

Answer: No. Judging from his site , we started within a year of each other - but I didn't see his stuff until a couple years later. I really like his work - especially his Drowning In A Bag pumpkin. Yow.

What I tell people is that our work is very different. He's more Tim Allen and I'm more Tim Burton. His stuff revolves around power tools and building cool gizmos. Mine is more about making stuff that scares or exites people.

Question: Did you get a permit?

Answer: For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what permit you'd need for burning pumpkins. Then, one day, I stumbled upon fireninja's blog. Fireninja does martial arts permformances using burning weapons and he had information about "Fire Performance Art" permits for the City of Portland (where I live, but not necessarily where I burn.) Unfortunately, one of the hard and fast rules of that permit is "no gasoline". Pity, because nothing else produces that nice orange flame...

Question: What precautions do you take?

Answer:I always have the following:

  1. a fire extinguisher within easy reach.
  2. a wool blanket.
  3. a bucket of water.
  4. cotton or wool clothing (usually on body)
  5. the gas can is kept at least 10 feet away from fire.
  6. an assitant with a cell phone.

Question: What subjects have you tried?

Answer: To date: jack-o-lanterns, gingerbread houses, spiders, skulls, Santa, the Easter Bunny, Barney, and one poor Teddy bear.

I've found that plushies like the bunnies or teddybears burn REALLY fast. Even if you annoint them with fire-retardant, the coated material melts and then the suffing quickly ignites. At best you get one or two photos.

Plaster items like Santa or the skulls don't burn, but they soot-up quickly.

Questions no one has asked:

Question: Do you use beer to cut the taste of gasoline?

Answer: Alas, no. I never want to be in the position of explaining this stuff to a cop with beer on my breath.

Question: What's the best music for a burning?

Answer: None. Don't give the neighbors an excuse to call the cops! If I could, though, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Dr. John, Social Distortion, and the Red Elvises would be on the stereo. Did I mention that Johnny Cash's "Ring of fire" is my personal anthem? The Social D version kicks ass.

<- Oh and ya can't go wrong with March Fourth Marching Band.