The Souls of Burning Objects – by Sonny Rosenberg

I have to admit that as I begin writing this article I’m experiencing more than a little bit of trepidation, not because I have a fear of writing, but because I’m concerned that you will think me completely crazy after reading this article. I wish I could assure you that you would be wrong in that assumption, but I’m just not sure that I can, so let me just dig in to the crazy part.

In my imagination objects have souls and these souls of objects have a somewhat ghostly appearance that differs substantially from the objects they belong to  (note: for this discussion, I’m considering plants to be objects). I’ve dreamt of these souls of objects numerous times. They glow and pulse softly and are like nothing I’ve ever seen in waking life until I stumbled upon the Lumenbox.

My Lumenbox with custom shutter open.

The Lumenbox is the wonderful creation of Jorge Otero, it’s a small, just over 6x6cm, beautifully crafted cardboard box  that houses a simple plastic meniscus lens. The box comes apart in two halves. To use the Lumenbox, you insert a 6×6 piece of dampened photo paper and slide the box back together. The half of the box holding the lens acts a film holder. The shutter is a sliding piece of cardboard, although I’ve modified my Lumenbox with a little piece of brass.

Lumenbox Open, what’s missing from this photo is the little plastic insert that goes in the back half of the camera and protects the cardboard from the dampened  photo paper.

A normal exposure with the Lumenbox is 5 five minutes outdoors in bright sunlight and up to an hour indoors. No development is needed, the actions of the photons upon the dampened paper creates a negative image that then needs to be scanned or photographed as it’s transient and fades over time.

I was immediately entranced by the photos that the Lumenbox produced, what I didn’t realize when I ordered it, was that the images created on the black and white photographic paper are in color!

Over time, I began experimenting with longer and longer exposures to enhance the range of colors I was getting. These initial experiments took place indoors (depending on interest, I may write an article featuring those indoor exposures), and as I began to get better and better results with my increasingly extended exposures, something began to dawn on me. These new photographs were strangely familiar and evoked a sense of deja-vu in me. Then it dawned on me, these looked like the souls of objects that I hadn’t dreamt about in several years!

One thing led to another and in the spirit of experimentation I began to take very long exposures outside. I have to say, I was stunned by these images. They were like the souls of objects, but on fire! It’s not an exaggeration to say that I was dumbfounded by the colors in these long outdoor exposures. I don’t by any stretch of the imagination expect these to be everyone’s cup of tea, but here they are in all their strangeness, The Souls of Burning Objects.

Except for the last image, which was a 5 hour exposure (it began to rain), these are all 12 hour exposures on Arista Edu Ultra grade 3 photo paper and  scanned with my Canon TS8220. Negatives were inverted in Lightroom and the color curves were tweaked to reveal colors obscured by other colors.

Bike pump on the back porch.

Tru Temper, this one is a multiple exposure in that I moved the camera three times.

Back garden hose.

My neighbor Shaun’s basement vent.

Orange Bags

Covered Barbecue


Small bench in Shaun’s front yard.

Thanks for reading this far! For more strange stuff visit my little blog The Daily Lumenbox.

Sonny Rosenberg is a semi-retired ceramics teacher and bicyclist who lives in Reno Nevada with his wife and three cats.

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10 thoughts on “The Souls of Burning Objects – by Sonny Rosenberg”

  1. These are striking and imaginative images with a beautiful story made all the more interesting by its unorthodoxy.

    I’m curious to know how long the image lasts? What timeframe do you have to scan them? And what happens if you try to fix them (with fixer I mean)?

    1. sonny rosenberg

      Thank you so much Don! That’s the highest praise I’ve ever received for my admittedly odd work, it’s very encouraging!

      To be honest I don’t know how long they last. Joe Van Cleave commented that without exposure to light, they can last quite a while.

      I scan them as soon as humanly possible as they definitely fade with exposure to light. I have not yet tried to fix them, but I will soon.

      Sorry I wasn’t able to offer more answers!

  2. Thank you for posting this article, Sonny. I received a Lumenbox from Jorge several years ago and was immediately struck by the novelty of the auto-development process and it’s colored images.

    Have you determined whether multi grade paper yields significantly different images to fixed grade? I’ve only made exposures up to 20minutes length in bright daylight, so more experiments are needed.

    I also wonder if pH adjusting the water that the paper is pre soaked in would give any different result, like slightly basic in pH.

    I’m also curious if you have any advice on fixing the image. I keep mine stored in 3-ring binders in black envelopes, and they seem to be permanent, absent light.

    1. sonny rosenberg

      Hi Joe, my pleasure! The Lumenbox is one of my favorite cameras ever.

      I haven’t tried multi grade paper in it yet, but pretty soon I’ll run out of the graded paper I have cut and I’ll try multi grade.

      A reader of my blog The Daily Lumenbox suggested I try an ascorbic acid presoak to decrease exposure times. He suggested a 1:6 solution. I’ve so far tried a 1:10 soak. It does dramatically decrease exposure times but it also decreases the range of colors (it causes the color channels to be more balanced).

      Sorry, I don’t have any advice on fixing them, I’ve never tried it. I’ve also found that without exposure to light they remain pretty much intact. I wouldn’t be surprised though to find them fading over time. I don’t save mine after scanning, but sometimes I forget them on the scanner for a few days.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful, but I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I’d love to see the results you’re getting.

  3. I have to say that the lumenbox technique intrigues me, something I’d like to try myself. As for the souls of seemingly non-living objects, from an animist’s perspective, there’s nothing at all strange in the concept. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Sir ????.

  4. Your trepidation is IMHO, totally unfounded. I view your images as classic examples of art rather than photography and find myself drawn to the beauty of them. I would be proud to produce images such as yours and would gladly share them for viewing.

    I’m interested in the chemistry and physics involved too…. color images on paper sensitive to B&W; no external chemical involvement in obtaining the image; the image retention w/o fixing, (though I would like to figure out how to fix the image permanently). You’ve definitely piqued my interest and I plan on purchasing a Lumenbox asap.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Scott! Sometimes I think that what I’m doing is too strange for most people to enjoy. I appreciate the encouragement!

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