Can I Get that in X-Large?

borrowed 010_edited-1When I first started thinking about how best to present my photography, my mind always went “small”. The reason for this is simple. One has to squint to peer inside a pea-sized opening in order to see the array of colours within a kaleidoscope chamber. It’s an intimate viewing, seen only by the person holding the scope, and if the objects are in an oil cell, the cell’s precise beauty can never be experienced again because by the time the viewer passes the scope off to the person beside them, the objects have rearranged themselves. So when I first started framing my images, the presentation of my mandala images was with square 4″x 4″ frames. Once I started focusing on the full-frame images from three-mirrored scopes, I wanted to see what would happen if I went larger.

Again, garbage. Why? Because the larger one prints, the clearer the unrefined scope becomes. What is unrefined? Well, for starters, if the mirrors don’t line up perfectly (perfectly), it shows, and one immediately knows they are looking at a mirrored image. Get rid of the lines, and the viewer’s brain questions how the image was created; using a kaleidoscope is never their first guess. Secondly, the air bubbles in the cell look like tiny balloons on an enlarged print. Yes, I have been known to Photoshop them out, but again, I didn’t want to create art that needed editing. (I approach my photos the same way I approach my face in the morning: If it’s going to take more than 2.5 minutes to make it pretty, it’s not worth the effort.) Finally, the objects in the cell have to be special and not just odds and sods that a 5 year old child uses to skewer yarn through during craft time. So out came David Kalish’s scopes. Today, it is with my images of David’s work that I am able to frame photos 30 inches square and larger to hang on our walls as pieces of fine contemporary art.

[The above image of a homemade scope is a perfect example of unaligned mirrors.]


Getting it Right

Some of the challenges of photographing the interior of my acquired kaleidoscopes included having to learn how to only capture the interior (and not the surrounding floor and couch), as well as learning how to avoid air bubbles, which, as it turns out, are very noticeable in some scopes cells, and not noticeable at all in others. I also had to learn how to get the entire mandala into the viewfinder.

It was impossible to get it right with my existing camera.

My birthday was coming up. I had been looking forward to my birthday because it was not only accompanied by the promise of wisdom which comes with age, but with cards stuffed with birthday money. And I knew what I was going to spend said money on: a new camera.

Now is as good of a time as any to explain the two types of mirror systems the scopes in my bequeathed collection contained. Most used a two-mirror system. When you look into a two-mirror scope, the image is that of a complete circle, or mandala. When you look into a scope that uses a three-mirror system, the image is infinite. This, of course, is a very elementary description. There is alot information on the web if you want to understand the science behind the art of kaleidoscope making.

Personally, I have come to prefer the three-mirrored scopes. Well, my eye does, anyway. Mandalas are more static. Ok, that’s not entirely true. If the objects in the cell are immersed in oil, they are always moving and therefore not static. But it’s harder to create movement in a photograph with the uniformity that comes with a mandala image. Movement or not, the photo has no shortage of colour and complexities. As a photographer who’s eye is always looking for “the shot”, however, I need more visual inconsistencies to work with in order to have good composition. The most useful lesson I learned from taking photographs of two-mirror scopes is the strength negative space gives the subject. I wanted my walls to have a few mandalas on them, so I worked at it and quickly found success. With the right tools, it became very easy.


I made every effort to find out who made this kaleidoscope. I sent photos of the exterior to other members of the BKS, but no one could tell me. I have since given the kaleidoscope away, but it certainly did make for some exquisite photos which now adorn my living room walls.