Hippo Manchester
October 20, 2005

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Arts: A light in the dark

Artist uses black lights and glass to make haunting photos

By John “jaQ” Andrews   jandrews@hippopress.com

If you’ve ever wondered what glass might look like under tinted ultraviolet light, stop by Bilancia Gallery, 85 West Pearl St., Nashua, this month.

Hollis artist Allen Grooms will have his photographs displayed there for this Saturday’s Art Walk Nashua and thereafter.

Grooms, 23, has been doing photography since eighth grade and developed his current technique as a high school senior. It involves shining “black lights” — which emit ultraviolet rather than the white light normal light bulbs produce — onto glass. Each bulb has an orange, purple or blue colored plastic coating. The black light interacts with the uranium oxide in the glass, producing brilliant results.

“Black light is the only lighting used,” Grooms said.

That lighting technique gives Grooms’s close-up shots a surreal quality. Hints of a glass piece’s design are hinted at, but the impression is mostly abstract. The otherworldly landscapes created look almost computer-generated, but Grooms says the most he ever does to a photo is touch up contrast. He even works with film rather than digital at times.

Because he’s working with previously crafted objects, their built-in symmetries manifest themselves in the photos.

“I’ve learned how to balance things,” he said. “Some have more abruptness and change,” while other photographs are more gradual and flow slowly from one side to the other.

This balance comes from his fascination with Eastern arts, including Kenpo Karate.

“It’s basically ... my influences are very tranquil,” he said. He gets to know the pieces he photographs — usually antiques, he explained, made by “artists of past generations” — before deciding how to photograph them.

Grooms works in Sudbury, Mass., at ScerIS, an electronic document management company. They have a collection of his work, and his photos are also part of private collections in states from Maine to Florida. Grooms also exhibited earlier this year at Chester College of New England, where he studied photography and digital media.

Grooms has been an artist in one form or another all his life, experimenting with painting, cartooning, poetry and music. He wants to expand to work with more chemicals under ultraviolet light.

“I want to take it as far as I can.”