Aiming for art: Fishers photographer Jon Smith turns exploding light bulbs into creative displays


By Mark Ambrogi

Being laid off as a chemist from Roche Diagnostics in late 2012 provided the boost Jon Smith needed to pursue his photography full time.

“Just so happened my photography was picking up as that was coming to an end,” Smith said.

Aiding in the decision is Smith, a 30-year-old Fishers resident, and his wife Ashley have a son Oliver, now 2 years old, so he serves as a stay at-home dad, and is able to do his photography as well. When Smith has a photography assignment, the grandmother watches Oliver. Smith also has a 12-year-old son, Eric.

Smith specializes in high speed photography. Smith started to gain attention for photos by filling light bulbs with paint and other items and shooting it with his pellet gun as the camera rolls. He posted them on Flickr, a photo sharing social media site. A year later Flickr contacted him.

“Flickr flew me out to New York to do a video feature on me,” Smith said. “That got me a lot of exposure and people started to contact me to see if I could do specific jobs or license images. That when I first started to think this is something I could do (full time).”

Smith’s exploding artwork was recently featured in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!: Eye-Popping Oddities.”

One of his exploding bulbs is used for the album cover for Umphrey’s McGee “The London Session.” He collaborated with Canadian band, Young Rival, to make a music video using an old 3D camera.

“I did a big shoot for this year’s World Science Festival advertising campaign,” Smith said. “They wanted exploding light bulbs. Their slogan for it was Mind Blown.”

Photography started as a hobby for Smith.

“I had been working three years in a lab and was looking for something creative to do,” Smith said. “I was experimenting with some forms of photography and came across a way to do the high speed stuff pretty cheaply. I really enjoyed that and stuck with it.”

Smith started out blowing up cheap glass and ceramic figurines he bought from Goodwill.

“I shot a few light bulbs, too, and I really liked how they broke,” he said. “I thought what would it look like if I put stuff in it. I liked how each bulb broke differently. Light bulbs have such thin glass it kind of depends how the things on the inside are pressing on it.”

In addition to paint, some other items he has used are chalk pastels dipped in white paint, candy sprinkles and ball bearings.

Smith, who works out of Palm Studios in Indianapolis, has sold prints of his exploding bulbs all over the U.S. and internationally.

The Fishers Art Council selected Smith’s photography for the Art In City Hall exhibit in 2013.

“His approach to photography reflects his curiosity,” said Lisa Vielee, the Fishers Arts Council president. “The jury liked that he tried all sorts of combinations in his light bulb series. What I liked is that, while Jon has perfected the technical aspects of his craft, the final shot is left much to chance. Because the explosion happens so fast, he doesn’t know its outcome until he reviews the photos. That he shares his sense of discovery and wonder with his audiences is the best part.

“His work is eye-catching of course. But as a former scientist, Jon is also willing to share the process. I think his personality adds to his draw as an artist. I’ve seen a few examples of his beer series on Facebook and am interested to see what he comes up with next. He is following his dream. I hope that inspires other artists in Fishers to do the same.”

About Jon Smith

Age: Will turn 31 on Nov. 12

Personal: Graduated from Noblesville High School in 2003. Graduated from Hanover with degree in chemistry in 2007. Wife Ashley works as clinical research associate at Roche Diagnostics. Also does real estate photography and freelance photography.

Best way to relax: “Spend most of the time away from studio with my 2-year-old. He loves the zoo so we got to the Indianapolis Zoo and the Children’s Museum. We like to go to Sky Zone in Fishers.

Favorite place to eat: Egyptian Cafe and Hookah Bar in Broad Ripple.

Favorite musician: Barenaked Ladies

Favorite TV show: “Psych.”


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