‘Rainbow Puddles’ Photo Series is a Positive Reinterpretation of Oil Spills


Photographer Akriti Sondhi’s images exhibit the artist’s affinity for expressing vibrant colors, as well as kindling the imaginations of onlookers. Mimicking a kind of psychedelic acrylic paint pour, Sondhi’s photo series Helix takes viewers on a journey of playful shapes, iridescent colors, and cosmic-like imagery.

The Paris-based photographer stumbled upon the idea for the series when she was simply strolling down the street on a rainy day back in 2019. Marveling at the phenomenon known as ‘rainbow puddles’ — the mixing of oils and water on pavement — Sondhi began to ponder about larger and not so marvelous mixtures of the two substances.

“While working on this project I couldn’t help but think of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (2010). As a teen—who has always loved nature, I was deeply affected by the images of the disaster. The effects of the oil spill were not just limited to marine animals and vegetation but also birds, and possibly affected the groundwater. The devastating ecological impact which will require decades to recover,” Sondhi says speaking to PetaPixel.

The permanence of that imagery in Sondri’s memories, as well as the simplistic joy of observing a “rainbow puddle” gave birth to the photographer’s positive reinterpretation of the phenomenon. She now recreates the occurrence in a controlled environment, using her images as a form of documentation.

“This project is a reminder that something so beautiful (often resembling a rainbow) can also cause so much damage,” Sondhi says.

Sondhi often begins her process by adding a few drops of oil onto a container with water. A thin film interference occurs similar to what is seen in soap bubbles. The various colors depend on the thickness of the film, so the colors shift and change as the oil film spreads and moves.

Using her Canon Mark III with a 100mm f/2.8L, Sondhi manages to capture the often unpredictable results of her experiments.

“I love photos with a strong visual appeal that evokes a sense of mystery, leaving the viewer wondering what it really is [what they see] and whether there is more to it than meets the eye,” Sondhi says.

But getting the right outcomes for Helix was trial and error for the photographer,

“Before reaching my final setup, I had to experiment with various materials, temperatures, types of mixtures, etc. I had to approach this project like a scientist, record the effect at various readings, try different permutation combinations to see which gave me the best results,” Sondhi adds.

“Over time, I was able to understand what was helping and what wasn’t in reaching the desired result. However, it was important to not be very rigid and let the phenomena do its thing. Some of my favorite images were ‘errors’.”

The photographer now has a newfound appreciation for the simplistic but unpredictable nature of the process including the free-ranging results that took a month to perfect.

“This project really helped me [be] more patient as a photographer. In today’s world where photographers are often required to come up with as much content as they can, it was nice to work on fine-tuning the same project. I was also very lucky to have a mentor who provided me with guidance and Motivation.”

Sondhi’s images continue to spark intrigue and have left viewers mystified while setting imaginations adrift.

“I really enjoyed this project, I looked forward to every day of my experimentation, to see what new thing I would witness and try to understand why it happened the way it did. I would often sit for hours researching the new thing I observed today and if there was an explanation for it.” Sondhi adds.

“I love hearing what people see or what these images make them feel. One of my favorite responses was – a dreamscape to a nebula exploding with luminescent colors and energy, which is where the name of the project comesfrom. But I’ve also heard that some photos look like a UFO or even a donut.”

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