OIL AND WATER DON’T MIX, BUT THEY MAKE FOR STUNNING PHOTOS

Fabian Oefner was walking near his home in northern Switzerland six months ago when he saw a puddle of gasoline and water on the road. The metallic swirl of color took his breath away and inspired his dazzling series Oil Spill. He mixes oil and water against a black backdrop, where blues give way to yellows then to reds in a brilliant display. “It’s something so simple, but the colors are so striking,” Oefner says.

Photography: Fabian Oefner | Author: Laura Mallonee

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Oefner’s love of color dovetails with his passion for science, and he’s done some crazy things to explore them both. He once blasted a Ferrari in a wind tunnel with neon paint and used a drill dipped in paint to demonstrate centripetal force. “My images are a very playful approach to scientific processes, because you can appreciate the images without knowing exactly what’s happening,” he says.

For Oil Spill, Oefner created puddles of oil and water in his studio in Oberentfelden. The iridescence forms as different wavelengths of light reflect and blend. He honed his technique through trial and error, and is reluctant to spill the details. All he will say is he poured a puddle of water just 1 millimeter deep, then used a syringe to add oil and gasoline drop by drop. He uses a flash carefully positioned directly opposite of his tripod-mounted Nikon D800 and quickly snaps a few photographs as the colors fill the frame, only to disappear moments later.

Oefner found the process hypnotic. He spent three days fully immersed in his studio, creating 500 images that he’s edited to the 10 most striking. They’re byproducts of the immense fun he had playing around with iridescence. “The images are just proof that I did something,” he says. That’s some gorgeous proof.