The Fire Picture, or about the time I burnt my head for the sake of art.

In 2008 I set my scalp on fire for an artistic, photographic self-portrait. This was a personal joke to my mom. To celebrate Mother's Day, here’s the full story of The Fire Picture, AKA. The Red Portrait.

The Fire Picture, also known as The Red Portrait © Alejandro Lorenzo, 2008

The Fire Picture, also known as The Red Portrait
© Alejandro Lorenzo, 2008

My mom used to tease me with calling me “the great thinker”. I also find fire amazingly interesting and have used it several times for my artistic works. So, I came up with the brilliant idea to set my head on fire just for the sake of art and kicks.

My friend and fire artist Mikko Ängeslevä joined me on my project. He knew how to put fire on skin safely. First, he wrote on a paper what flammable liquid I should buy and told me to go the shop with that note and my ID. At the shop, asked for my identification and also asked what will I do with the liquid. I was like… er… and I told her the story. Somehow, she trusted me and gave me the stuff in a little bottle.

Some materials burn faster and at a lower temperature than others, so they pose a lower risk of burning the skin. Also using a protective cream would help. On the other hand, it was very easily flammable, so it had to be used very carefully.

For a photography, the light of fire complicated. It took three weeks of preparation including burning wood before the final shoot in the shower of my 12 square meter apartment. Once I was happy with the testing I wrote down the camera settings, I put marks on the floor for myself, the camera tripod, the lamps, etc. Then I called Mikko to come help me again for the final shoot. We took photos for about two hours with a lot of pauses in between.

Making of The Fire Portrait © Alejandro Lorenzo

The shoot process was like this. Turn on the fire on my head, turn it off, repeat.


After that came the photo editing process. I was beginner using Photoshop in an advanced way, so it took me months of trial and error to find the right way to edit it. Actually, my facial expression was heavily edited. I looked too worried and uncomfortable in the original photo, even though it didn’t hurt or anything. I needed to make it look more peaceful, like I’m meditating (hence the fire on my head).

Wait, I have somthing to say.jpg

The first version was black and white. I guess I was into that. But the I met Barbara Anna Levy, an art curator from the States. She suggested that the picture should be red, so I got the last kick it needed.

The Fire Picture print on the wall

Now this picture presides my mother’s dining room. When my sisters’ children wondered about it, she couldn’t tell them that it is real fire. But I think they are old enough to understand that already, hopefully.

So, happy Mother's Day, mom!

I would like to thank also everyone who thought that burning my head was a brilliant idea and I have a message to my photography students:

I had an old, second hand 8Mb digital camera, Canon EOS 20D, with no professional lights or anything.
Just don’t do this without professional supervision!

Please, watch the video animation below with every single photo me and Mikko took during the session until the final result. Turn on the volume if possible. The music starts after a few seconds. I hope you like it :)