Denis Smith, the light artist at the centre of Ball Of Light, spent many years drinking, smoking and working himself into an early grave, chasing after money and material goods in one soul-destroying sales job after another. Self-confessedly working for things he didn’t want or need and striving to continue a life he felt completely disconnected from, the worldwide economic downturn provoked a crisis point for Denis, and ultimately brought about a change of job, a change of scenery and a new lease of life which he had never anticipated, but these days simply can’t imagine being without.
After relocating from New Zealand to Southern Australia with his wife, Denis found himself at a loose end for the first time in his adult life. Whilst necessitating some soul-searching, this also gave him the time and breathing space to develop a hobby, something which had previously seemed far too frivolous while he partook in the never-ending rat race. Picking up a camera for the first time was, he says, revelatory; though he was initially disappointed with his experimentations in the field (landscapes, scenic shots) because to him they looked like everyone else’s photographs.
In search of new horizons, Denis discovered light painting, and the ‘ball of light’ referenced in the film’s title was born as a result. Created by leaving the shutter open longer than a normal photograph whilst moving a light before the camera, the images Denis has created in his photographic works are undoubtedly intriguing, and in some cases quite hauntingly beautiful. Director/producer Sam Collins wisely uses them as a narrative aid throughout, and the notion of trading an existence geared solely towards the acquisition of funds for a life producing works of art is undoubtedly something which must have resonated with Collins, and many other indie filmmakers and struggling creative types alike.
Denis is a likeable presence onscreen, and the overall contemplative tone makes for a wonderfully thoughtful and relentlessly optimistic documentary which reminds us that everyone has the capacity to change their life for the better if they choose it. It is a timely piece for an era in which many may be feeling they chose the wrong path for the wrong reasons and wondering how to manoeuvre out of their self-made cages.
Whilst ostensibly about photography, the film is just as concerned with these broader life issues as it is concerned with shutter speeds and lighting. Ball of Light is a simple film with a simple narrative, but that is where its beauty lies; much like the images created by the photographer it focuses on.