Paris had the Phantom of the Opera, but we have our own creative genius lurking in the shadows of our city. He is invisible and undetectable to humans. The Erie Goblin is an anonymous photographer who has grown a local following on Instagram. He is known mostly for his water droplet photography and “guess what it is” pictures, in which he takes a close-up of everyday items that most people overlook. He sometimes hides gifts, such as photography prints, for us to find at local public places.
“I wanted to do something unique with a bit of mystery, something that involved the camera. I wanted some way to shoot and share without feeling like I was chasing the idea of being known,” says the Erie Goblin. “As photographers, we’re always chasing recognition, getting paid, etc. Sometimes it’s just nice not to have to worry about the business side and just focus on creating to create.”
He began shooting photography more than he had before within the last few years. He learns by research and tactile learning, taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge on YouTube. He says he learns through trial and error and having fun experimenting.
Our friendly goblin is not planning on revealing himself, as that would defeat the intent of his project. Still, he was willing to answer some of my questions. Keep reading to find out more about this mysterious artist:
Why do you call yourself the Erie Goblin?
It took a bit of thought to come up with a name that was unique and tied to Erie, but also that was not taken. I also wanted one that had an available domain name that I could use if I ended up having a website in the future.
Why are you keeping an anonymous presence?
Partly because my goal was not for personal recognition in this venture, but rather to create and give. There's also something kind of alluring about having a secret that no one else knows, and who doesn't like free stuff once in awhile.
Where did your interest in water droplet photography begin?
While looking around for something different to shoot, I came across the idea and so, I began experimenting with droplets. Capturing a single drop is fairly easy with just a camera and some water, however, getting 2 or more collisions is something that requires some means of timing the drops, and the camera in order to get the right moment. I also use a different mixture in order to thicken the liquid.
How do you capture the water droplets?
Quick capture is made with precise timing and the use of a low flash setting. The shutter speed is not fast at all, in fact, I have it set to bulb for these images. I built a controller that regulates the timing of each drop (up to 6 separate drops), the size of the drop, the amount of drops released from the solenoid, the camera shutter, and external flashes (I use up to 3). Once all set up, there's a bit of fine tuning made to create the collision and fire the flash at the correct moment.
How the sequence takes place:
the controller sends a signal to the drop solenoid;
the drops fall and collide;
the controller opens the shutter (bulb);
the flash(es) fire and capture the image then the shutter closes.
I will then spend some time shooting, tweaking settings and backgrounds etc. I usually end up with hundreds of viable shots, and from those I will choose the ones that I feel are worthy.
The water droplet photography reminds me of glass blowing. Have you, or would you consider, experimenting with that art form?
It's interesting that you mention glass blowing, not that I have ever really tried. I have been watching some YouTube presentations on glass blowing and it is quite interesting to watch. I wouldn't mind trying, but my art is more behind the camera.
Your content seems to focus on three main areas: water droplets, everyday scenery, and “guess what” images. Are you planning on expanding your subject matter any time soon?
I am always looking for new ideas to shoot, and I do have some ideas floating around. There is still some fun to be had with adding elements and other effects to the water drops.
How do you think the “guess what it is” image posts play into the mystery of your anonymity as an artist?
My goal was to get people engaged in the images. These days, Instagram or Facebook images seem to be fleeting, but engaging the audience with questions results in post longevity. I think the idea of a “guess what it is” also plays into the mystery of Erie Goblin.
You started this Instagram in February. How did you grow a loyal fan base in such a short amount of time? How do you keep them engaged in your content?
I began by searching Instagram for people who had interesting accounts, or Erie people. I try to make sure to comment back, and to do all the normal good people things to help cultivate the account. I never intended to have a Facebook account, but it happened alongside the Instagram idea.
What do you want people to get out of your art?
I hope enjoyment. I will continue to do giveaways as followers increase. So far, the prizes have been small image prints that I have taken. In the future, I plan to have larger pieces as giveaways. The challenge is in hiding or placing larger items without revealing my identity.
Do you ever worry that someone will discover your identity before due time?
I am fairly confident that unless I intend on revealing myself , I will remain behind the cloak of anonymity. I have had a few people Direct Message me and ask if I am "insert name here", however, my answer will always be no, regardless of the guess.
Follow the Erie Goblin on Instagram and be on the lookout for hints the next time he leaves a gift. You may just be the one to find it!
Erin Maloney recently obtained her Associate’s degree in Business Administration Marketing & Management from Fortis Institute. She is a poet and a writer who is passionate about art and helping it reach all who can be touched by it. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.