Aaron Tilley and Kyle Bean for Kinfolk Magazine

A red balloon hovers above a bed of nails; ink drips from a fountain pen over a pristine white shirt; bricks topple towards a glass of champagne.  In Anxious Anticipation – the photo series by Aaron Tilley and Kyle Bean for Kinfolk magazine’s recent adrenaline issue – is a precise study of precariousness. Commissioned to accompany Jordan Kushins’ wide-ranging essay about adrenaline, the human brain and our taste for thrill-seeking, the pictures provoke a delicious sense of panic in the viewer (and have become an internet hit because of it).

As Kushins writes in his essay: “The connection between what the mind perceives and how the body reacts is a curious relationship…. We have the ability to induce this same internal whoosh simply by thinking about a hairy moment instead of actually living it.”

For Aaron and Kyle, this was a terrific starting point from which they could create a tantalising visual response.  

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“We wanted to reflect on situations that would make you feel a little uneasy or anxious,” Aaron says. “From there we looked into specific scenarios, such as an egg dropping onto a hard surface, and pen ink dripping on a freshly pressed crisp shirt.”

The key thing, he continues, was to find props with whose properties viewers would be familiar. “It was important to use objects that people could recognise and that have an obvious fragility to them. So when they were placed in a certain situation, the viewer knows something is about to happen, which hopefully would cause a bit of tension.”

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It’s fair to say “a bit of tension” is a bit of an understatement. Lots of people who have come across the series have found they have a physical reaction to the impending moment seemingly contained in the images.

“I think a lot comes down to the fact that we wanted the images to feel very natural and use very relatable everyday objects and materials,” Kyle says. “After all the time we have spent working on them, I think we have probably become pretty desensitised to the fact that they are frustrating to look at but I totally understand why some people find them unbearable!”

“I totally understand why some people find them unbearable!”

But, Kyle admits, all might not be as it seems in the pictures. Some of the set-ups use fishing wire to rig the elements in the perfect position, others are clever visual tricks using balance and friction to create something that looks dynamic, but isn’t.

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That said, not everything went to plan every time. “There was the odd moment!” Kyle explains. “I remember having to stop the bowling ball from running off the table top at one point – that was pretty hair-raising. But luckily nothing too disastrous happened.”

Aaron confirms this. “All of the images were created in a controlled, methodical manner to minimise actual destruction on set. We did however let the odd egg fall and break for fun, it would have been a shame not to have witnessed the inevitable end of the egg’s journey!”

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