Article extracted from the website lightpainters.com with the express premise of the creators, especially Sergey Churkin, who we personally thank for his great research work. To read it on the original page, click here
Painting with light as a process was born together with photography. More precisely – photography was originally images drawn by sunlight!
The very name of the first imprinted images attests to this – they were called “heliography” that is literally “painted the sun.” The author of these heliographs was Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (France), and the first heliograph in the world was made on a plate of lead with pewter fusion in 1826. The exposure time was several hours, because the sensitivity of this method was initially very low and strongly dependent on the intensity of the light source, which at that time could only be the sun.
Today we call this technique “long exposure shooting” and we have many fine examples of modern photography made this way. As we know, in such cases all changeable and movable features become blurred as opposed to solid features which remain sharp. Look at the daguerreotype of James Valentine «The Falls of Clyde, Bonnington Falls», which was taken in 1871
Are these not the same frozen water jets, which are repeated in a number of photographs of modern masters of long exposure?
Drawing with light became more acceptable with the gradual decrease in the time it took to correctly expose daguerreotypes (and subsequently – prints on colloidal solutions) taking up to several minutes or even seconds. But where are the light drawings of the time? Yes, in the archives we can’t find proof of a moving light source being used intentionally as a creative technique, but it is not difficult to imagine that random light traces occurred naturally (from a fire torch or reflection in a piece of the mirror) but were perceived differently than in our days … Since its introduction and for many years to come, photography was not recognized as an expression of aesthetic creativity. The artists of that time regarded the light painting as mechanical copy of reality. At the same time, the opportunity that photos provided of becoming full and accurate documents was recognized very early. For such a purpose, the deviation from realism was clearly perceived as a lack of accurateness, like an error – with all its consequences (these photos were not stored, the plates were washed off for later use).
= 1838 This is photo of Boulevard du Temple, Paris, by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (France). Perhaps, this is 1st photo in the history of mankind, where human was exposed, more correct – exactly 2 humans: shoe cleaner and his client.
Of course, there were an crowd, but because of 10 minutes of exposure, all moving persons are invisible, and only that 2 people are visible – they was almost moveless while exposure time.
= 1839. William Henry Fox Talbot (England), inventor of the negative-positive process of photography makes a series of so-called “photogenic drawings”. Process is as follows: fit a variety of subjects on the light-sensitive paper and expose to the sun. The exposure of photographic paper produces a “light drawing” – a clear outline of the subject. For example, plant leaves (in some places a little transparent) leave great quality prints:
= In 1843 a good friend of Talbot, Anna Atkins (by the way – the first professional woman photographer!) publishes a book “photogenic drawings” with images of marine algae:
The first experiments of Talbot’s lensless photography , later called “photograms”, formed the basis of artistic experiments of the masters of the “Bauhaus” in the early 20th century.
= As time went on, in 1884 photographer Thomas Eakins (USA) shot a long exposure of a jumping man, using the technique we today call a “multi-exposure.” During exposure with the same plate Eakins opens access of light into the lens by stroboscopic shutter eight times in a short period of time. Gjon Mili later used the same technique in the mid-30s of the twentieth century.
= In 1889 Etienne-Jules Marey (France) in collaboration with Georges Demeny was apparently the first in the history of mankind consciously drawing with light during the study of human movement:
In this photo we see a trail of incandescent bulbs attached to the Demeny’s body while he was moving in front of the camera. Of course, it was a photo document and not a work of art, but for us this is the first time in this history that a photo had been made to intentionally produce a visible trace of a movable light source.
Etienne-Jules Marey portrait by Nadar.
This is first ever light painted text, made by Marey using white bulb on stick (approx.1880).
Photos from LFLP website.
= The Italian Anton Giulio Bragaglia at the beginning of 1911 establishes a new direction in the Futurist art photography – fotodinamism. Bragaglia shoots at slow shutter speeds, moving his models in the frame – a technique that is widely used today by all light painters. Bragaglia’s technique demonstrated convincingly the possibility to record the dynamic characteristics of light in the shooting (such as speed and direction of movement of light-emitting objects – whether it’s a flashlight or illuminated bow).
= In 1914 the Frank Gilbreth (USA) attaches small light bulbs to staff’s sleeves and shot the labor process at long exposure, hoping to get a card of hand’s movements of the workers. Very informative article about this please see here. The target again is not art, but the scientific demonstration of a process by means of visible traces left on film by moving electric lights.
Looking ahead a little, we note that in 1924, in Soviet Russia, the head of the Central Institute of Labor Alex Gastev also conducted research on the ergonomics of work processes. Gastev used the same method as Gilbret:
= In 1919 photographer Christian Schad (Germany) created abstract collages, using the techniques of William Talbot with already clear artistic objectives.
= A full-fledged artistic experience of the light painting from 1922 to 1936 should be considered the Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Moholy-Nagy improved on the”photogram” technique by , beginning to use semi-transparent light-refracting objects and adding to natural light ambience the brushstrokes of a flashlight:
In addition, Moholy-Nagy first started taking pictures at long exposures of moving luminous (or reflective) parts of machinery:
This method was dubbed the «lumino kinetic art». Known picture Moholy-Nagy, executed in 1936, which is called «Light Painting on Hinged Celluloid»:
This is probably the first documented definition of our art as «light painting». Clearly visible in the picture is a complete and rather complicated real light drawing!
Light painting has taken place as an independent branch of art photography!
= 1930s Look at this rare spyrograph photo by Wynn Bullock, recognized American photographer:
Later, during the early 60s, Bullock departed from black-and-white imagery and produced a major body of work that he referred to as “Color Light Abstractions”. For him, these photographs represented an in-depth exploration of light, manifesting his belief that light is a great force at the heart of all being, “perhaps,” as he said, “the most profound truth in the universe.”
= Followed by Moholy-Nagy in 1935, the American avant-garde artist Man Ray (real name Emmanuel Radnitsky, child to Russian emigrants) continued artistic experiments with drawing by light – even in the literal sense of the word. Man Ray, apparently, the first active use of technology now called “light pen” (“light brush”) – this technique was as follows. Mobile source of light (a small lamp on a sufficient length of wire or a miniature flashlight) moved by hand of the artist in space , describing imaginary figures – as if the artist painted by brush on a canvas. At slow shutter speeds the trajectory of a light bulb was recorded as aglowing trail, hanging unsupported in the air – so that is why Man Ray called his work “space writing».
Man Ray made several self-portraits decorated with light curls. However, the creative potential of this artistic device is fully revealed only in the twenty-first century. Running a little ahead, in 2009 the famous American photographer Ellen Carey, a follower of Man Ray, carefully examined his self-portrait and found amid the chaos of light lines the master’s autograph! Admittedly, doing face-to-camera picture , we obtain a mirror reflection of our image. Carey made a mirror image of Man Ray’s artwork – and there they were, the large letters M and R! A little more attention to the abstract at first glance figure, and Ellen has opened an amazing sight – a completely distinct signature «Man Ray»:
Man Ray encoded his own alias in his work! And thus, became the first light painter who wrote letters …
= American abstract photographer Francis Bruguiere in 1936, experimenting with a lensless imaging technology, makes this photogram:
= American with Ukrainian roots, Nathan Lerner was studied in the “New Bauhaus” by Moholy-Nagy in the late thirties. In 1938-39 Lerner has done some interesting pictures:
Car lights (this is probably the first experience of photography of the now so popular trace of car lights)
= American photographer Barbara Morgan in 1940, was probably the first light painter who attempted to reflect the rhythmic structure of light flow in her calligraphic arabesques.
Running a little ahead, we note that Morgan was interested in light painting in 1967, as this photo testifies:
= Laszlo Moholy-Nagy continued his experiments in art photography in the forties:
Blue penlight drawing 1940s
Pink traffic stream 1940s
= 1941 American photographer, Margaret Bourke-White being in Soviet Union while WW-II was started, made amazing rare photographs in night Moscow, where we can see antiaircraft gunners at work – with huge trails over the cityscape, in the heart of Moscow Kremlin:
= The light painting story continues as an increasingly brighter star in the sky – Albanian Gjon Mili, who emigrated to the United States. In 1937 Mili became acquainted with Professor Harold Edgerton, who was the first to use strobe photography and created such famous images as a “drop of milk”, “bullet cutting through playing card” and many others. Gjon Mili, inspired by such possibilities, developed on the creative aspect of strobo-photo with great enthusiasm and has become one of the most famous photographers in America. He showed the world the beauty of stopped movement in a single frame (upper photo – in 1942, lower – 1945).
Shooting skaters during workout on a long exposure, Mili sticks to their skates light bulbs and takes pictures that are, perhaps for the first time in light painting widely popular among his contemporaries – through publication in the magazine “LIFE” (in these pictures – figure skater Carol Lynne, 1945):
= It is these pictures (and co-operation with “LIFE”) that led to Mili undertaking in in 1949 the most ambitious artistic breakthroughs in light painting perception – he turned to Pablo Picasso for new opportunities and photographed maestro’s light drawings!
Many other great pictures with light made by Picasso look here.
= 1949 Henri Matisse (France) with a little help of Gjon Mili drew this light painting image.
= Shortly before Picasso and Miles have made these pictures, an American Jack Delano (born Ovcharov, child from Ukrainian emigrants), photographed on a train track switchman making the “stop” signal with a bright flashlight (1943)
= Also shortly before Picasso’s photosession , in 1946 the famous American photographer Harry Callahan apparently did the first photograph made with the artistic “camera toss” technique.
= In 1949 an American of German descent, famous photographer Andreas Feininger first thought of photographing amusement rides with rotating parts, equipped with electric bulbs:
Feininger also known by classical “kinetic” snapshot of flying toy helicopter with a bulb on the blades:
= 1952 American photographer Loomis Dean published in LIFE magazine photos of famous Egyptian belly dancer Samia Gamal. Dean attached small bulbs to Samia’s skirt. This serie were inspired by Gijom Mili’s works, published in LIFE a bit earlie.
= 1950s American photographer Michael Miksche (with assistance of William Dallenback) draw woman’s portrait. Courtesy of Kinsey Institute.
= in 1953 Swiss-born American Herbert Matter, founder of graphic collages in advertising, devised a fun test – he changed his jacket and pants in front of the camera with the open shutter. Light, of course, was switched off, and at the wrists and ankles of photographer there were secured with bulbs. Here’s the result:
= 1954 Robert Doisenau (France) was well-known photojournalist, here we present his long exposure image:
1955 = David Potts (Australia). His long and distinguished career as a pioneer of Australian
documentary photography masks some interesting creative contradictions – David also experimented with long exposure photography.
= 1955 As Heinrich Heidersberger (Germany) decided to pursue the art of photography in Paris at the end of the 1920s – more by accident and as a result of his insatiable curiosity than anything else – photographers were still known as lensmen, a name that really seems to fit for Heidersberger. At the same time as he did contract work for well-known architects of the Braunschweig School, who appreciated his use of light and the lens in particular, Heidersberger also began to experiment with luminography – the recording of a source of light in motion – at the beginning of the 1950s.
He was fascinated by the idea of letting light itself become the object.
The invitation in 1955 to create a mural for the newly constructed School of Engineering in Wolfenbüttel was a welcome occasion for Heidersberger to become more involved with luminography. He began to build a device that he could use to record traces of light directly on photo material. The artist named the pictures he created rhythmograms and continued to pursue his experiments with great enthusiasm. The name he chose was the first indication of the uniqueness of his results.
The rhythmograph, as Heidersberger called his device, was redesigned several times and perfected. The larger version, which was made of a conventional scaffolding, still stands fully functional in the exhibition room of the Heidersberger Institute today and takes up close to twenty square meters of floor space. Using four harmonically muffled pendulums, it creates traces of light on photographic material via a mechanically linked mirror and a point source of light. Three-dimensional images are produced by controlling the frequency, phase difference, amplitude and transmission of the pendulums – two drive the mirror vertically and two horizontally.
From 1956 to 1968, for example, a rhythmogram was used as the broadcasting symbol of the Südwestfunk Baden-Baden, a regional German television station, and some say that the old national evening news logo was produced by him, a rumor that has not been substantiated to date. In addition, one of Heidersberger’s light images received the silver medal at the 11th Triennale di Milano, a very important international exhibition of applied art and architecture at that time.
Heidersberger also received recognition from artistic circles for his topicality. It was very early on that the Frenchman bought a rhythmogram as a birthday present for Picasso. More information here.
Some sources indicate that a picture below taken by Frenchman George Mathieu in 1957, is also an example of light painting. However, we were unable to find any actual evidence – Mathieu was well known as calligraphist, he made his paintings with oil and was not addicted to photography. Most likely this photo – an example of photomontage. However – a great photomontage!
= 1960 Russian photographer Anatoly Khrupov shooted this drawings in the lab of Vilnius University (Lituania). Courtesy of Lumiere Brothers Gallery.
= 1965 Playboy magazine cover image with model Joey Thorpe, photographed by Larry Dale Gordon (USA).
Obviously, that this cover was made as combination of 2 different images (long exposure sparklers trail and regular photo of model).
= 1967 English photographer Alan Jaras made first experiments of light art using light refraction patterns – ‘refractographs’ as he calls them. Alan was experimenting using the ‘photogram’ technique inspired by William Henry Fox Talbot’s ‘Photogenic Drawings’ and the photograms of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray using the traditional photographic darkroom enlarger. Here is one of his first refractographs:
Alan says: “I was particularly interested in working with transparent objects and especially the ‘caustic patterns’ that the light from the enlarger lamp made on the paper such as these patterns from water and soap bubbles, but soon I changed to photographing objects on to 35mm B/W film so that I could make enlargement prints. I found that the fracture surfaces of large pieces of broken glass produced very interesting light patterns.
I then explored other interests for nearly 40 years until 2006 when I decided to continue again with my refraction photography. This time I used colour film. I removed the lens from a 35mm SLR camera, placed a glass object over the lens aperture and, in the dark using a single static beam of light, recorded the pattern directly on to the colour film”.
= 1968. Barbara Blondeau (USA) received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961. Barbara finished her Masters degree in 1968 and moved to Philadelphia to teach at the Moore College of Art. She experimented with photograms, strobe lights, different winding speeds and masking techniques. You can see her long exposure photos with moving model.
Also Blondeau was a teacher and a friend of David Lebe, who was inspired by Barbara into photograms and what he calls “light drawings”.
Check this link to discover his incredible image “Computational Lightpainting” (which he called “Dusting” or “Abakography”). Also it is very interesting that Steve was inventor of HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography!
= In 1975, American photographer Ellen Carey published her light painted self-portraits:
= 1976 American photographer David Lebe worked with a number of processes – first, the pinholes, and hand-coloring, then photograms and light drawings (in what Lebe was inspired by his teacher Barbara Blondeau – see previous article, please).
His out-lined human figures (always almost self-portraits) become famous and bright samples of traced drawing with light. Please, find more detailed information in Richard Kagan’s interviews here and here.
It was a great pleasure to talk with Eric Staller during our preparation for 1st Light Painting World Exhibition in Moscow (2012). I asked Eric to take a part in this exhibition with some artworks – for showing the audience how it all began in those days… and generous Eric sent to me his famous light paintings RIBBON OF HANNOVER STREET, DEAR MOM AND DAD and other! Moreover, he was so kind to tell me, how he had started to paint with light. It was incredible to discover Eric’s thoughts from those days far far away…. This is his true story:
“I didn’t choose to be an artist; it chose me. It is a calling, a religious feeling, and a compulsion to peel away layers of a subconscious onion. It s a mystery to me where the ideas come from. It is the idea that initially appears the most absurd that I am ultimately compelled to build. The idea that makes me laugh and say where the hell did THAT come from?! is the one that becomes an obsession over the coming months. I become pregnant with an idea, a voice within becomes louder and louder saying: You must build that thing! I know that the only way to quiet the voice, to exorcise the obsession, is to build it. But in between these moments of divine inspiration is an almost equally insistent voice of doubt and reason reminding me of the aesthetic, the technical and the financial obstacles that will have to be overcome. So these 2 voices battle it out until I can t take it any longer, and I finally make the leap into the next unknown.
My outlook on the world was shaped in the 1960’s by the space program and its seemingly limitless promise. Everything was possible. School classes were interrupted for every take-off and landing. There seemed to be the expectation that every American boy could (and must!) invent a better mousetrap. The promise of a Utopian world through technology was all around us. I was especially impressed by the 1965 New York World’s Fair with pavilions called Futurama, Progressland, the World of Tomorrow, The MoonDome; fantastic architecture by Saarinen, Aalto, and Buckminster Fuller; dazzling multi-media theatres, and a giant working car engine you could walk through. Ronald Reagan was the spokesman for General Electric, whose slogan was: Progress is our most important product.
New York City at night was an enchanting place for me. The plazas, bridges, parks and monuments, empty and eerily quiet at night, were dramatic stage sets waiting to be transformed. Transformed by my magic wand: the 4th of July sparkler. Late at night I drove around in a beat-up station wagon, looking for places and ideas to jump out at me. When the moment was right I set up my Nikon on a tripod and planned a choreography with light. One of the first light drawings was WALKER STREET:
Each sparkler lasted about a minute, so that was the amount of time I had to make the drawing. I would lock the camera shutter open, light the sparkler and quickly walk down the street, holding the sparkler at curb level, to complete the composition before the sparkler went out. I felt a strong sense of exhilaration, like running the 100-meter dash with a flaming torch! Getting the film back from the lab was even more exhilarating: it was magic, my presence was invisible! There was just this trail of liquid fire.
Suddenly I was drunk with the possibilities. I proceeded to outline everything for my photos: cars, trucks, streets, monuments. The energy was packed into one-minute performances. I worked through the night and although I was alone and even lonely, my romance for the city was sweet indeed. At dawn I would go to Fulton Street to watch the fishermen come in, or to the Lower East Side for the first hot bagels of the day.
My dreams in 1977 were taking the forms of fantasy architectures of light. I invented choreographies and volumes of light. I remember being impressed by the architectural uses of the human figure in Fritz Lang s film Metropolis and old Busby Berkeley films, and I began to think of the geometry of my body. By then I found that a 10-minute sparkler was available on special order. I attached one to the end of a broomstick and, using my arm as a compass, scribed arcs overhead as I walked up the middle of the street – LIGHTUNNEL:
The challenge now was to take it intellectually further with each photo; to wonder what effect this or that choreographic device would produce; and then, to be continually surprised by the result.
I mounted 5 sparklers on a broomstick and held it vertically, at arm’s length for the 5-minute exposure RIBBON OF HANNOVER STREET:
It occurred to me more than once that these were performances with light. Crowds of curious garbage men, night watchmen, workaholic Wall Streeters and the homeless gathered to watch the lunatic with the blazing broomstick!
HAPPY STREET (above) – a photo I made in 1979, I think of as a forerunner to my LIGHTMOBILE:
I mounted a long horizontal staff of blinking light bulbs onto baby carriage wheels and, starting at the top of a hill in Central Park, I walked toward the camera. I shot DEAR MOM AND DAD on the closed bridge at Canal Street and West Side Highway.
I had a 3′ (90cm) lighted cube on wheels that I turned on and off many times during a 15-minute exposure. I stood by the cube with a switch in my hand. Many people ask: but where are you in the photo? The answer is: there isn’t enough light on me for the film and camera to see me.”
=1976 Chris Chamberlain (London, UK). Another lucky chance to hear about ours art early days/nights from the artist itself!
Chris answered to my questions: “Worked in London as an assistant photographer and photographer between 1978 and 1992, I stumbled into Light Painting completely by accident rather than a deliberate direction for my Art. I was photographing a late sunset and the night sky. During one of the shots, I heard a noise in the trees and shone my Torch looking for what it was. I forgot that the tree was in the shot! When the film was processed, I loved the effect more than what I was trying to photograph, so I called a girlfriend and asked if she could come and do a shoot with me.
First Chris’s light painting image, done in 1976.
I did a few more Light Paintings over the next 4 years, but at the time I had been so focused on getting an assistants job, I didn’t consider it as something I would do long term. I was probably thinking more with an advertising head than an artist’s. It wasn’t something that grew organically from me.
I worked for several Photographers and even worked as an agent for a while trying to get enough money to buy my own Camera equipment and lights.
In the early 80s I was given a chance to shoot some Razors for a small company. Not yet having any lights of my own, I decided to uses Torches.
Over the next 10 years I managed to persuade quite a few Art Directors to let me use the technique on about 150 shoots, but overall, was still doing the boring, straight advertising shots.
It was amusing to see the client’s face when I turned up to a shoot with a Camera, Tripod, and a case with 5 plastic Torches. When using the technique, I mainly shot people on location which was a little scary as I couldn’t re-shoot if a mistake was made. At that time we only had Polaroids to guide us. I loved the adrenalin of waiting at the counter in the Lab for my film; the nerves then the relief. Nerves because even though I used Polaroids, the lights weren’t fixed and I had to get the shot in a very short time. I had to choreography the movements in my head to make sure what I saw on the Polaroid, I’d get on film. If you hold the Torch on a face for a second or two too long, it’s ruined as far as a paying job is concerned but probably okay for an artistic piece.”
= 1976 Yasuhiro Wakabayashi, professionally known as Hiro, is an american commercial photographer. He was born in Shanghai in 1930 to Japanese parents. A “photographer’s photographer,” Hiro has shown a very distinctive vision, and his work in fashion and still life from the mid-1960s onward has spawned many imitators and remains a lasting influence today. Here you can see the cover design of Rolling Stones album “Black and Blue”, with Hiro’s light painting photography.
= 1977 Dean Newell Chamberlain
There is official information about him from open sources. Dean began studying art at Berkshire School, graduating in 1973. He attended university at Rochester Institute of Technology where he studied photography. He started to paint with light in 1977, in his own manner which was called “light painting” by American art critics.
In fact, the first time this term was used was in 1936 (concerning to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s picture), but it wasn’t a name of process, just of single picture. The modern usage of that term was coined in 1979 and was based on Dean’s technique. Dean has photographed many celebrites (Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Jeff Koons etc) and has directed a few music videos, where LP was used first time in that medium. Since 1977, his easy recognizable style is considered a standard of fine light painting art.
1977 = Susan Hillbrand (USA) was in a photo class at California State University, when her instructor assigned the task of creating an unusual self portrait. Susan was throwing around some ideas when her husband suggested “you should try outlining your body with light” that statement sparked the idea of Susan’s first “Penlight” and what would become a lifelong passion. Using a pen with a small light on the end Susan sat in the dark, opened the shutter of her camera and traced her body with the light. In the 70’s Susan focused on her penlights and made photo silkscreens and glass etchings of her images. More details see in interview and on her website.
=1977 Some light painting artworks was found in the web with a very short data about it. Like this Giorgio Moroder’s cover design by Ronald Slenzak (USA):
1978 = Abe Rezny (USA) is a pioneer and one of the leading artists in 3D imaging/holograms . In 1977 Abe was inspired by light artist Rudi Stern & Let There be Neon (who took neon from street signage to a very creative advertising, architectural & artistic medium). When shooting Rudi’s neon designs, gave Abe first experience of light painting. In 1978 Abe published his first “lightdrops” (as he call his long exposure experiments with lights).More about Abe here.
= 1978 Jacques Pugin (Switzerland) has developed a remarkably coherent and original photographic work, gifted with an extraordinary pictorial quality. His investigation examines the traces that the human being leaves upon the environment and his extreme bonds to nature. Already since his first works from the seventies, Pugin had started developing his personal technique that consists of employing the light as a pencil that allows drawing in the interior of the photographic process. Pugin intervenes directly onto his images, by employing non-photographic media, such as drawing, painting or graphics. In this way, his images end up suggesting the unrepresentable element of these landscapes.
= 1978 Another light painting artworks were used in music albums cover designs by famous english designers known as Hipgnosis. Here we present their cover for Genesis album “…and then there were three”:
= 1979 Russian well-known photographer Sergey Borisov experimented with light drawing. You can see his “treble clef” for LP cover and light painting portrait of famous Russian painter Vyacheslav Kalinin:
= 1980 Jozef Sedlák was born in 1958 in Bratislava, Slovakia. Sedlák began his light painting work in 1980 with his series “Kurz sebapoznania,” which translates into “Rate-Self Knowledge”. He was working with staged photography centralized around performance and light. It was in this environment that Sedlák made his appearance in modern visual art. In his response to the situation in which Slovak photography found itself at that time, several strata came together.
Sedlák uses multiple exposures in order to highlight details of the space or subject mostly through light and movement. By doing so, he is able to emphasize the narrative of self-discovery that is so prevalent in his work, while at the same time creating forms that we know to be fictional; fish-heads, spider-people, bodies growing straight out of the floor, isolated and apparently living arms or legs” and so on.
= 1980 Another LP legend, Vicki DaSilva (USA) began to light paint as a student in art school studying photography:
“I think more in terms of ‘art’ than ‘light.’ Light painting photography was and is the vehicle and medium that enabled me to sieze an opportunity to create art using a technique that many artists had experimented with since the invention of photography, yet none to my knowledge at the time, in 1980, had used it exclusively to create a body of work in relation to contemporary art. I began researching light painting and time exposure work in art history and the history of photography in 1979. I was determined to make my mark in art by making light graffiti and light painting photography as art. Not just as technique. Not just as a photograph. The goal all along has been to create a body of work that evolves within the state and framework of contemporary art. I have always been challenged to have the work evolve within those guidelines. I see my work more in conjunction with contemporary art than specifically photography, even though I make photographs.
I moved to NYC in 1983 after receiving my BFA from Kutztown University of PA. While at KU I met Keith Haring, a Kutztown, PA native. He grew up in Kutztown with a mutual close friend of mine who was also studying at KU and was Keith’s best friend since elementary school. Keith’s work was blowing up big time and I was heavily influenced by that and the convergence of street and graffiti art during the birth of hip-hop in NYC.
Equally influential was internationally acclaimed video and performance artist Joan Jonas who I interned with in 1981. I worked as an assistant for Joan for several years as well. Through Joan I was introduced to many major artists including Richard Serra, for whom I worked as a personal assistant throughout the 80’s. My first job in NYC was as artist photographer Gary Schneider’s first darkroom assistant. All of these experiences were heavily influential to my work. I was a HUGE fan of Dan Flavin. This is why I use fluorescent tube lamps as my signature tool beginning in 1987. I wanted to take what Flavin did and move the lamp in and around the site. I wanted to take what Serra did and walk with the lamp vertically using my body and movement to experience the site with the opposite of the materials he used, beginning in 2009.
There was no audience in the 80’s for my work outside of my professors at school. I was very guarded about the work I was making after I graduated. I did not exhibit work nor did I try to do any commercial work although I was approached by an advertising agency who learned about my work from someone I worked with at HBO, where I had a full time job in the Photo Dept from 1986-89. I was adamant about only making fine art. I was not interested in making editorial or commercial work to sell cars or soda or fashion by doing light painting around products or models. In 2004 I had the idea to make a track system to cover the ground as opposed to working vertically with pulley systems. This led to moving from 4 foot fluorescent lamps to 8 foot fluorescent lamps in 2006. I had my first solo show in NYC in 2006 with this work. The Light Tartans were also a direct result of the experimentation with track systems and color patterns.
In 2008 I was inspired to make my first light graffiti piece since 1986. I wanted to get involved with the Obama campaign and made ‘Obama In the House!’ in June 2008 after receiving permission from the City Of Washington DC’s film Department and the White House Secret Service. I had a reawakening about the potential for light graffiti to communicate and become more engaged with society and politics, especially through distribution on the internet. I knew I could exercise my freedom of speech by obtaining permits to shoot on public property.
Since 2008 I have been making both light graffiti text pieces and environmental abstract work with 8 foot lamps. I am exhibiting and selling work on a regular basis. That’s where I am today. My goal is to continue to create abstract work on location with the fluorescent lamps as well as global light graffiti projects that resonate to the core of social, political and environmental awareness that demands attention and inspires positive change through direct action. Art CAN change the world!
1980 = Mike Mandel (USA). Directly inspired by the Chronocyclegraphs of the Gilbreth’s and molded by his fathers efforts to “Make Good Time” Mike Mandel set out on a 10 year journey starting in 1980 creating efficiency studies or everyday life. Interview with Mike Mandel see here.
= 1980 Michel Séméniako (France) “in 1980, when shooting landscapes in the Alps, that I first experienced light painting. I had been camping for a week, and the solitary evenings were getting boring, so I went out with my camping flashlight, and, like a revelation, I rediscovered the landscapes I had photographed during the day.
Light is a moment of time, darkness is infinite. The nocturnal exercise of the shooting taught me a lot about the relation of the body to the space. Affected by the natural infirmity of our night vision, we develop irrational fears, the imaginary reconstructing the part of reality that we no longer see. We also put our other senses into action.
Since 1980 I photograph at night landscapes, architectures and objects on which I intervene using beams of light. Practicing very long exposure times, I move, without ever appearing, in the photographed space that I illuminate with the flashlight. By redrawing fictitious contours, by multiplying the directions of light, I sculpt volumes, transposing objects and landscapes in a universe where the boundaries between visible and invisible, real and imaginary intertwine.”
= 1983 Jan Pohribny (Czech Republic), well-known photographer, started to experimenting with moving candles and oil lamps using long exposure at age of 15 years old. Jan says: “It was fun, more than serious work.Of course, these images were b&w, where was more easy to work with over or underexposures. I’m thinking if there was any influence or sample where I could see light painting for the first time. The technique is old as photography itself… The only source, which came to my mind, is Feininger’s school book, very popular in 1970’s and translated also in our language, where was one of famous images by Gjon Milli “Picasso painting with light”.
In 1980’s, when I was already student of photography at Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, I started to be more and more interested for installations, mixed media and especially for land art. Photography was (or is still for me) top of whole creative process. Some installations in the nature I did with real color pigments, the other ones I finished with light painting (series called Pigments 1983-84), which started to play more important role for my following projects.”
= 1983 Kamil Varga (Czech Republic), another great photographer of present time, talked to me during the preparation of worldwide Moscow’s LP exhibition. He was so kind as to offer his best artworks for exhibition, to highlight it’s historical part. Kamil says: “I have always experimented painting with light. In fact, one of the principles of photography my first attempts at light-painting took place some 3 – 4 years after I got my first camera in my hands. So, around 1975. They were more like technical checks of a photographic principle, rather than some marvelous creative work. Similar to all the other photographs I took at that time. After all, i was only 13 years of age and I wasn’t a photographic Mozart type prodigy. At that age I actually focused more on painting using a real paint brush. Photography then was more of a hobby. Even at the school I attended at around 17 years of age I was more concerned with panting and graphics as that was the school´s orientation. Only when I was finishing this school did I take more interest in photography and decided I would study it at University level. But right from the beginning I was somewhat restricted by the dependence of photography on the picture of reality. So, it was there that I returned in a conceptual manner to the principle of photography – painting using light.
Light painting specifically seemed to me to be too technical and limiting. It only began to appeal to me when I discovered the possibility of using flash lights on the spot and combining with paint-lighting. And, so, the first properly thought out work of photography combining paint-lighting with flashes was ´Laments´ from 1983.
= 1985 Fabulous artist John Hesketh (USA) is well-known with his amazing and unique technique of painting with light. John says: “Color has always been my strength. My father was a photographer. After working with B&W photos, my father’s Lab learned color photography in the late 60’s. I was enchanted how colors worked differently with film as opposed to paints. Looking for a more creative outlet then my father’s photography. I explored drawing and painting in the seventies. I was looking for a way to combine painting, drawing and photography. But, photography was always the way I could get attention from my friends. As the eighties rolled around I became obsessed with destroying photography. I felt then as I feel now that a photo is the lie that tells a greater truth about our lives, ourselves, and the world. Painting and photography came together one night after many experiments in tricolor printing on ektachrome and masking color from black and white drawings on red, green, and blue b&w film records. This art took months to shoot break down draw and then recombine with tricolor filters. One frustrated night I took the red green and blue filters and placed them in front of the lens and started painting white light from a flashlight onto a statue in my backyard (Turtles’ Grave 1985.)
I’ve never stopped. The photograph is the illusion of truth that masquerades as a witness. The perfect medium for a painter trapped in a photographer’s body.
= 1985 French photographer Bruno Mesrine says: “It is the transcendence of my despair which urged me to write with the light for the first time, without knowing the precursors of Light Painting. At that time, I already worked with argentic Hasselblad and its multiple technical possibilities, behind and in front of the objective. I learnt (taught) in self-taught as all which fascinated me in my life by building my brushes of lights according to my artistic needs.”
= 1986 Well-known photographer from Slovakia Robo Kočan: “I stumbled across painting with light, or light photography, in my high school years whilst documenting a saxophone for a school-engineered advertisement. I was taking a series of long exposure photographs and accidentally moved the camera during one shot. Coincidentally, after developing the film it was exactly that particular picture that captured my interest and imagination the most. Not only was the presence of the saxophone apparent, but it’s music seemed to become captured by the movement of light and embody the frame. So following this accidental discovery, I loaded more rolls of film into the camera and began working on the series BIELA NOCNA HUDBA (‘White Night Music’). The images in this series were essentially the first photographs of this technique“.
= 1987 Italian photographer Salvo Veneziano had thought it could be interesting to draw light trails with something, and he suddenly discovered that the “something” was going to illuminate also the surrounding objects. “For my first serie of LP taken in 1987, i was in Swiss with my wife and we played with a green emergency bar (the ones you have to break to activate the luminescence) the result was very simple and clean, but maybe “too green” for what i was looking for. All people was asking how to do, and i started to let them try. In our school (Palermofoto) we consider the LP very important for the comprehension of any photographic process, so we use it in almost all courses, often mixed with multi flash and movement blur techniques”.
1987 = Richard Lowenstein and Lynn-Maree Milburn (Australia). This creative team made music videos for australian rock band INXS, with stop motion animation.
= 1988 Tokihiro Sato (佐藤 時啓) is one of Japan’s best known artists working in photography. Hi got into photography in 1987 at age 30. His roots are in steel sculpture which he studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Initially, he photographed his sculpture and complemented it with lines of light he drew with a small flashlight. In an ongoing series that he describes as “breath graphs” or “photo respiration,” tiny points of light or illuminated lines record his movements through space. Using a large-format camera set on a tripod and timed for exposures that may last from one to three hours, he moves quickly through the described space. When shooting in daylight, he flashes a mirror at the sun. At night, or indoors, he uses a flashlight. The resulting photographs capture exquisitely detailed scenes punctuated by pinpoints or linear patterns of light that depict the artist’s presence but not his image.
= 1989 American artist Troy Paiva is well known as author of “Lost America” project: “Many many things got me to 1989. I was that kid that sat in the back of class drawing tanks and airplanes. No university. Used my natural skills to become a graphic designer in the printing biz at 19, until my mid 20s. I have always been a painter and drawer. The other important influence on my photography was the road. Ghost towns, abandoned places. Junkyards. I have loved and explored them since I was 12 or 13. Photographically, my influences were Steve Harper, Richard Misrach, Jan Staller . . . for establishing the moonlit time-exposure landscape style. For lighting, William Lesch, Chip Simons and O. Winston Link, but I didn’t use fixed, synced lighting, like they did. Harper and Misrach used open flash and occasional flashlight to accent and fill, but saw it’s potential by thinking bigger, more like theatrical, or rock concert lighting. My brother was taking Harper’s College-level NP class, and when I saw their work and the others mentioned I immediately connected the technique to the abandoned places I loved exploring, and I began experimenting. By the early ‘90s I knew I was on to something, grew to love it, and have never stopped.
I used my years of experience working with color and compositional aesthetics to create a unique style and aesthetic that has, in the digital age, been widely copied. The traditionalist night photography community didn’t like it. Few others even saw it. Remember, this was the ‘90s, before the internet. I worked and practiced the technique alone, for the first 10 years. It wasn’t until I put the work online in 1999 that people began to notice, and say “What?” a lot. A few tried it, but on film, it was just too difficult for most people. Digital changed everything, without the instant feedback of digital there would still be very few light painters in the world.
= 1989 American artist Christina Salinas started doing light painting, which continued into the 90s and over the years she has created various art works using light painting techniques. “When I first started I did not know it was light painting that I was doing. I had not seen any other photographers work that was similar to mine. My research resources were limited we did not have the world wide web in the late 80s-early 90s. I was working in a bubble. I did not know of any artists who had used these techniques. I could not afford expensive studio lighting or flashes, so I used what I had. That was flood lights, slide projector light, Christmas tree lights, candles, flash lights to light my subjects. My first light painting imagesheavily used flood lights and even projector light from a slide projector. I experimented with long exposures and movement within the exposure. I photographed many female subjects to create images with contrast, movement and shapes created with the body. All of the images are in black and white and I hand printed them all using high contrast filters and high contrast rated photo paper. As my light painting skills progressed my subject matter evolved. The light painting technique helped to create the mood I was going for; I think this is why I kept working with these light materials, experimenting until I got the effects I wanted. Traditional lighting would not have produced the final images that I created. I love light painting and over the years I have experimented with various subject matters and techniques. Such artists as Patrick Rochon, and Aurora Crowley have inspired me of late”.
= 1991 Chanette Manso (France) starts light painting for the first time in 1991 with small light bulbs on her fingers all wired-up with batteries hidden in the back of bra strap. Using Paris by night as a backdrop, she danced on the banks of the Seine, while posing for a quick flash. As the result, you can see the flash captures an instant of her movement while the lights trace entire movement.
Manso says: “I use photography as both my witness and as my creative matter. Having always been passionate about photography and dance I got involved in light painting when I met a fashion photographer who was experimenting with light. Looking at an early light painting image, I remember wondering: ‘How is it possible to see a portrait with lights moving and no blur effect in the same shot?” It’s this wondering that got be hooked on light painting and a whole new world of possibilities. The reaction of the audience was enthusiastic; being sponsored by the French National Center of Photography (CNP), Kodak Film and Mazda flashlights during 1992 and 1993.
The next series, light graffiti is in color and is done in the Parisian train station, “Gare Saint Lazare”.
These first two series of images were used as part of a live event called “Dream Zapping” which included slide show and live dance in parallel to a print exhibition. Starting in 1992 I did lots of editorial work in San Francisco for magazines, newspapers and commercial work. This was an incredible way to light paint the world around me, leaving my trace throughout the press in the 90s.
It’s funny to see now, that when I was discovering and inventing, I was not the only one. All those people wondering about time-lapse and each searching in their own way. The possibilities are endless.
= 1992 Patrick Rochon is a Canadian born Light Painting Photographer, he has been innovating and creating a unique style of light paintings and is now considered a master light painter.
His work is regarded as intense, visionary and highly creative, specializing in portraits, fashion and nudes. Here you can see his first light painting photo:
It was while living in NYC (1995-96) collaborating with artists from the Village that Patrick’s art took form. One key partner was Aurora Crowley, who at the time was a hair stylist. Aurora was sparked by Patrick’s light and started light painting soon after. In 1997 while on a flight for Tokyo, Patrick came to the realization that the light painting was the key to his art and the photography it’s support. From that moment on Patrick has defined himself as a light painter and totally set aside any other type of traditional photography. For him this was the beginning of light painting as an art form and the birth of the light painter. Ten years spent in Tokyo allowed Patrick’s art to truly bloom as Japan opened up many new doors to the art of painting with light.
In 1998, becoming more and more free with the medium, Patrick used light painting to transform bodies: extending limbs, cutting off heads,… all on a single film exposure, without any post production. The collaboration with the butoh dance group Sal Vanilla was a perfect match, with them becoming high energy white “canvas” for light painting. The images remain stunning to this day. The same year, Patrick won the first prize at the Nikkor contest and was the first foreigner to ever do so.
Later in 98, the Toyota project got the green light and a new challenge appeared: light painting the new Altezza car and create a collaborative art project with the corporation for the launch of the car. This had never been done before and the scale was much bigger than a human body. Some of these images took exposures exceeding 30 minutes and layers of intense light painting. The project took over a year to finish, gave birth to one of the first light painting videos and to Patrick’s first live performance.
Since moving back to his home town of Montreal in 2008, Patrick wrote the light painting manifesto declaring light painting to be an art form. He also created light painting sculptures in photo and video demonstrating how light can be sculpted in space.
An additional project was the 360 degree light painting, bullet time technology, using 24 cameras: light can now be experience as dimensional object.
For Patrick the idea behind light painting is to allow for the perfect moment to happen, where everything comes together, in synchronicity, creating this amazing moment of magic. His true ingenuity is to have created thousand of different types of light paintings, constantly re-inventing himself. Light is his teacher. He believes that our bodies emit light and that light painting is an expression of this phenomena.
One thing is certain, Patrick will come up with something new again and again to inspire and open new doors with the medium.
= 1996 6th generation New Yorker Aurora Crowley is one of the mystique and surprising artist on light painting horizon.
In the early 90s working as a hairdresser at Bumble and Bumble he realized his passion for photography. In 1996 he met Patrick Rochon who instantly inspired Aurora to integrate fashion and light painting and has since been diligently practicing all things light and light reactive.
His first light painting happened in the… bathroom, and his first model was… a kid’s toy. Since then his light painting fashioned style still remains unbeaten.
1997 = Stephane Sednaoui (France), well-known photographer, worked for music video and portraits. This is cover design, made for Kylie Minogue album “Impossible Princes”
= 1998 Russian photographer Aleksandr Shevchenko captured these images on film.
= 1999 Arturo Aguiar (Argentina) start to paint with light in 1999, with a set of self-portraits. Aguiar says: “My work involves constructing poetry through photography, and like all poetry, it questions the codes and conventions of the language of its expression. I refer to the technique I use as direct action shots: I light each scene manually in the dark, using light to create a subjective space that creates a story within the image. The use of light and color has an artistic, conceptual meaning. Without light and shadow, nothing can be determined. The contrasts between the sudden flashes and darkness accentuate the mystery of mankind, emphasizing our beauty and at times, our own darkness”.
= 1999 Russian well-known photographer Andrey Chezhin started to use “camera drawing” and stencils for photograms in 1999. He moved not the light source, but the camera itself – because of almost in all pictures he used the sun as light source.
List of artists in the order of artwork years:
1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (France)
1839 William Henry Fox Talbot (England)
1843 Anna Atkins (England)
1884 Thomas Eakins (USA)
1889 Etienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny (France)
1911 Anton Giulio Bragaglia (Italy)
1914 Frank Gilbreth (USA)
1919 Christian Schad (Germany)
1922-1943 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (Hungary)
1924 Alex Gastev (USSR)
1930 Wynn Bullock (USA)
1935 Man Ray (USA)
1936 Francis Bruguiere (USA)
1938-1939 Nathan Lerner (USA)
1940 Barbara Morgan (USA)
1941 Margaret Bourke-White (USA)
1942-1945 Gjon Mili (USA)
1943 Jack Delano (USA)
1946 Harry Callahan (USA)
1949 Pablo Picasso and Gjon Mili
1949 Henri Matisse and Gjon Mili
1949 Andreas Feininger (USA)
1952 Loomis Dean (USA)
1953 Herbert Matter (USA)
1954 Robert Doisneau (France)
1955 David Potts (Australia)
1955 Heinrich Heidersberger (Germany)
1965 Larry Dale Gordon (USA)
1967 Alan Jaras (UK)
1968 Barbara Blondeau (USA)
1974 Steve Mann (USA)
1975 Ellen Carey (USA) 1976 David Lebe (USA)
1976 Eric Staller (USA)
1976 Chris Chamberlain (UK)
1976 Yasuhiro Wakabayashi (Hiro) (USA)
1977 Dean Newell Chamblerlain (USA)
1977 Susan Hillbrand (USA)
1977 Ronald Slenzak (USA)
1978 Jacques Pugin (Switzerland)
1978 Hipgnosis (UK)
1979 Sergey Borisov (USSR)
1980 Jozef Sedlak (Slovakia)
1980 Vicki DaSilva (USA)
1980 Mike Mandel (USA)
1980 Michel Séméniako (France)
1983 Kamil Varga (Slovakia)
1985 John Heskett (USA)
1986 Robo Kocan (Slovakia)
1987 Salvo Veneziano (Italy)
1987 Richard Lowenstein & Lynn-Maree Milburn (Australia)
1988 Tokihiro Sato (Japan)
1989 Christina Salinas (USA)
1990 Bruno Mesrine (France)
1991 Chanette Manso (France)
1992 Patrick Rochon (Canada)
1996 Aurora Crowley (USA)
1997 Stephane Sednaoui (France)
1998 Aleksandr Shevchenko (Russia)
1999 Arturo Aguiar (Argentina)
…and so on
This article is not encyclopedic or like Guinness Book 🙂 I just try to mark the people, who bring their talent to common success of our genre. I probably miss someone – and if so, please, don’t hesitate to inform me about it to firstname.lastname@example.org
I would like to thank a lot to persons who help me in this way: Eric Mellinger, Ian Hobson, Hugo Baptista, Marc van der Veen, Christopher Allirot, Lachlan Black, Lance Kiemig, Jason D. Page.
The author used information and photographs from public sources. The copyrights to photos belong to the authors.
I thank to Hugo Baptista for his kind help in english version of the text!
Also I thank for support to:
The article was prepared by Sergey Churkin. Thank you for reading it.