If you’ve ever taking a photography class, experimenting with night photography and long exposure times was most likely an assignment. You’d set up your tripod, set your camera to “bulb”, walk around your darkened house setting off an external flash and then call it day. Well, a group of contemporary artists has taken this technique to a whole other level. Deemed light painters, these photographers create intricate compositions with a variety of light sources ranging from flashlights to Christmas lights to automotive parts. Exposure times for these otherworldly compositions range from 4 – 8 minutes. And most impressively, a tenet of this new movement is that there can be absolutely no post processing. That means the photos that you see below are straight out of the camera. Amazing.
Light painting is not a completely new phenomenon. Artists began experimenting with long exposure photography back in early 20th century. Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth used small lights and the open shutter of a camera to track the motion of manufacturing and clerical workers. While they were not using light painting as an artistic medium, they did produce the first known light painting photographs.
Always the experimenter, Man Ray was the first artist to explore light paining as an artistic medium in 1935.
In the 1930s and 40s, Albanian-American photographer Gjon Mili pioneered photoflash photography and created new light painting techniques, many of which are still used today.
A photographer for LIFE Magazine, Mili’s work lead him to France to photograph Pablo Picasso. Inspired Mili’s light painting, Mili and Picasso collaborated on Picasso’s first light drawings which further popularized the art.
Eric Staller is considered the father of contemporary light painting. Beginning in the 1970s, Staller created light paintings in the streets of New York. This series inspires much of modern day light painting.
In the 1980s, light painting graffiti came on the scene with the work of Vicki DaSilva. Text-based light painting is still very popular today.
Contemporary light painting artists draw from this rich tradition and are constantly innovating and experimenting. Here are a few artists currently working in the medium.
Dennis Calvert’s elaborately staged scenes …
Ted Ducker’s light landscapes …
And Aaron Bauer’s colorful masterpieces …