LIGHTPAINTING – WHO INVENTED IT?
Not me, at any rate. And neither do any of the light painters still alive today. Even though there are several important people in light painting who claim to be the inventors of light painting or at least of a completely new way of working. Denis Smith said a few years ago very aptly: “We all stand on the shoulders of giants”. But whose shoulders am I standing on? On many, I would say. In many cases, I’m not even sure whose shoulders I’m standing on. Who turned the first orb? Who made the first circular disc? Who first used Plexiglas as a light brush? I couldn’t answer any of these questions for sure. And if we don’t just look at the actual light painting and think about the share of “normal” techniques in photography that contribute to the success of our light painting artworks, the number of shoulders becomes much larger. When we look closely at our way of working, everything has been there before in some way, no one has developed anything really groundbreaking in the last 10, 15 years.
HISTORY OF LIGHT PAINTING
I could write 10 pages about the development of light painting as an art form over the last 130 years, but I doubt anyone would want to read that. What would be the point?
The first light paintings that still exist or are known today date back to 1889. Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny visualised movements with a photographic technique they developed themselves, the so-called chronophotography. The gentlemen’s intention was probably more scientific. However, the pictures taken at that time certainly have a high artistic value.
The New York artist Eric Stallerwas already working very creatively in the field of light painting in the 1970s. He probably still has the greatest influence on today’s light painting community and its works, regardless of whether today’s light painters know him and his works or not. arbeitete bereits in den 1970er sehr kreativ im Bereich Light Painting. Er dürfte noch immer den größten Einfluss auf die heutige Light Painting Community und deren Arbeiten haben, egal ob die heutigen Light Painter ihn und seine Werke kennen oder nicht.
And those were by far not the only light painting artists of the “pre-LED era”. The esteemed Jason Page has published a very interesting article on the history of light painting on his site.
Especially due to the rapid development of LED technology and digital photography, the number of light painters is much larger today. Anyone can create impressive light paintings with a few cheap LED torches and a digital camera for a few hundred euros… if they want to and are creative.
INSPIRATION FOR MY FIRST LIGHT PAINTING
Until 2012, I associated the term light painting with pictures in which people write I ♥ Mutti into the picture with a sparkler or similar trivialities.
At that time I was quite active in the “fotocommunity”. Rather by chance I saw pictures by Heinz-Jörg Wurzbacher, Garry Krätz, Gus Mercerat, Lightmechanics, Photonenfänger and some others.
I wanted to take pictures like that too! So I started to research if there were tutorials on how to create such works of art out of light. I found exactly nothing, at least nothing really enlightening. So I started to fiddle around with the lamps in front of the camera myself and do this with passion until today.
Without the above-mentioned people, I would probably still be taking only “normal” photos today. Even though none of them invented light painting and they themselves were inspired by other artists, nothing changes the fact that they made me become a light painter in the first place. I thank you friends for that!
Some colleagues are afraid to name their inspiration and like to pretend they made it all up themselves. To impress potential customers, you can certainly emphasise your own uniqueness and magnificence. However, this quickly becomes ridiculous and unbelievable when I see very similar pictures by other artists that were created several years earlier. Since almost everyone has access to the internet today, the (potential) customer can also check such things within a few minutes.
AM I CREATING SOMETHING NEW?
I haven’t seen a picture like the cover of this post from other artists before. So I created something new… or not. I didn’t invent the Broken Orb, nor the laser, nor the technique of changing the focal length during exposure. Only everything in one image (probably) did not exist before.
Certainly, this picture was technically very difficult to realise, especially because I worked alone. I like the result and I was very happy that the picture turned out the way I had constructed it in my head. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is actually nothing new to see in the picture. I was not the first to do any of this.
I am certainly the only light painter who has painted the Broken Orb with a self-modified Led Lenser M7. I’m sure my esteemed colleagues use other techniques. Nobody has explained or shown me how to paint a Broken Orb. I developed the technique myself. However, I probably would not have had the idea of doing Broken Orbs if I had not seen pictures of EMD – Electrical Movements in the Dark a few years ago. Even though the step from a closed orb to a broken orb is not a very big one. Whether Heinz-Jörg Wurzbacher and Garry Krätz were the first to shoot Borken Orbs is something I cannot judge.
When researching this article I tried to find out who shot and photographed the first orb. I cannot say for sure. The oldest pictures I could find are by Trevor Williams (Tdub). He founded the group “Light Junkies” on flickr 10 years ago. This group was and is one of the biggest sources of inspiration for many light painters.
AM I CREATING SOMETHING SPECIAL?
I was asked the other day how many people can take pictures like I do. I can’t answer that question at all. There will probably be no one who could reproduce all my pictures if they wanted to. The number of colleagues who work in a similar way with controlled light in a single exposure is quite manageable. And none of the esteemed colleagues use exactly the same lamps, tools and techniques as I do.
The question of what is special, however, is not so much dependent on the special lamps and tools. The special thing is rather the special result, completely emancipated from the effort for the light painting. Above all, however, the special experience during the light painting is important. Then I can very quickly overlook small mistakes in the picture.
Yes, I create something special. Whether many other people see it the same way, however, is not of great importance for my work. The special experiences and feelings during the work are almost always completely invisible to the viewer of the painting, but for me they are the most important part of my work.
WHAT LIGHTPAINTING TECHNIQUES DO I USE?
– LIGHT PAINTING Existing objects, people, rooms, parts of a landscape or other real things are illuminated by the light painter and thus made visible in the picture. The light source itself is (usually) not visible in the picture. In principle, this technique is as old as photography itself. No one can say for sure who was the first to use artificial light in photography.
– LIGHT DRAWING The light source serves here as a brush. Traces of light are created and recorded with the help of a camera during a long exposure. As already mentioned above, Picasso and Matisse, among others, used this technique. However, they were certainly not the first.
– KINETIC PHOTOGRAPHY By moving the camera or the lens during the exposure, I paint light traces on the camera sensor. Again, I could not find “the first picture”, the technique has been used for many decades.
That’s all we really do in Light Painting. One could now list the use of fractal filters, stencils, kaleidoscopes or some other things, but essential for our art form are actually only the 3 techniques from above. So there is no one light painting pioneer who invented everything. I would not have the slightest problem naming the originator of this or that technique. But in most cases this is not possible at all because it is not clear who was the first. Many light painters, like myself, adapt various more or less old techniques, combine them in a new way and add their own small innovations. No more, but also no less!
Eric Paré is probably the most famous light painter at the moment. Many people emulate him and use “his” tubes and copy his pictures. Hardly anyone thinks about whether Eric was the first to use such tubes in light painting. I know light painting pictures from 1978 in which the artist Aby Rezny uses tubes. I myself have been using these tools for many years, long before Eric did his first light painting. Please do not misunderstand me. I have nothing against Eric, he is a very friendly, pleasant person. His great influence is good for the growth of the Light Painting community, which is rather small at the moment. His work benefits all light painters. And actually the situation for his many fans is quite similar to my story from above. I didn’t know any better at the time.
ARE WE TAKING OURSELVES TOO SERIOUSLY?
I only became really aware of that again the other day. Shortly before the holidays, I led a project together with Erik at his school. The pupils were between 13 and 16 years old. None of them had any significant experience or knowledge in the field of photography. They had had no contact with light painting at all up to that point. Within a very short time they had understood how it works. They implemented their cool ideas cleanly within a few attempts. Without our support, they would certainly not have failed.
I am not a master! I am just a light painting obsessive. Sometimes with some good ideas …but others have them too.
In this sense I wish you good light all the time.