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Light Writing – Invisible Moments

Tuesday 12 July 2011
Words Spindle

Light painting (or writing or graffiti, depending on how you do it) is a technical yet beautiful art. To be able to produce a decent image, it takes planning and precision. However, what makes light painting magical is that the ‘brushstrokes’ disappear into the darkness of the final image. What is left is a picture of something that was never actually there to begin with.

The photographic technique of light painting has actually been around for a while. Man Ray created his ‘Space Writings’ in 1935 using a penlight. The title suggests it was something quite futuristic. Although simple by today’s standards, Man Ray’s images are useful in demonstrating the basic principle of light painting. The swirls of light are the image, created by moving a light source in front of a camera with an open shutter. Man Ray’s face is blurred – he is just background noise.

Man Ray

Today, digital cameras and computers allow artists to create much more complex images. Of course it doesn’t have to be artists – anyone with an idea and a camera can create something amazing. One lovely application for light writing (and demonstrating the work involved) is this video of a wedding proposal in light. That took dedication.

Writing in light is just one application. Shapes can also be drawn. These ‘sculptures’ transform their surrounding but at the same time leave no mark at all. Cenci Goepel and Jens Warnecke create strange, alien yet organic shapes. They stand out in the landscape but are a part of it at the same time.

Artist Dean Chamberlain on the other hand paints with light almost literally. His technique places his subjects in psychedelic spaces. They are still-life enhanced.

Dean Chamberlain

Light painting offers the chance for creatives to be, well creative, as well as problem solvers. This is especially true when light painting is used in moving images.

TalkTalk’s advert was created by art director Noah Harris. The moving animation presented a difficult challenge. Light painting requires a perfectly still camera and a moving light source. For the light animation to go down the street, a whole row of cameras (think The Matrix) was set up to follow the light source while still capturing the blurred effect required.

For a seemingly simple technique created nearly 80 years ago, light painting has created many varied and unique images. They require some imaginative thinking to create. However, they capture beautiful moments, moments that barely existed in the first place.