Arch, 1996, photo by Fred Hatt
The word “photography” is derived from greek roots literally meaning “writing with light”. A light-sensitive chemical emulsion, or, these days, a light-sensitive silicon chip, is altered when it is exposed to light. An image focused through a lens, with an exposure timed by shutter, is only one possible way of using this process of writing with light. For example, you may be familiar with contact photograms, in which objects are placed on a photosensitive paper or film and the light darkens the area around the object, with the shadow of the object leaving a bright shape. In fact, some photo historians believe photograms were produced as early as around 1800. One of my favorite contemporary artists, Adam Fuss, uses the photogram technique to produce mysterious and fantastic tracings of energy.
Light painting is another one of those classic experimental photography techniques. In light painting photography, you work in the dark. The camera’s shutter is held open for a while, and you move a light source around, and wherever the light goes it gets recorded on the film or digital chip. Nowadays it’s very popular to draw things in the air with a handheld light, LED or glowstick. Back in the early 1990s there was a vogue for using fiber optics to apply light selectively to commercial still life arrangements to get a painterly look.
The lightpainter can walk right through the frame during exposure, and as long as the light is not directed at him or her, the lightpainter will not be recorded, because the camera records only light, not darkness.
I first started experimenting with light painting in photography of models in 1990 or thereabouts, but the early ones haven’t been scanned yet, so I’ll post those some other time. I was interested in the process because it bridged the gap between photography and painting or drawing. As in painting, the image is created by manual gestures over a finite period of time, but instead of making pigment marks on paper or canvas, one makes light marks, through a lens, on a photograph.
The first three examples here were made in 1996. The model was Kristin, an ex-gymnast and one of my great muses of that time. In the image above, the technique is used simply to place light selectively to explore the form of a pose. Of course, I would never know exactly what I was getting, as you can’t see the result at the time you’re doing it. In those days I didn’t see the results until after I’d hand-processed the black and white film and made test prints in a rental darkroom. This aspect of working blind, and the surprise and delight at discovering the outcome, was something I loved about this work. The light streaks in the lower area of the “arch” and in the upper right corner of the image above, are made by the hand-held light passing through the frame.
In the example below, I suspended a micro-Maglite from a string and dangled it above the model while twisting the string to cause the light to spin:
Smoke, 1996, photo by Fred Hatt
And in this one, I used a long camping lighter to draw streaks of flame around the model:
Triangle, 1996, photo by Fred Hatt
Below is a series of four triptychs, made by mounting black and white lightpainting prints together in a frame. These were made in 1998. The models are Laurie and Heather. Some of these images are sideways, and in some the models are on mirrors.
Earth, 1998, photo tryptich by Fred Hatt
Water, 1998, photo triptych by Fred Hatt
Air, 1998, photo triptych by Fred Hatt
Fire, 1998, photo triptych by Fred Hatt
See more of my black and white lightpaintings here, and color lightpaintings here.