Light Art Performance Photography



2 minutes reading

Two of the many noticeable names in this month’s GUP magazine are Man Ray and Pablo Picasso. Both these artists weren’t photographers, but painters. At least that’s how they saw themselves. Yet they were amongst the first to actually live up to the meaning of the word ‘photography’, which roughly translates into ‘painting with light’. Instead of letting reflected light fall on a sensor or film, they made use of handheld light sources to actually draw with light and effectively turn film into a canvas. 

Inspecting the workflow
Man Ray might have been one of the first recognised ‘light painting’ photographers; he didn’t make the first light painting photos, these were actually made in 1914 by Frank Gilbreth and his wife Lillian. They attached small lights to manufacturing workers and clerical workers to track their movements. This wasn’t out of artistic ambitious, but solely to check and improve workflow. These photos are the first ever light painting photographs known, and you can check out more on them here.

Pablo Picasso is named as one of the most famous light painters. His drawing of a Taurus done in 1949 is probably even better known than the man that inspired him: Life Magazine photographer Gjon Mili. Gjon was the first known photographer using stroboscopic flashes to freeze movement. But besides this Gjon attached small lights to figure skaters and opened the shutter of his camera. This resulted in very artistic looking light paintings which show a trace of the ice skater.  In ’49 Gjon was on assignment to visit Picasso in the South of France. After showing some of his light painting photography, Picasso was inspired and immediately picked up a flashlight to create his own light drawings.

Modern day light painting
Let’s fast forward to 1976. Visual artist Eric Staller was specialised in sculptures and performance art, but from 1976 to the 80’s Eric roamed the dark streets of New York to create something we could call ‘Light art performance photography’ (LAPP). When you look at the photos of Eric Staller it’s obvious he did more than ‘drawing’. His pictures show delicate and well planned movements to create the final product. The performance of it was just as important to the end result as the photography, which resulted in today’s light art performance photography.There’s a long list of photographers who contributed to what we call ‘light painting’ and light art performance photography. The website has an amazing write up on the whole history right here


Written by Arden de Raaij