Light Painting with Polaroid: "how" and "why"

After the publication on this site and on my social channels of my most recent light painting images realized on polaroid; after receiving an extremely encouraging portfolio reading from Lens Culture; after having been lucky enough to see some of my images selected to participate in 3 group exhibitions this year and above all having seen the curiosity and often also the confusion that they generated in the visitors of the exhibitions, I thought it was time to write two words about how the idea of ​​creating this type of images was born and why, trying to give an indication of the projectuality behind it and also offering a key for forecasting where all this work is taking me.

polaroid light painting presented at ISO600 international 2019 Bologna

I, as can be read in the "my story" section, began to approach light painting on tiptoe many years ago. What was then a kind of light painting that I would call "classic" that with which several photographers create (some believe they do so unfortunately) images with a Caravaggio and pictorial flavor. Only in recent years have I come into contact with "that other" type of light painting, the one in which we do not limit ourselves to illuminating what already exists, but we can "create" from the darkness. Defining and cataloging this way of doing light painting is certainly difficult, if not impossible, because it is a creative practice so new and "complete" that it has generated dozens of different currents and styles, heavily based on qualities such as craftsmanship, ingenuity and the ability to build new tools. This has inevitably generated a group of artists who have focused on very different aspects: there are those who do light-blading producing abstract images, those who do graffiti, those who do portraits, those who explore the interaction of light with mirrors and kaleidoscopes , who creates elements that fit into the natural or architectural landscape, and who paints freehand. As a good photographic experimenter I tried practically everything (only the graffiti I never tried) but undoubtedly I was more attracted to the last category I listed, the freehand painting: I found it simply surprising that drawings could be created in the dark absolutely without any help and even more so to do it with a constancy and dedication such as to produce mosaics (which for me are real masterpieces) like Chris Bauer for example. I highly recommend visiting her place and to keep an eye on him because every new mosaic he pulls out leaves his mouth open.

Historically, mosaics have always married well with polaroid and therefore the temptation to translate what Chris does into polaroid was very strong, but from the first moment I tried to draw freehand in the air and in the dark I realized that it wouldn't be not at all easy. Experimenting in digital photography is something that has always been encouraged and is virtually free. Experimenting in Polaroid is far from free and is highly frustrating both for fixed isos, which force you to use torches with different levels of intensity, and for an intrinsic property of polaroids: the first thing you notice is that the film is differently sensitive to different colors and this made the start frustrating and certainly not something that a penniless young student could afford.

polaroid light painting

So the first thing I tried to do was to test various techniques to try to help me to have spatial references in the dark: I tried to use a plexiglas panel as a guide, thus being able to define a boundary edge of my image in which to paint. : this generated the first series of night landscapes with a left-70 land camera (but exposure times could never exceed 14 sec) and with the 600 after the purchase of the Impossible Project I-1 camera (the first camera for polaroids to give the possibility to use the B). The polaroids of the aforementioned landscapes are published here. For these images I used a black fiber optic brush attached to a torch: the gestural expressiveness was that of a painter, the great difficulty was that of not seeing what one was doing. Undoubtedly from that moment onwards for me light painting has become something else compared to what I had seen doing up to that point in my life. I was wondering: what if you could really paint with light like painters paint with various materials? Would it be possible to paint something and show the brushstrokes of light as we see the brushstrokes in the paintings? Shades, strokes, pits are all things we are used to seeing in painters' paintings and which are often used not only to define an aesthetic style but also an expressive language. My question therefore: was it possible to study techniques to do the same with light? At the bottom the light came out of the tips of my brushes and with a long pose it was possible to show a trail, that is a brushstroke, while beating the brush on the plexiglas it was possible to imitate the sponge technique. What else would it be possible to do with time to experiment and a little ingenuity? The fascination of doing all this in polaroid rather than digital is at least obvious: discipline, concentration and knowledge of the medium are necessary to obtain exactly the result one has set for oneself with no possibility of intervening later. A beginning of systematic study of brushstrokes and exposure times I tried to do it in my first Polaroid mosaic inspired by "Color study, squares with concentric circles" by Kandinsky, which you find here. After all having to "consume" some Polaroids to do brushstroke tests, I might as well try to draw something that would come close to a work of art and this, which for Kandinskij was exactly what it represented for me, seemed to me the work right.

Thus my path was born, which in the end saw the improvement of one of my techniques, obviously based on my incapacities (Chris Bauer probably wouldn't need my "accrocchi") and on the desire to create real "light paintings" where photography remains only a physical process to fix my images. And precisely this point represents both the strength and the weakness of my works, which can no longer be said whether they are photographs or not. Looking at the people who visited the exhibitions in which my Polaroids were exhibited, I often saw confusion, in reality if we want mine it is an "improper" use of the photographic medium, even if this represents my goal: how improperly I can use the process photo to paint? You will see, for now I have returned to art books to study various painters that I like and understand how much and what of their work can be transposed into my polaroids, and above all how much this can be functional to the expression of something that does not make them just an attempt to copy. From this point of view, my journey is still long and I feel like I have just started to scrape the tip off the iceberg, but I am ready to dive, even if all this would lead to nothing more than what has already given me , which for the 2019 is already much more than I have previously achieved.

Finally, if what I have written here has intrigued or inspired you, do not hesitate to contact me. If, on the other hand, you want to know more about "why" but above all about "how", let us point out a workshop of polaroid light painting that will see me as tutor the next 16 November 2019 at MyInstantLifeStudio.

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