Light Painting Photography

A couple of months ago, I submitted a proposal to CAA for their annual conference. Although my proposal wasn't chosen, I am still curious to answer and explore the questions that arise in the segment below. The history of light painting is very brief. The use of the medium begins in the late 1800’s as a way to study movement, is then picked up by photographers who experiment with the early inventions of flash photography and time exposure, and is most recently used in a very commercial fashion. The light painting that we see so widely produced today, doesn't remind us of, or comment on the central ideas of the Light and Space Movement, or any art movement quite honestly. The work being made isn’t allowing for any progressive debate of art. Perhaps I am biased, but I have not come across an artist that has taken this medium of light painting and pushed the boundaries with it. Alas, below is what I submitted to CAA, and will be continuing to work on for my own personal research.


Light painting, or light drawing, is the act of manually moving an artificial light source while a camera records the process through time-exposure, resulting in a still photograph. The first experimental uses of light painting date back to 1889, but it wasn’t until 1935 that it was first used as an artistic practice by Man Ray, in his series, “Space Writing”. Self-taught photographer, Gjon Mili, experimented with the technique through photo journalism in 1949, and that same year, introduced the process to Picasso who became so intrigued he created a series of light drawings titled, “Space Drawings”, later exhibited at MoMA in 1950.

Following this notable early timeline, only about a dozen significant artists throughout history have explored the medium in their oeuvre with only one known artist dedicating their entire body of work to light painting photography, Vicki DaSilva. This dedication has led DaSilva to play with the relationship between time, movement, and light, allowing for the emergence of various concepts such as the physicality of light, the shaping of spaces and perception, the temporality of a work, the performative aspect, and the audience as random participant.

As a technique where these different theories related to light, photography, space, time, and performance arise, I question and aim to examine why so few artists have pushed the boundaries with this specific medium. Why hasn’t light painting photography been explored past playful experimentation and public commercial use? How has the work of Vicki DaSilva influenced and contributed to both conceptual and contemporary photography?