New York-based photographer Lucea Spinelli has created a series of stunnings GIFs to explore photography’s capacity to depict the real, fictitious and everything in between.
In this interview, Spinelli discussed the process behind Phōtosgraphé and shared her best tips to help your next light painting adventure.
With your latest project, you’ve literally captured the essence of photography: light. What’s your approach to light?
Everything is made of light, in both literal and figurative ways. The camera acts as an eye that can see light in ways we can’t, so photography for me is a way to explore these other ways of seeing. This is why I use light in my photographs to depict the unseen—whether it be spirits or dreams.
Tell us a little more about the techniques you applied to create your series Phōtosgraphé.
An open shutter is essentially a canvas for light, so by leaving it open for long enough I am able impress my movements onto a scene. This involves a lot of controlled and rhythmic movement, which usually feels like a sort of performance art I carry out in the darkness. It becomes very meditative. After the sequence is completed I string the photos together in a frame animation to bring the subject to life.
What light sources did you use?
I use an assortment of battery powered fairy lights, pen lights, submersible lights, flashlights, mirrors—anything that emits or refracts light. The most important is dim ambient light to evenly illuminate the surroundings. This usually comes from a plentiful moon or nearby streetlight.
Did you know in advance what the outcome of each image would be? How well did you plan each movement? What challenges did you face in realizing your vision?
Because I have to recreate a shape or line with slight variations frame after frame, each gesture is carefully planned, controlled and archived in my physical memory. The biggest challenge is making my body invisible, which usually requires me to move around constantly in a frantic and uncontrolled way. To maintain this balance of controlled and uncontrolled movement requires a lot of focus, so once I get into a rhythm of making the sequence I usually know exactly what the outcome of each image will be. That being said, the subtle nuances—how the light reflects off other objects, textures and colors, or how it refracts through some plastic or my hand that holds it—always surprise me.
Do you have any tips for achieving the best outcome for light paintings?
Honor experimentation with patience. Accumulating accidents is crucial to being able to organize your vision in the dark. Part of that honor also involves embracing failure in ways we usually never have to.
Looking at the title of the project, you’ve chosen a very literal approach in your interpretation. What does photography mean to you in a less literal sense?
To me the lens is just another eye, and like my own I can see what it sees. So photography for me is a way to explore things the camera can see but I can’t. I am a visual person so seeing as much as possible, in as many different ways as possible, is important.
Besides photography, you also studied politics and philosophy. In what way do you apply your education to you practice of photography?
Studying philosophy and politics gave me a language to understand the different realms of our perception, and question the objective nature of reality. This influences how I see the world, understanding both the ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ as part of the same fluid plane that is our consciousness. Because photography is typically used as a tool to mimic the real, by portraying the ‘unreal’ my practice explores the fluidity of this plane.
How do you feel about analogue photography? How often do you shoot analogue vs. digital?
My heart is in analogue. With digital you have computer chips that translate the impression of light on the sensor into pixels, whereas in analogue light impresses itself directly onto the silver bromide of the negative. To me that direct relationship is magic. That being said, I view them as entirely different mediums—like painting and sculpture—because of the different creative processes they require. I use digital for my light paintings because I can see the result right away, and analogue when I’m engaging with beauty in the everyday.
In addition to your own personal projects, you also do commercial assignments. How do you balance personal and commercial work, timewise and creatively?
I still see all of my work—commercial and personal—as exploration. I think down the road this may change, but for now I am still learning and developing and discovering. Doing commercial work pushes me to learn new tools and techniques that I would never do otherwise, all of which feed into my personal work. So, creatively, the balance is there. As far as time goes, there are just never enough minutes in a day.