The il­lu­mi­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of artists who paint with light

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page - Af­shan Ahmed

When Ja­hanzeb Aamir wields his self-cre­ated lightsaber-style con­trap­tion in front of UAE land­marks, with a cam­era po­si­tioned to cap­ture his move­ments, it seems a bit pe­cu­liar.

But the re­sult­ing im­ages are so spec­tac­u­lar that the pho­tog­ra­pher’s art was re­cently spot­lighted by In­sta­gram. Aamir, who goes by the name JZ Aamir (@jza­amir), is a light painter, an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar form of pho­tog­ra­phy that uses the move­ment of light and a long ex­po­sure to cre­ate strik­ing im­ages that il­lu­mi­nate a sub­ject in dif­fer­ent ways.

The tech­nique dates back to 1889, when phys­i­ol­ogy re­searcher Ge­orges De­menÿ at­tached bulbs to the joints of an as­sis­tant and cre­ated the first-known light-paint­ing pho­to­graph ti­tled Patho­log­i­cal Walk from in Front. Pho­tog­ra­phers be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with light paint­ing as an art in the 1930s. Aamir dis­cov­ered light paint­ing when he moved to Dubai six years ago. He used his cal­lig­ra­phy skills in im­ages to cre­ate uniquely de­signed and colour­ful Ara­bic let­ter­ing with light, against back­drops of aban­doned build­ings, mon­u­ments, mosques and ho­tels around the city and in his na­tive Pak­istan. His pho­to­graph fea­tur­ing the word “love” in Ara­bic drawn with lights in­side Ja­hangir’s Tomb in La­hore was fea­tured by In­sta­gram this month and has re­ceived more than 800,000 likes.

“I found this tech­nique that al­lows you to draw in space in front of the cam­era,” says Aamir. “It was more fas­ci­nat­ing than usual pho­tog­ra­phy, so I started ex­per­i­ment­ing with it. I started cre­at­ing orbs and dif­fer­ent graf­fiti work. Then I re­alised I can bring back my pas­sion for cal­lig­ra­phy through this.”

The 37-year-old pho­tog­ra­pher, who is also a graphic de­signer and mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist in Dubai, has been hon­ing his Ara­bic cal­lig­ra­phy skills since the age of 12.

“Light paint­ing is just a step in the di­rec­tion of com­bin­ing my in­ter­est of cal­lig­ra­phy and shoot­ing amaz­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and aban­doned build­ings,” he says.

The process to cre­at­ing a light paint­ing is fraught with com­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing choos­ing the right time of the day and ex­po­sure. Aamir also had to work out how to get his cal­li­graphic strokes to the right thick­ness.

“I tried work­ing with LED lights that are avail­able in the mar­ket, but it didn’t work,” he says. “In cal­lig­ra­phy, the lines move from thin to thick and then thin again. So typ­i­cal LED lights don’t work.”

With the help of YouTube tu­to­ri­als, Aamir built lights into wire­less “pens” with dif­fer­ent colours of light. He metic­u­lously plans each im­age by re­search­ing his­tor­i­cal sites and land­marks.

“I then de­cide which lo­ca­tion and com­po­si­tion would work, making sure not to dis­turb the area,” he says. “Then I come home and de­cide what word would suit the his­tory and story of the place. I prac­tice it on pa­per and then in front of the cam­era be­fore setting it up on lo­ca­tion. Be­cause a cam­era cap­tures in re­verse, I have to prac­tice writ­ing Ara­bic from left to right.”

Ge­orge Durzi (@gt­durzi) is an­other pho­tog­ra­pher work­ing with light. He started fol­low­ing the work of light-paint­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Eric Pare a year ago and de­cided to cre­ate sim­i­lar ef­fects. His style gen­er­ally fea­tures a yoga prac­ti­tioner, who holds poses while he draws an orb of light be­hind her.

“The best time to take such im­ages is dur­ing the ‘blue hour’, right when the sun is be­low the hori­zon and the sky is filled with a blue hue,” says the Jor­da­nian na­tional. He works as a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing man­ager in Dubai, and also takes pho­tog­ra­phy workshops at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai and Jor­dan.

“This is be­fore it goes pitch black and you can in­clude the back­ground but the light is softer.”

aahmed@then­ational.ae

Cour­tesy JZ Aamir

A light paint­ing by Ja­hanzeb Aamir.

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