A Study of Light Graffiti Through the Years

Tara Hornor

Light graffiti, also known as light painting or light writing, can be traced back to the early 1900s with photography techniques and is still alive and well today. This article highlights just a few of the more prominent light graffiti artists over the years. Do you know some modern light graffiti artists that should be included in this list?

Early 1900s

The pioneer of light graffiti can be traced back to photographer Frank Gilbreth and his wife Lillian in the year 1914. They weren’t actually trying to be creative. Instead, they were tracking the movements of their workers on an assembly line, looking for inefficiencies. While not intentionally artistic in nature, the work of the Gilbreth’s is the first example of light graffiti.

1930s

The 1930s saw artists beginning to explore the possibilities of light graffiti with Man Ray. While not widely known for his light graffiti work, Man Ray was the first artist to use light graffiti and his work still defines the genre in many ways today.

1940s

Light graffiti really took off in the 1940s with Gjon Mili, an Albanian who came to the U.S. in 1923. In the 1930s, Gjon developed flash photography to study dancers, figure skaters, and musicians. Later, in the 1940s, he began to explore light graffiti specifically and went on to capture some of the most memorable moments with the likes of Picasso for Times Magazine.

1950s – Present

From the 1940s on, light graffiti became a genre of its own with scores of artists beginning to study the form. As the century progressed, hundreds and thousands of artists began to develop the form into what is today. Now, you can find hundreds of contests annually where anyone can submit their light graffiti work, and many light painting artists are hired to create lighting effects for commercial design.

Some of the more prominent artists of last century to today include:

Jack Delano (’50s):

Andreas Feininger (’50s):

Eric Staller (’70s):

Jacques Pugin (’80s):

Jozef Sedlák (’80s):

Vicki DaSilva (’80s):

Tokihiro Sato (’80s):

Aurora Crowley (’90s):

Lichtfaktor (21st Century):

Michael Bosanko (21st Century):

Alan Jaras (21st Century):

MRI Light Painting (21st Century):

Honda Airwave by Patrick Rochon (21st Century):

Toby Keller of Burn Blue Photography (21st Century):

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  • gbgb

    I think the Mike Jaras and Toby Keller shots have static light sources.

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  • Jan B. Kjeldsen

    I suggest Denis Smith: http://www.denissmith.com.au/
    Great balls of fire.

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