Gjon Mili’s 1949 photograph of Picasso, in which the artist draws a centaur.

A Greek figure, sketched in the air over the course of just a few seconds.

A "still life" with flowers and a vase, also shot by Mili at Picasso’s studio in the south of France.

Mili was an MIT-educated engineer on assignment for Life. He showed Picasso some of his work depicting motion, and invited Picasso to give it a try.

Mili shot nearly 30 photographs, including this figure.

A running figure, with Picasso in motion behind it.

The photos show an aging Picasso, shirtless and concentrating with the effort of drawing an image he couldn’t see.

But Mili’s photos also function as original drawings by one of the most-celebrated artists of the 20th century--here, drawing an elephant.

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Remarkable Photos Show Picasso "Painting" With Light

The American-Albanian photographer Gjon Mili spent weeks with Picasso in his home, experimenting with long-exposure photography.

Black and white. Blue. Rose.

It’s easy to break Picasso’s oeuvre into neat periods, but there’s plenty of work that doesn’t fit into any particular category and, thus, don’t always make it into museum exhibitions on the prolific painter. For example, the series of "light paintings" Picasso made over the course of a few days in 1949.

That year, Picasso was visited by an Albanian photographer named Gjon Mili. The MIT-educated engineer was 45 and at the height of his career as a photographer, while Picasso was 67, in the midst of a reckoning with his age. Mili apparently showed Picasso some of his work depicting motion, using stroboscopes and long shutter speeds to capture the actions of a dancer or athlete over the course of a few seconds. The new technology piqued Picasso’s interest; Mili invited him to give it a try.

So Picasso did his thing, in various darkened rooms of his studio. He drew a centaur, the figure of a woman, an elephant, and various faces using a small pen light. "He was so fascinated by the result that he posed for five sessions," wrote Life magazine, for whom Mili was freelancing at the time. "Mili took his photographs in a darkened room, using two cameras, one for side view, another for front view. By leaving the shutters open, he caught the light streaks swirling through space." The resulting images were published in a 1949 issue of Life, recently resurfacing after the magazine published about the archived images.

The photos are a wonderful kind of hybrid: They are portraits of an aging Picasso, shirtless and concentrating with the effort of drawing an image he couldn’t see; they’re also original drawings by one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.

Check out the full series here.

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  • J_2012

    How rude Sabrtooth! As if we can't appreciate anything that is more than 24hours old!

    Interesting piece on a a series that I had no idea existed and nor would I if it werent' for this article, many thanks

  • Sabrtooth

    Appreciation is all fine and good. But as a reader I expect the writer to, at the very least, tell me something about the subject that I didn't already know. You know, maybe report on it a little bit. Not just state state the fact that it is out there (being something that has been around for a long time now) and leave it at that. My time is valuable, and I come to this site to hopefully gain some knowledge by giving them my clicks.

    Bloggers and writers should be challenged to bring something new to the table to earn readership. Otherwise, they are just flotsam in a see of Interweb wannabes.

  • Sabrtooth

    Why is this news to report on here? Oh, wait ... it's not.

    But I can't talk now, I have some old family photos I need to go blog about.