Six years ago, Helsinki-based artist Janne Parviainen took a walk home at night with his camera, an old Canon Ixus 40. When he later developed the film, he discovered he’d left the long exposure on during his walk and accidentally snapped a photo. Streetlights had drawn glowing trails across the image. “I got really excited about them and started immediately testing other ways to experiment with light and long-exposure photography,” Parviainen tells Co.Design. “Since then, I have totally fallen in love with the light art medium.”
Parviainen, who had been an oil painter, switched his focus to strobes, flashlights, and light-up toys, using long exposures and no digital post-production. In his images, snaky lengths of LEDs illuminate abandoned cars and buses, turning trash into neon treasure. “Lightmen” and “light skeletons,” as he calls them, gather in the Finnish wilderness like radioactive ravers. In his favorite image, “The Big Bang,” a light man perches on top of a burnt-up ’80s car.
“I found that car in the bottom of a sand pit while hiking with my four-year-old son,” Parviainen says. “I’m constantly driving around scouting forests, abandoned areas, and buildings. I recently found a forest near Helsinki with around 20 to 30 old car wrecks, some of which have been there for 30 years.” Trees were growing inside the cars; metal trash was strewn everywhere. This junkyard forest became a regular hangout spot for Parviainen. Using his Sony Alpha DSLR-A200, he brought these old car wrecks to life, revealing their haunted beauty.
Exposure times for these images can range from a few seconds to hours, depending on the desired effect. While the camera is exposing, different light sources can be moved into the frame, as if you’re drawing or painting on a canvas.
The medium is nothing new–the first known light painting, called “Pathological Walk from in Front,” was created in 1889, when photographers Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny attached incandescent bulbs to an assistant’s joints and photographed her movement. Artists like Man Ray and Picasso experimented with it, and now there are huge online communities of “light junkies.” But Parviainen’s labor-intensive light tracing of large rooms and his incorporation of found objects and natural environments pushes the medium forward. “I have tried to bring to life the process of everything changing around us; nothing is ever truly dead, the energy and the material is just set free,” he says.