Painting with light
Yuanyuan "Kay" He and Daniel Linder, both assistant professors in the Fred Fox School of Music, teamed up for an unusual art project combining long-exposure photography, movement and light. In one of their first forays into light painting, they headed to Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains and did a photo shoot with the Milky Way in the background.
Later, He teamed up with Colt Hoffman, a photographer based in Arivaca, Arizona, for more "fairy-tale-inspired" photo shoots, as she puts it, often using intriguing architecture and locations as a backdrop.
A composer and video artist with roots in China, He teaches composition, electroacoustic music and orchestration. Her works often explore and intertwine various forms of media to create unique audiovisual experiences that engage the audience. Many involve collaborations with choreographers, dancers, video artists, audio technicians and stage lighting and design artists.
As a multimedia composer, she is very active in the music community. On March 27, He performed remotely for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the TURN UP Festival, a multimedia art festival she founded and directs.
He also created a specially designed light tube that she uses like a paintbrush to produce evocative, aesthetically engaging light paintings within photographs.
Lo Que Pasa spoke with He about how she became involved in this emerging art form and what goes into creating visually stunning photographs that effortlessly fuse darkness and light, stillness and motion. Learn more about her art in the Q&A below and by visiting her personal website and Instagram.
See more of He's work in this gallery.
What is light painting, and how did you become interested in it?
I am a composer and visual artist. As a multimedia artist, my works often explore and combine various forms of media to create unique and engaging experiences for the audiences. Because of my passion in both performing arts and visual art, I discovered the light painting photography of (Montreal-based photographer) Eric Paré over the summer. I became interested in this art form only recently, looking for ways that performing artists can continue producing art under the restraints of the COVID-19 quarantine situation. I have been doing a lot of research on how to incorporate visual aspects into my musical research.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of producing these photographs?
Light painting photography is a genre of long-exposure, or slow-shutter, photography. During the process, we use a long-duration shutter speed to capture the movement or trail of light without blurring the character and other subjects in the photo. As is often the case in performing arts, many factors have to be aligned at exactly the right time to create a good light painting photograph. The process and practice of how to create magic is a new and amazing experience to me. The final photograph is like a rewarding time capsule that freezes a moment in time.
What does the process look like? What materials, equipment and techniques or skills do you need? Who does what in your collaboration?
This type of long-exposure photography is a teamwork effort. When I began working with our piano faculty member Daniel Linder for the "Light and Stars" photo at Gates Pass, I used my phone to trigger the shutter. Daniel created the light painting. After I triggered the shutter, I threw my phone on the ground, and shouted: "Go, go!" He did the choreographed movement with a glowing light tube that I specifically designed for this purpose.
Later, I began to collaborate with Colt Hoffman, who is a photographer/videographer based in Arivaca, Arizona. During the past two months, we have made a huge improvement on our light painting art. Our goal is to create bewitching light painting photographs that tell enchanting stories. Before we trigger the shutter, we talk through the composition, balance, and also rehearse the pose and movement. After we trigger the shutter, I will be in pose as still as possible and my partner will be doing the choreographed movement with a special designed light tube. Then, usually after 6-8 seconds, the shutter closes. The final imagery captures the extended period of time, movement of the light in space.
Are these images stand-alone works, or do you intend to integrate them into your musical creations?
So far, they are stand-alone works. But I am planning to incorporate them into my multimedia creations.
How do you envision integrating light painting into your work at the University? Can you explain your vision of multimedia arts – including works that involve musicians, dancers, music and lighting – as you pursue this direction?
The next step for my research on light art is to figure out a way to animate the final image, so we can use it as a video background and combine it electroacoustic music, live musicians and dancers with lights, for a multimedia performance live on stage.