Interview with Janne Parviainen the mind behind Stunning Light Painting

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Janne Parviainen, aka JANNEPAINT, is a talented painter and photographer from Finland.

He makes images that will blow your mind though light painting photography. Janne uses the light of small LEDs like a paintbrush, to draw unreal, incredibly detailed scenes and images created by using the long exposure technique in low light environments. He has exhibited nationally as well as in China, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Poland, and France. His work has been featured in various publications such as The National Geographic, Wired, Juxtapoz, Metro, Telegraph and Der Spiegel, etc.

Can you tell us a little about you?

I am Janne Parviainen, a 40-year-old artist from Helsinki, Finland. I graduated as an oil color painter in 2003 and after that, I have worked both on painting and photography. From 2008 I started working on light art photography and nowadays it takes most of my working time. My light art photos have been published in numerous books and magazines, such as National Geographic, and I have done artistic collaborations with companies like Adobe, Nippon Television, Corsair, and light festivals in Europe. For the past few years, I have also been writing and drawing graphic novels. At the moment I am drawing my third book, the previous two are available at www.suistobooks.com.

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When and why did you get into photography? What does it mean art and photography to you? What do you enjoy most about them?

My father was a very active photographer when I was a kid, so photography has always been familiar to me. I started taking photos myself at the age of ten when I got my father’s old camera to share with my two brothers. At art school, I was majoring in oil color painting and became professionally involved in photography years after graduating.

Janne is a full time artist. He is an accomplished oil painter and creates color painting on glass too

I had tested light painting with my older brother in my childhood and after that with my friend, but what really got my attention to the technique was a lucky incidence. I was walking back home at night after taking photos with my pocket camera and had accidentally left it on long exposure while holding it in my hand. The street lamps had drawn beautiful light trails into the photos which inspired me to test it again. After a few tries, I placed the camera on the table and tried to draw myself with LED lights. I was absolutely mesmerized by the possibilities of light painting and after a few months, I bought a DSLR camera to see where the technique could really be taken.

Janne-Parviainen_Adventure--Time_2019

Adventure Time (2019)

Light Painting Artist Janne Parviainen has been teaching drawing and oil color painting for 10 years in various schools in the Helsinki region.

What inspires me most in light paintings is to see my visions come to life on the camera screen. The light painting technique is so unpredictable that no matter how hard I have planned the work beforehand the outcome always surprises me, which I think is absolutely great! Even after ten years of working on light paintings, the possibilities of what can be done with the light painting medium seem endless. I think I have found such an art medium that keeps my creative process running on its own, which is a true blessing for an artist.

A thing that I love in light painting is the ability to draw in three-dimensional space with light, instead of the usual two-dimensional canvas.

What medium do you prefer for Light Painting, film or digital? What was your first Light Painting Image?

For the light painting, I prefer the digital medium since in light painting it’s essential to see how the image has been done in order to make the necessary corrections to the next take. Nowadays I quite often manage to get the image right on the first take, but I still wouldn’t leave that to chance with the film cameras.

I love the film format for taking photos too since that was with what I started my photography career. In the art school, I had a style to run around with the camera, throw it around, and see what happened with the photos in the darkroom. I still have a Diana F camera and my old camera obscura made into a shoebox, which I’m planning to use for light paintings too.

My first actual light painting image is Cyber Dream, which I made on the same night I found small LED lights you can attach to your fingers from a local Dollar store. I still use those very same style LED lights for almost all of my light paintings, so it was a good tool to find from the beginning. I had tried to light paint before that by moving the camera while shooting street lamps, etc. But that day I had gotten an idea to put the camera on the table and move the lights myself. With the LED lights attached to my fingers, I lit my head with them and then swirled my hands over my head and loved the outcome! After that, I was totally hooked and spent the next whole year taking light paintings every night with my girlfriend. I can still feel the energy and excitement of those days of finding that spellbinding new art format. In my workshops nowadays I hope I can spread that excitement and joy to others as well.

What were the biggest challenges at the beginning?

The biggest challenge at the beginning was my camera gear. I started light painting with Canon Ixus 40, which had only 15 seconds of exposure so in order to create what I had in mind, I had to move fast. After the Ixus broke, I started using my girlfriends Lumix, which only had 8 seconds of exposure, so I had to move even faster! Thinking it back now, I think that was a good thing, since like in the croquis drawing, by doing things fast, you learn to focus on the essence of what you want to present with your art. But it must’ve been a funny sight to see me and my girlfriend running around like crazy, waving different lights in the dark in front of the camera!

Janne Parviainen is a well-known light painting artists with a very unique and recognizable style.

Do you have a nightmare light painting story?

I have had a lot of strange and funny situations on my photography trips… If one spends as much time in abandoned places at night, you’re pretty sure to bump into unexpected situations. Sometimes you start to wonder what on earth you are doing alone at night inside an abandoned house’s closet in the darkness, haha! All for the sake of art, I guess?

One night I was taking photos near my old house that was next to a big field. I had brought a big sword with me for the photo (the photo is ‘Painkiller‘, a skeleton with a sword in its hand and light figures laying in the ground around it) and when I was coming back to my house which was around 400 meters from there, a police car came from around the corner and stopped me. They had seen me carrying the sword and wanted to know what I was doing with it. Luckily they were rather cool about it and let me go after I had shown them the photo! The only comment they gave about the photo was: -Well, there’s a lot of bodies in it!

How long did it take to make your images, considering also the planning aspect?

Most of my photos take really a lot of time to create. Usually, the exposure times vary from 10 minutes to 50 minutes. I have created the humanlike forms by tracing my body from head to toe with a LED light. For my topographic photos (rooms filled with light) I have trace entire rooms with a LED light sometimes standing, reaching to the roof, and crawling under the tables, so it is quite an exercise all in all. I have made a topographic light painting of a staircase two times and after running and crawling the stairs up and down a couple of hundred times I have been all over in sweat.

One thing that light painting really cultivates is the sense of three-dimensional space, so after thousands of photos, it is quite easy to tell which parts in the photo area you have to trace and what parts are still to be traced. Also before I start to work on tracing the lines I carefully study the photos area and try to memorize which parts I have to work on.

In the studio photos with the anamorphic drawings, the hours and hours I spend to create the scenery for a single photo are a journey for me. Sometimes I might spend a week creating an anamorphic drawing, but it doesn’t matter because I enjoy it so much. It is sort of a meditation to get lost in the maze your brains are creating in front of you.

Where do you find inspiration when starting a new project? What do you want to communicate with your artwork?

I always try to tell something of me with my photos, such as how do I feel or how I see the world. What inspires me the most is to try to make people feel something when they see my photos.

When I’m at home I can spend hours just previsualizing something and then start the actual work for the photograph. I have never liked art being too easily digested, such as giving easy answers or trying to force others to your opinions. That is underestimating your audience, and it’s, unfortunately, something I see very often. People do feel what you have to say and it’s more effective if it comes through a natural thinking process based on the clues you leave to your art, instead of pushing it to their face. The ambivalent feeling of my artwork may be from that same way of thinking, things quite rarely are black and white. Sorrow and happiness may be seconds away from each other and often happen at the same time. This abstract world needs abstract ways to represent it.

How do you pick the locations for your photography projects? What is your favorite time and season to shoot?

I try to find places to take photos that inspire me to create a story. It’s a great feeling to go to some amazing place and let your imagination go wild. When I’m outside taking photos I usually improvise something that interacts with the surrounding location.

My favorite time of the year is definitely autumn when nature is in gorgeous colors of red, yellow, and orange, the nights are still warm and it gets dark already at 7-8 pm. In Finland, the summer is a quite tricky time of the year to do light paintings outdoors, since it doesn’t get dark at all. Winter is a beautiful time to go light painting into snowy forests, but that’s great only for a limited time since standing still in the low temperatures for hours is not that pleasant after your toes and fingers feel totally frozen.

Do you have a wish list of places where would you like to go to create new artworks?

My dream would be to get to one of the world’s abandoned cities such as the Hashima Island in Japan or the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria and to make a massive light painting in there. Also, the ship graveyards in Africa and China would be incredible locations to take photos in. I find some otherwordly beauty in abandoned places, so seeing it in such colossal scales would be very inspiring for me.

Janne is drawing a road trip graphic novel of the journey to Hungary, which he made by car with his two friends. The Graphic novel is supposed to be ready in spring 2021.

What about the unexpected situation during the shooting? Was there a situation or a moment that opened in your mind a new idea and become a point for new creative work?

I believe in spontaneity, and the story I want to tell with each work comes while planning the photo in the sets. I just follow the lines I sense and the story begins building together. With all the art I do, the moment I start creating it feels like I have a big bubble inside me that I need to transform into a physical form as an art piece.

The light figures for example have evolved into skeletons because of the new ideas from the new surroundings. At one point I was taking photos in an area where a huge building was being taken down wall by wall so that the whole building looked like a skeleton of a building. I thought to draw a skeleton inside my light figures to illustrate the surroundings better and from there the idea started to live it’s own life, to a point where I mostly drew light skeletons to all of my photos.

I like the paths art points us to go, and by following those paths the techniques and characters I use have evolved to what they are now. I am intrigued to see where my art will evolve in the future and I am very open to taking the paths that will lead me there.

Are there photos or a series that you are particularly attached to? Can you share with us the story behind it?

My favorite series must be my light paintings with improvised trash sculptures. I really enjoy to collect trash and other interesting objects from the locations and to build improvised trash sculptures to accompany the light paintings in the photos. There’s something profoundly pleasing to turn neglected, broken objects into something new, even just for a moment. As in my studio installations, I like the idea that the art I make is just temporary and it can be taken to parts or painted over after the photo is taken. There is something very zen in working for a long time on something that you know will be gone the next day. It is the act of doing that matters the most.

Images courtesy of Janne Parviainen

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