He has worked with the likes of Nike, Playboy and Diesel, created artwork for the Tokyo Motor Show, Mercedes Benz and Coldplay, and currently has his LightArt-Performance project sponsored by camera giants Canon. Some of you may have even heard of him, his name? JanLeonardo Wöllert.
Starting off his life as a night time photographer, JanLeonardo soon developed an interest for combining lights and performance within his photography. Working with LED lights and long exposure camera techniques JanLeonardo gives birth to a beautiful concoction of Sci-Fi, fantasy and dreamlike visions. What separates JanLeonardo from other light painters is the way he incorporates choreography and performance into his photographs. Adding to the theatre, dramatics and story of the piece.
JanLeonardo started his career as an assistant for the photographer and Reinhart Wolf Prize winner Stephan Meyer-Bergfeld. Since then he has used his art to inspire other partnerships, these include the likes of some of the world’s most recognised classical musicians such as pianist Alfred Brendel and conductor Christoph Eschenbach. In 2008 JanLeonardo won the German prize for Science Photography – with Light Art Performance.
“An artist creating art is working. Look at these landscapes and imagine the trek, the schlep, the wait.”
His photography and consistent commitment to the art form has turned JanLeonardo Wöllert into a pioneering Godfather in the light painting and photography realms. The list of recognitions and accolades are phenomenal. His creations have been showcased in international exhibitions as well as featured in countless publications including newspapers, magazines and books.
When the terms light painting and long exposure photography are bounded around, his name is never far away. And now, somehow, Direct Trade Supplies has managed to get not just his name but also his thoughts bang onto the page. So let us pick his brains.
Q&A With: JanLeonardo Wöllert, One Of The Biggest Names In Light Painting.
How did you start your life as a photographer?
I’m an autodidact – I learned all by myself. I never read a book about photography or painting. My parents are creative people but not artists. I grew up in Worpswede, a little but known artistic village near Bremen, Germany. I’ve always been very creative but in my youth I used my creativity to make mischief. Throughout my entire life I’ve always just made what I thought was fun; I think that’s one of the main reasons for my success.
How did you first connect with light painting performance and choreography?
In May 2007 I was taking photographs in a morbid old warehouse in the port of Bremen. After a few hours taking pictures inside of the building I decided that I wanted to go home… but the door was locked close. So it meant I was trapped in the warehouse overnight. I had to pass the time, so I decided to start playing around with some special LED Lenser torches which included an acrylic stick on the top. I backlit some steel joists and I started to walk around with the torch in my hand, little did I know that the camera was left running. When I came back to my camera, I saw something amazing. The acrylic stick on my torch left a banner of white glowing light on the camera sensor. I thought this discovery was unbelievable and I was instantly met with various crazy pictures and ideas inside of my head.
How much of your light art depends on the location?
In the last nine years I’ve been able to work in many amazing places all over the world, including wonderful old and historic buildings. One of my most memorable experiences was being 3820m high on top of the little Matterhorn in Switzerland. It was strange, amazing and cool. I worked there for four nights altogether – we had to drive around in a snow buggy, we slept in a mountain station and we climbed into crevasses. Another wonderful place was Ban Gioc-Detian Falls in China. During the LED Lenser China Adventure Tour in 2010, I stayed at the Chinese-Vietnamese border for four nights, I took some lovely photographs in the falls.
Many of your photographs could be described as futuristic or mythological? What feelings and emotions do you try to emit?
I have many pictures in my head, as long as this continues my work will reflect this. Together with my creative eye and the view for good perspectives I see the finished picture even before I take the photograph. I love to work with old, broken and lost places, of which life has ceased to exist. I bring with my light new life to the ruins. For me it’s important that the background and location combines with my light performances to develop a larger story. I believe that my light art breathes life back into the area, I think it’s magical. On a whole, it’s a mixture of creativity, fantasy and a little bit of madness.
Where does your inspiration come from/how does the process start?
Inspiration can come to me from anywhere and at any time. I often sit under the shower with my eyes closed and it happens, the visions are just there – images, pictures for photography, light tools and other potential ideas. Thinking about it now, if I collected all of these pictures along the way I could have made a movie.
What camera lens and equipment do you use?
My favourite cameras are the Sony A7R and the Canon 5D MK III, and together with the Carl Zeiss Distagon Lenses – I get the sharpest photographs. The Canon 5D MKIII has the best Live-View for focusing at night. With a bright LED Lenser torch and a View Finder I retain a perfect focus over the Live View. The cameras are brilliant for Night and Light Art Photography, their full size sensors host a really large dynamic range.
How much light do you need and do you rely on any other auxiliary light sources?
I only work on dark nights with long time exposures and very bright torches (Led Lenser X21R) with a special Advanced Focus System. This Focus System is extremely unique to the world. I also create lighting performance with flashes, pyrotechnics and flammable gases. Children’s toys provide a relatively new creative light source. I’ve been known to decompose old broken torches and toys, I love scouting around Chinese toy shops for new lighting systems.
Finally, what are your future plans?
I dream of going to Greenland to photograph the eternal ice along with the wonderful Aurora Borealis. I also want to go to the Great Wall of China. In the future I will continue to look for old, lost and pristine places. I want to collaborate with artist’s who are involved in other art forms, helping to show new and amazing ways of using creativity. At the moment I plan to go on a six week tour of Japan with the outstanding Light Painting Artist Trevor Williams.
If you would like to view more work by JanLeonardo please jump to his website www.lightart-photography.de.
Want to see more amazing Light Painters in action? Check out our first interview with Helsinki light painters Janne Parviainen & Hannu Huhtamo.
(All image rights come courtesy of JanLeonardo & LAPP-PRO)