I, Chanette Manso, live in New York as a full-time artist, practicing light painting and stop motion animation.
I live and work in the recently restored historic Bushwick Labor Union Building. My studio connects to my apartment, and the large building rooftop provides scenic vistas where I have more space to create.
As for work, many diligent tasks go into running a small art business with all the ups and downs, marketing, scheduling photo shoots, doing paperwork, reaching out to establish relationships, following up to cultivate connections, applying for grants, updating protecting artwork rights, preparing performances and exhibitions with printers and curators all the while nourishing the creative process for new work.
Regular bike riding, seasonal swimming and an occasion ski trip are my invigorating hobbies, while doodling, reading and enjoying my cat, Shebah provide relaxation at home.
At the moment I feel grateful and look forward to more interface with the public at the end of the Pandemic.
How did you get started in light painting?
It was in the dark of night that I started dancing with small light bulbs on the banks of the River Seine in Paris when I discovered that my movements, using long exposure photography, drew out observable symbols. The light traces emanating from my body of light felt like strings for me to hold onto during life’s challenges.
As early as 1993, I performed in the Palais de Tokyo Photography Museum, where I used a medium format film camera with a Polaroid back for perhaps one of the first light painting booths using cut out stencils for comic-strip onomatopoeia bubbles; like “Pfff!”or “Ahhhh!”.
What do you like most about lightpainting? And least?
The first time I found myself in front of an ‘open-flash’ long exposure photograph, I was perplexed with the inevitable question, ‘How was that done?’ The way light painting stems from movement through time and space allowing me to evolve within the real world as I express a seemingly unreal one, feels magical. It’s surprising how technical it can be to express something almost dreamlike or abstract in appearance, but, I like the technical challenge just as much as the artistic one.
The carbon imprint from using cameras, flashlights, batteries, tablets, smart phones, social media and other linked technologies is what I like the least about light painting
What has been your biggest photographic challenge or the photo which was hardest for you to achieve?
Pre-digital light painting was definitely more challenging, with lots of note taking in between trials and errors, when I had to wait hours or days to see the outcome before trying again. A good thing about working with analog, is the ability to change the F-stop while the shutter remains open, avoiding blown-out colors.
Using digital cameras for the Tree of Life realized during la Ligue Francophone de Light Painting’s Les Journées Photoniques was quite a personal feat in marrying the technical aspects with the artistic ones on such a large scale, but so much is possible with the solidarity and great skills of colleagues.
What I’m noticing about light painting in the digital era, is that with some technical aspects made easier it enables other new techniques to further light painting with more complex works, combining lens swap, capping, camera rotation, and ND filters.
We love your “Gardenscapes” . How did you come up with that idea?
When I lived in the French countryside, gardening was a great source of joy and food, but now living in a very urban New York environment with my only usable outdoor space a large rooftop, I had the thought of carrying plants, dirt and water up 4 flights but that was discouraging until the creative solution of a light garden sprung up in the soil of my mind.
As the seasons changed, I transformed the same rooftop into different gardens, from summery water lilies, to snowy bamboo forests, and to wind blown sand dunes. The skyline setting added to the series of Gardenscapes being described as oases of calm during pandemic confinement.
What equipment do you tend to use?
Olympus cameras, lightweight tripods, tablet or smartphone as remote, Nitecore SRT7GT, Ledlenser M18, keychain LEDs, light diffusers like fiber, plexiglass, plastic bottles and toys are my go-to light painting tools. Some of my favorites light painting tools come from Light Painting Paradise.
I use a sewing machine for making costumes made of fabrics that reflect, diffuse or glow with ultraviolet light. A powerful black light projector helps me for my UV body painting and stop motion choreographies.
Which photographers, light painters and / or other artists have influenced you?
When I started light painting I didn’t know any other doing the same.
Later, I appreciated photographers that did early light painting like Jon Mili, Man Ray and Barbara Morgan. Man Ray’s space drawing done within a frame is compositional, but Barbara Morgan’s light painting inspired by Martha Graham’s dance movements really appealed to me as I added my experience and passion for dance to my light painting.
Famous dancers like Isadora Duncan, born in 1877 in San Francisco, is one of my favorite artists for her free spirit, improvisational, barefoot dancing. Also, I have been inspired by the fluidity and grace of Nadia Gamal, an Egyptian cabaret belly dancer, seen in 1950s Hollywood musicals.
The French artist couple, Pierre and Gilles wow me with their portrayal of icons, both living and mythological, especially the stunning way they combine photography and painting, daring kitsch, bright colors and surreal settings.
What, or with whom, would you like to shoot?
I shot my Velvet Warrior print series over several years in different locations because so many strong combative women figures are missing in the canon of world heroes. Currently, I’m shooting a series of contemporary artists portraits, because I believe living artists play an important role in expressing feelings of the day while birthing ideas for tomorrow.
Often, I am inspired by exceptional talent, like the brilliant fashion designer Threeasfour, I can even imagine myself creating a powerful key image with their exquisite new LED dresses.
As a dancer and film maker, I would enjoy the challenge of translating a song into a light filled music video, using stop motion animation for musicians like Deluxe or Bjork.
Where would you most like to be able to do a light painting session?
Presently, I would like to do a light painting session in a New York City museum or Public Park to both build the light painting community and to shine a light on the vitality of art and public places. Right now, I have my eye on the Vessel in Manhattan, but it’s complicated because it’s private and one needs permission.
Can you tell us any funny stories which have happened whilst you have been light painting?
One story that happened with my colleague Audrey Poms, that we are still laughing about, is when we were demonstrating in front of an audience how to light paint with steel wool and small fireworks; I was standing in front of her as her model, while she lit sparks that flew behind and around me, when all of sudden a burning piece landed on me, I ran for safety to general hilarity and amazement. Luckily, the picture was successful and I got away with a fond memory and a hole in my jacket that I still wear.
What advice would you give to new light painters?
Learn the technical rules of long exposure and light painting photography, only to break them in search of your own style. Don’t be too critical of yourself, we all start at the beginning and learn by doing and sharing.