18 Apr Felicita Russo
LightPainting Paradise recently had the enormous pleasure of interviewing Felicita Russo, an Italian light painter who works with Polaroids and with a completely unique style that will blow you away.
We invite you to read the interview below to get to know her a little better and to enjoy her incredible work.
My name is Felicita Russo and I live in Italy, I’m 46 years old.
I was born in Naples and after graduating in Physics in my birthplace, in 2001 I moved to the USA where I took my PhD in Atmospheric Physics in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2007 I came back to Italy to work as a researcher, which is my current daytime job.
Photography has been my hobby since when I was 13, I started with landscape photography and shortly after that I started with astrophotography. Astronomy has been my great love for many many years.
During my early years in photography I learned the process of developing and printing in black and white, something I continued pursuing even when I moved to US. It was there that I first started experimenting with Polaroids. Unfortunately, when polaroid announced that they were ceasing to produce films I also had to put this passion aside.
How did you get started in light painting?
When I moved back to Italy in 2007 I got a job in Potenza, in the southern part of Italy. I did not know many people there and to fight the loneliness I started browsing the internet looking for interesting photographic projects to throw myself into. I came across a series of stop motion videos in which people were animating characters drawn with colored led lights and I was hooked. In between 2008 and 2009 I even started a very ambitious project of a short movie made with this technique, but for many reasons, including the start of a new job in the northern part of Italy, I never finished that. I have recently started thinking about picking it back up and who knows, it might be possible in the near future.
Obviously I started lightpainting with digital cameras, but I also resumed shooting polaroids, since in 2017 the Impossible project resumed the production of polaroid films. I came across the lightpainting mosaic work of Brian Matthew Hart and Chris Bauer, where they use square images as tiles and starting to think that their mosaic would look great in polaroids. This thought was the actual moment in which I started experimenting lightpainting with polaroids… I have not yet managed to make a lightpainting polaroid mosaic though.
How important is light painting to you? Is it a hobby, your primary job?
Besides being extremely fascinating as a photographic technique and a wonderful hobby, lightpainting has become very important in my life. It has forced me to look at light in so many different ways: it forced me to really understand how to mix colors, to carefully consider the nature of the surfaces in my subject, to explore textures and transparencies. Furthermore, the union of lightpainting and polaroid has changed completely my way of approaching photography: with digital you can try virtually indefinitely to get exactly the look you have in mind for you images; with polaroid discarding shots can easily become a very expensive habit that you learn to avoid. This means that you have to learn to let go of some not so satisfying parts of your image and learn to focus on the overall, to think more of the message than the perfection, to let go of some flaws in exchange with some magic, something unexpected that can happen in each image. And this new discovery of the relevance of imperfections and the importance of losing some control becomes a very interesting opportunity for growth on a personal and spiritual level. Oh and what about those butterflies that fill your stomach during that half hour that you have to wait for you image to fully develop? Ah, that to me is pure emotion.
What style of light painting are you known for? What sort of shots do you tend to create?
Even if I’m known mostly for my polaroid lightpainting, I also like to work with digital. In particular, in the last couple of years I’ve completed some lightpainting projects with my photography club Associazione Culturale Provediemozioni.it, that you can find on the website lightpaintingbologna.it. The work in digital that I like to perform is generally landscape.
My polaroid lightpainting work is something completely different. It involves using fiber optic brushes to selectively color parts of the image with the aid of EVA foam cutouts. I recently added transparencies hand painted with black acrylic paint to render features that are too thin to get properly cut on the foam. I’m continuously searching for new materials and shape combinations to evolve the look of my images.
What is your favourite light painting tool and why?
The black fiber optic brush is absolutely my favorite and the one I use the most. I find it the most versatile and decisive in producing different textures and shades. I started with the black fiber optics from lightpainting paradise, but now I have a few different kinds, some obtained by modifying the lightpainting paradise brushes, and some handmade from scratch for dedicated applications.
If you could only keep one photograph, which would it be and why?
This lightpainting was with the masking technique I just described and represents an adaptation of a famous De Chirico painting, “Enigma della partenza”, initially created in 1914
De Chirico was an Italian surrealist painter, considered one of the founders of the Metaphysical art movement. His works have always fascinated me and I wanted to try to convey the same feelings as the original painting but using the city of Bologna as canvas. I changed some of the components of the scene to adapt it to a different city and to explore a different kind of journey (the ship in the original painting is replaced by something coming from somewhere else in the Universe like a tripod from War of the Worlds). The structure of the original painting offered many possibilities of modifying slightly the message. But this is a perfect example of where I really would like to drive my lightpainting in the future, somewhere where the technique is not necessarily as important as the visual tale that is conveyed.
Can you tell us any funny stories which have happened whilst you have been light painting?
I do my polaroid work alone in my homemade studio, therefore I do not have funny anecdotes on that. But as I said at the beginning I collaborate with other people in doing some digital lightpainting and we have had many funny events related to those activities. There was one time, last summer, during one of the first outings for the project “Bologna: tales with a string of light”, where we were taking pictures in the amazing Basilica of San Petronio, in the historical centre of Bologna, one of the most amazing places we’ve had the luck to take pictures in. We where inside the Basilica in the dark and we just started to use our brand new set of walkie talkies to allow the person at the camera to talk to the person that was lightpainting, often separated by a distances of around 100 meters.
The Basilica is located on one side of a famous square where during the summer an open air cinema is set (probably one with more seats in the world). That night while we were in the Basilica, closed to the public, technicians were setting up a projection of a Fellini movie outside. The forecast was expecting rain so they were waiting to understand if they needed to cancel or go with the show.
Well, when it was the moment for us to start the picture my friend Viola said into the walkie “ok you can go, please confirm, over” and we heard a voice back in the walkie saying: “are you sure?”, and Viola: “yes I’m sure you can start now we’re rolling”, and the voice again, quite surprised: “are you sure we can start the movie now?”. A few minutes after that it just started raining and fortunately the guy asked the full question, he probably had the suspicion someone was accidentally connecting to their channel.
Have you got any forthcoming projects you are working on?
My photography is a continuous project; working with polaroids forces you to have a clear idea of what you want to do even before unpacking the film. My latest project is expanding, in terms of numbers and also in terms of concepts – the material I have prepared for a semi-personal exhibition in Bologna that is supposed to start on may 8th 2020. Probably it will be canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus lockdown, but even if it is I hope it will be possible to show it anyway, maybe somewhere else. The number of pictures I prepared was limited by the time and space available, but I still have ideas to add to that collection.
To look at as many pictures as they can and wonder “how did they do this?” and then to experiment freely. You never know what you can come across, maybe you have the idea to do something already done but in your unique and personal way. Maybe you will learn to do crazy stuff that at the beginning that does not make sense but with time they became tools or techniques to express what you really have inside, and this is going to be original by definition… do not be afraid to experiment and shy to show your work around, you never know.