Olivier Faÿ

Olivier Faÿ

Olivier Faÿ 

My name is Olivier Fay. 

I was born in Paris in 1966 and have lived in this beautiful city for the last 30 years.  Nowadays I work part time as a physics and chemistry teacher in an agricultural school in the south of France, just outside Avignon. In my spare time I enjoy travelling, spending time with friends and climbing.

I have been a member of the French organisation “Ligue Francophone de Light Painting” since 2016.

How did you get started in light painting?

In January 1987 I had the opportunity to go down into the catacombs beneath Paris for the first time. I was fascinated by this fantastic underground world – it has a very varied and active environment as you move through the 300km of galleries and hidden rooms of these ancient quarries.  I loved all the graffiti and above all the layers of graffiti on top of each other which formed multi-coloured compositions.  I began to photograph these compositions (with film of course at that time) with direct flash.  Then I got a tripod and was able to start using candles, incandescent torches and indirect flash and realised that this allowed me to achieve very interesting visual effects.  

I was discovering a new way of photographing things and I loved the results. I was amazed at what could be achieved by playing with this technique and so I carried on experimenting – the catacombs became a kind of extraordinary laboratory for my experiments. At that time, the term “light painting”, as far as I know, didn’t really exist – instead people talked about “open flash” or “long exposure”.

Catacumbas de Paris - 1991

At first, I used to go down into the catacombs with friends, but over time they became bored.  I’m pretty sure if they had been able to see the photos I was creating they would have carried on coming with me!  Anyway, I carried on heading down there on my own and working on my technique – I burned through a lot of film before I got anything good.  I was using daylight balanced slides (5500K) which couldn’t handle high contrast levels so I learnt to be very careful when exposing my photos to ensure that the light was nicely balanced.  It was a hard way to learn but nowadays, with a digital camera, I still follow the same process of getting everything right in camera.  All my photos are taken in RAW and JPEG, but until now I have never needed to use the raw file – I only use the JPEG and hardly make any adjustments.

Often I would use my own body in order to create silhouettes

I took photos with analog cameras of various forms right up until 2010.

In 2016 I bought myself a good digital camera.  The truth is that digital cameras offer a great deal of creative flexibility – above all they allow you to explore techniques much more than analog cameras.

The same year I also joined up on social media.  I learnt a lot from seeing works from other lightpainters. 

I participated for the first time in the lightpaintingphotography competition with the theme being “writing with light”.  I put together the photo below, together with my other half Nicole, and had the great honour of winning!

What do you like most about light painting?

What I like most is the enormous creative potential of light painting.  Practically anything you can imagine can be achieved.

And what do you like least?

Creating an amazing photo which doesn’t “say” anything to the viewer

What photographers, light painters or other artists have influenced you?

For me, everything is a source of inspiration.  Everything that we see can inspire us as well as, of course, the work of other artists.  I like German Expressionism and japanese prints in particular.

In terms of light painting, I like the works of Pedro Javier aka “El niño de las luces”, Mabel Salgado, Iris Shyroii, Tim Gamble, Kim Von Coels, Hory Ma, Gareth Nathan, François Aenishanslin y Fella Malou, “Jadikan”, Janne Parviainen, Hannu Huhtamo, Michel Séméniako, Bruno Mesrine … artists that make me travel.

What would you say is your best shot, or the most difficult to achieve?

I would say that one of the best shots was something I made about a year ago with a film camera that I bought for 25 euros in a flea market.  A Zeiss-Ikon which uses 120 film and allows creating 6x9cm slides.  I was hoping to return to making light paintings using a film camera but the truth is it turned out to be a challenge.

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Firstly, it was practically impossible to focus precisely due to the tiny viewfinder on this camera. I ended up solving the problem by opening the back of the camera and putting in a piece of tracing paper.  Then I opened the shutter in bulb mode and at the widest aperture possible so I could see the image projected directly onto the paper and thus work out exactly what would be exposed onto the film.  In order to do this I had to emulate the photographers of years gone by and focus the camera whilst holding a black cloth over the camera and over my head in order to be able to see the image on the tracing paper.

Secondly, I was planning to use a kaleidoscope in order to create a star made of light. 

Thirdly I was planning to make this photo using three tripods so that meant I had to draw on the tracing paper to mark out the limits of each focus.

I had to prepare the three tripods in the daytime. Later, I put a roll of Kodak E100G film and, once night arrived, started illuminating the scene, being very careful to not knock the tripods. The idea was to put a luminous star in the middle of the composition and put a naked woman (Nicole) on one side and a naked man (me) on the other, using the same door frame for both figures. 

What three tools do you always bring with you?

I always tend to bring two maglights with me – a small one and a big one – that allow me to provide warm illumination.  I also bring along a “colder” flashlight such as a Klarus or a LedLenser (the classic Chinese flashlights also work…) whenever I need to illuminate big spaces and a selection of coloured filters.

On top of that, depending on the photo I want to create, I can bring various types of tools.  Sometimes I even create a tool specifically for a single photo.

Have you experienced any memorable or special moments whilst doing light painting?

In 1997 I went to Senegal and I was very impressed by the “baobab” – the incredible native trees.  I went out at night with some Senegalese guys to take a few photos.  Under the half-moon I took photo after photo and, in the middle of the night I felt a sensation of complete tranquillity and fullness.  Looking at the stars I had the impression that I could almost touch them with my hand as if I as being projected in the cosmos.  I started running like crazy through the jungle for no reason – I felt light and happy.  It might seem strange, but that is how it happened.  Some light painters talk about using light painting as a therapeutic technique – I’m pretty sure light painting releases positive energy.

Campement N’Guekhor – Abril 1997 – 1h 30min

How do you tend to develop your projects?

I tend to work on a single “theme”.  The very action of imposing a theme on myself forces me to think more about the images.  Whenever I find an interesting location in the daytime I make a small drawing to allow me to prepare the photo, and the tools and materials I will need to create it, in advance.  Later I visit the site at night to create the final photo.  I enjoy using multiple tripods to create my photos as it allows for a lot of creative possibilities.

For example, to create this photo

“On the doorstep” – 219 sec – 9 de diciembre 2018

I used two tripods and two manual focus lenses (a 14mm Samyang and a 24mm Nikon), a kaleidoscope and wire wool.  Of course, during the shoot, I had to change both focus and aperture, so manual lenses were a must.

The part of the tunnel where we used the wire wool (tripod No 1)
The star which we achieved using a kaleidoscope (Tripod No 2)

If you could only keep one photo, which would it be and why?

Oof.  That is a hard question…

Why this one?  The explanation is in the title of the photo.

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” S. Kubrick – 138 segundos – 3 Abril 2018

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” S. Kubrick – 138 sec – 3 Abril 2018

What advice would you give to new light painters?

I’d advise them to create the craziest photos they can, even if it seems impossible.  Light painting techniques allow us to create almost anything that we want to. There is always a path to achieve whatever photo we have in mind.  It can turn out to be difficult but, from my point of view, that is actually a benefit as the solution often opens the doors to new possibilities, doors that you might not have thought of otherwise…

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