Light Art Performance Photography (aka LAPP-PRO) are a Bremen-based duo – Jan Leonardo Wöllert and Jörg Miedza - who specialise in performance photography, often accompanied by music, that creates visually striking work that can best be described as ‘Light Sculpture’. Nick Wilcox-Brown spoke to them to discover how they work and how their striking images are created.
Jörg Miedza and Jan Leonardo Wöllert have been working together since the autumn of 2007, although both have photographic connections going back many years. Jan Leonardo came up with the basic concept of Light Art Performance Photography (LAPP) when he was accidentally trapped overnight in an old industrial complex in Bremen in the summer of 2007. He amused himself by making shapes and patterns with some LED lamps, quickly realising that he had discovered a new way of creating photographs.
Descended from light drawing, the basis of their work is long time exposures, with moving light sources used to create luminous light sculptures that are captured in photographs.
Many LAPP compositions consist of up to 20 single steps between the opening and closure of the shutter. This requires that - apart from imagination, fantasy and creativity - the performer must have body control to achieve the exact pace of synchronised steps with the handling and distribution of lights. It is very much a performance that must, in many cases, be rehearsed before the images are shot for real.
Much of Jan Leonardo and Jörg’s inspirations come from sci-fi films and historical events, but some also come from everyday events that translate well into the fantasy world of light and time.
All of LAPP’s images were originally captured on the 12.8 megapixel EOS 5D DSLR but the recent acquisition of a 21.1 megapixel EOS 5D Mark II has upped the resolution, allowing enormous prints to be made. Their Canon cameras are valued for their ability to capture the exposures with little or no visible noise to degrade the image.
For each picture, the camera is mounted on very solid tripod with a remote control to trigger exposures that often go beyond 60 minutes. Jan Leonardo has many of the creative ideas while Jörg is very technical and enjoys working out how to achieve effects. None of the images are manipulated in any way using computers. “All the effects are real,” says Jörg.
The vivid colours and light effects are created with a range of different sources, including fireworks, lightsticks, flash and specifically developed luminous tools. It is no accident that one of the sponsors of LAPP is LED Lenser, a company best known for its range of quality hand-held LED torches and other lighting products. LED Lenser not only provides sponsorship by providing products for use in LAPP’s work, it also provides the expertise to build custom light sources for specific projects.
LAPP’s work is executed in such a professional and disciplined manner that it’s a shock to discover that neither of them are full-time photographers. Jan Leonardo is actually a PA and Jörg is an office-based worker.
Jan Leonardo has plenty of photographic experience, originally working in photographic studios and subsequently spending “two hard years” perfecting his low light and night photography skills. “I made 5,000 images in two years, working late at night until I was happy with my work,” he explains.
The pair have worked in locations as diverse as frozen landscapes in their native Germany to warehouses in China. They have been approached on numerous occasions to do commercial projects, but they value the fact that this is still a leisure occupation for them, albeit one that is both demanding creatively and in time. They do accept some commercial projects but they have the luxury of being able to pick the ones that appeal to them creatively.
One of these resulted in the image ‘E.E.L.S - keep an eye on science’. E.E.L.S. is the abbreviation for ‘Electron Energy Loss Spectrometer’. The lab at the University of Bremen specialises in material testing of metals, alloys and ceramics. The image was visualised and then created using various illumination techniques: electro luminescence strips indicate the scientist’s glance and the yellow light sphere illustrates circling electrodes - it was produced using a rotating plain lamp. The result is a clever combination of science and art, created in the semi-darkness of the lab.
Most of the LAPP images are created at night. Jan Leonardo says that the best time for them is the early hours of the morning, when there are few people around to disturb them or to create unwanted light.
Typically they will plan an image or a sequence for several weeks in advance of the shooting date. Locations are carefully scouted and the actual shoot is mapped out in great detail in a storybook containing all of the location information for the shoot. Effectively this is a manual for a particular image, listing all of the lights and tools that will be needed together with a detailed score of the performance.
Besides the lights, colours and performance, the visible landscape or environment is of an importance that cannot be underestimated. Locations are not always easy to find and the interaction between background and moving lights with their sometimes strange appearance of hard light, are essential to create the desired atmosphere and effect of the light art performance.
Despite all the planning Jan Leonardo says: “Some elements only come together when we are together on the set and much can be added spontaneously during the performance.”
The photographs have to be carefully executed and sometimes this can attract attention. One particular image is titled ‘TwicePolice’ - apparently two separate groups of policemen appeared during the shoot to check the strange lights that had been spotted near some office buildings. A quick explanation and a look at the camera’s rear screen soon convinced them of the innocence of the performance and the creativity that was at work.
LAPP has worked extensively with several bands in their short history. The images lend themselves to musical accompaniment and different types of image need different music styles to accompany them. Sometimes they create images to fit specific music or they come to an arrangement to fit music with their own work. Their website lists some of these bands and the diversity is interesting: Covenant from Sweden, Digital Gunfire and assemblage 23 from USA and Chilltopia from Germany. Much of the music is best described as industrial or electro-pop.
In their short time, the pair have produced their own, limited edition book and also collaborated with other image creators to produce another, ‘Tangible: High Touch Visuals’. Although the LAPP operation is, astonishingly, still under two years old the dynamic duo have many more ideas for future photographs – so, watch this space…
EOS 5D Mark II
EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
Canon TC-80N3 remote release
Canon Speedlite 580EX flashgun
Assorted LED LENSER light sources, some custom made
Electro luminescence strips
‘Lightman’ suit with battery powered light chains
Biography: Jan Leonardo Wöllert & Jörg Miedza
Between 2003 and 2004 Jan Leonardo Wöllert (above, left) experimented in night photography with Canon IXUS and Leica R3 cameras and worked as an assistant at Meyer-Bergfeld Photograph in Oldenbrug, Germany. His experiments continued with a Canon EOS 20D and then the Canon EOS 5D. In 1996 Jörg Miedza (above, right) began working with time exposures at night on an analogue SLR. In the late 1990s he started working with digital images and moving images. In autumn 2007 Jörg started working with Jan on the LAPP-Project.