The best art sneaks in through the side door. It dances on the fringes of your vision and then plays on your mind before settling somewhere deeper within. We must confess we’ve been sneaking the art of Jan Leonardo Wollert into your subconscious for months. (Flip through our Facebook photos if you don’t believe us.) We use Jan Leonardo‘s remarkable “Light Art“ images to bring our product photos to life. We were privileged to hang out with him in Berlin last September. There, we resolved to interview him about his craft—here is the transcript of that conversation.
Did you grow up in an artistic household? Have you always been a photographer or did you begin your artistic life doing something else?
I’m an autodidact—I learned all by myself. I never read a book about photography or painting. My parents are creatives but not artists. I grew up in Worpswede, a little but known artist village near Bremen. I’ve always been very creative but in my youth I used my creativity to make mischief. My whole life I’ve always just made what I thought was fun. I think that’s one reason why I had success.
What was your first experience creating “Light Art” and how did it develop to become your signature style/medium?
In May 2007, I took photographs in a morbid old warehouse in the port of Bremen. After a few hours inside the building, I wanted to go home but the door was closed and I was trapped overnight in this warehouse. I had to pass the time so I started to play with some special LED Lenser torches with an acrylic stick on the top. I backlit some steel joists und forgot to switch off camera. For replacing the light, I walked around with the torch in my hand. When I came back to my camera, I saw something amazing. The acrylic stick of my torch left a white glowing light banner on the camera sensor. I thought it was unbelievable and I suddenly had many crazy pictures in my head.
In a general sense, what are you trying to achieve when you create these works of art?
I have so many pictures in my head that are crazy, sometimes even obstructively. If I plan a new set of photographs, at first I look inside and think about what I want to do. I never start without a picture in my head—only if I know where I will go can I plan something. Often I’m inspired by movies. I like science fiction.
As a non-photographer, I love your work for its beauty, its mystery and the feeling it creates inside me. I would guess our photographer friends want to know more about your techniques, though, so tell us what equipment you use and what tricks you use to achieve the images we see.
For basics, I use Sony a7R & a7R II cameras with Carl Zeiss lenses and stabile Manfrotto Tripods and many torches from LED Lenser. In principle, I work with long time exposures during one shutter speed. My results are no level works or solutions of Photoshop. I have many secrets but mostly the light tools are very simple. Often, people stand in front of my photographs and wonder how I did it—I don’t want to disenchant my pictures. I often work with a performance stick, to which I attach torches at the end.
What role does technology play in your work? How does it enable you to bring your creations to life?
Technology is important for my art. In some pictures, I worked with Lenovo devices in the front of the lens. I love to create photographs with the color of the screens from Lenovo tablets and smartphones. It’s amazing to capture the brilliance and motion of a screen. My Lenovo Horizon touch PC (now known as YOGA Home) is the largest, most effective and most beautiful colored pencil I've ever had. My art does not depend on technology, but expands its capability.
Tell us about the locations you’ve visited to create your pieces. What was the coolest and/or strangest place you went? Where have you not been yet that you dream of going?
Woow that’s a good question. In the last 9 years, I have been in so many wonderful old buildings and amazing places all over the world. One of these places was 3820m up on top of the little Matterhorn in Switzerland. It was strange, amazing and cool. I worked there 4 nights. We drove with a snow buggy, we slept in the mountain station and climbed in a crevasse. Another wonderful place was Detian Falls in China. During the LED Lenser China Adventure Tour in 2010, I stayed at the Chinese-Vietnamese border for 4 nights and did photographs in the falls. I dream of going to Greenland and photograph the eternal ice with the wonderful aurora borealis or go to the Great Wall of China. In the future I will continue to look for old, lost, pristine places.
Be sure to check out more of Jan Leonardo’s light art on his website or in his Flickr collection. You can also connect with him and say hi on Twitter. Jan Leonardo is a member of Lenovo INsiders--find out more about it here.
Gavin O’Hara is Lenovo’s Brand Newsroom Lead.