Maria Saggese: “Photography reflects ourselves and who we are.”

Maria Saggese is a professional photographer from Roma, Italy, specialized in the Light Painting technique. Since 2014 Maria is an Ambassador of the Light Painting Brushes brand. Also she holds courses and workshops throughout Italy with the aim of making known this artistic technique more popular.

How did you come to light painting?

From an early age I had a propensity for art, I loved drawing and for this reason I attended the Art Institute. During those years I started studying photography and realized that this was the path I wanted to take. So immediately after graduating I enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples where I was able to continue my artistic career. My interest in photography was born during my studies.

Then I attended the Academy of Fine Arts, got more creative approach to the photographic medium and started experimenting with various artistic techniques and “breaking” the rules of composition. One day, by chance, I was asked to create a project with the theme of light for an exam. I searched Google for keywords like “photography”, “light”, “creative technique” and the term “Light Painting” came up. I was immediately fascinated by the examples I saw and decided to try!

I found a small white LED with which I began to experiment. The first time I did Light Painting I was closed for 3 hours in my room, I couldn’t believe I could make visible what I imagined, it was something truly magical. So I decided to tell a fantastic story about a little man named “LightMan”. The protagonist of my story, just like me, had to face obstacles with tenacity and stubbornness to reach his goal and find his inner “light”. When I told the story on the exam, everyone was amazed by the technique! From that moment I understood that if I could tell that story so effectively I could tell anything with light.

As I know, since 2014 you are Ambassador of the Light Painting Brushes brand. Can you tell us more about this brand?

Yes, I started using the light painting brushes system in 2013 when I discovered that there were professional tools for light painting. There were all kinds, from optical fibers to light swords of different colors. So I decided to start my career as a light painter and to do so I had to use professional tools through which I could evolve my technique. The founder and creator of the brand is the artist Jason D. Page and his idea was to simplify the work of light painters with an easy system allowing photographers to universally connect literally millions of light emitting devices to a limitless array of light modifying devices. The Light Painting Brushes system allows lights and light modifiers to be interchanged quickly and easily during a single exposure making the use of many different colors, shapes and textures of light simple. The Universal Connector is the key that unlocks the Light Painting Brushes system to use any of our Light Painting Brushes light modifiers! The Universal Connector makes limitless light painting tools easy, affordable, and interchangeable.

A year later, in 2014 Jason asked me to become one of the ambassadors along with other artists and I was truly honored. Jason and light painting brushes supported me a lot and believed in my work from the very beginning and was very important for my artistic career.

Do you only use their equipment in your shots?

From the beginning I have used a lot the fiber optics, which represents my style and my way of doing light painting. Currently I only use light painting brushes, but often during my photoshoots I simply use a flashlight and some coloured gels for my portraits, with the off-camera light painting technique that I love very much, in which the flashlight is used only to illuminate a part of the scene. My style is always very clean and minimal, in which the subject and the light are the protagonists.

How do you generate ideas for new images? Can you imagine the result at the beginning?

Before each job I often imagine the result and how I would like to make my shots, and then I start thinking about the tools and what I would need to get exactly what I have in mind. The magic of light painting is that we can create everything we have in mind through light, there are no limits!

Before each photoshoot I already have clear ideas about the shots I want to take as I do an in-depth research on the theme I want to represent. I take inspiration from websites, social media, Pinterest etc. to create my “moodboard”. Then when I start shooting many other ideas come out and I often start to upset the initial concept and create completely different images which I hadn’t thought of before. Creativity and new ideas often arise during my work and I start experimenting without stopping for several hours to get to the final work.

Do you dare to edit your images or do you prefer to draw everything in one shot without processing?

Unlike what many people think, light painting images do not require post production. The artist’s skill lies in creating a good image during the long exposure and not in post production! In fact, they often ask me “nice this effect, did you get it in photoshop?”. No, it’s all real, the effects are the result of moving light sources in the dark during a single long exposure shot, no more shots are stitched together.

I process my raw files using Adobe Lightroom where I work on basic adjustments such as white balance, exposure, contrast… and then Adobe Photoshop for the details and for the skin and imperfections ofportraits. Light painting requires a lot of creativity, because in a single shot you can create unique and magical effects that even Photoshop cannot recreate.

 I remember a few years ago you had two projects: Evanescences and Silhouettes. What were their concepts? What was the difference between them?

Yes exactly, they are still two of the projects that I particularly love, together with the portraits that I am making in this period. Evanescences is a photographic series from the idea of ​​making the “invisible” visible through light and creating almost surreal shapes where the body blends with fabrics, seeming almost transparent. In this project I use a “double exposure” technique in which the subject covered by a fabric is illuminated first and then without, so as to overlap the two levels. The subjects remain still, suspended, in a dimension without time and space. Photography immortalizes stories through light: bodies, gestures, postures that tell emotions, feelings kept deep inside. Photography digs, captures and shows the eyes an invisible, evanescent and immaterial reality.

The silhouettes is another project in which the human figure is not visible but remains in the dark, enveloped and caressed by the light. Bodies wrapped in light, in a dance of lights, shadows, and colors. The difference between them is that in the first project the light is used to illuminate the human figure and create a play of transparencies, in the second the light becomes a trail that envelops the subject without ever making it visible.

Now I see two other projects: for Huawei and TEDx Padova. How did you find these projects? (or did they find you?) What was the assignment?

Over the years I have worked on several projects. A few years ago I started using the “light painting” mode of huawei P8 and I enjoyed it a lot, I realized that the photographic medium is not important but the creativity is. So one day Huawei was looking for content creators and I was contacted to start a collaboration that lasted about a year. I started using the Huawei p10 plus for my light painting works, creating photos and videos especially for their social media, sharing the works on the web and making known the potential of the light painting mode. I was one of the Huawei talents and I made some images used as screensavers for all honor and Huawei devices. It was a really great collaboration and I also attended some of their big events.

For TEDx I was contacted by an agency a few years ago that was working on the project and theme of“Hybrid, infinite limit” and I was asked to develop the concept of the advertising campaign with light painting images! It was really an honor for me to be able to go to the city of Padua where Imade the images for the campaign and with the help of a nice team we were able to create a fantastic work. I was a guest of the event where I was able to admire all my images on monitors, prints, even on brochures and billboards in the city! It was a great satisfaction for me.

What kind of work is preferable for you: creating images for someone or for yourself?

They are certainly two different types of jobs. Work for myself, on personal projects on which I can have full creative freedom. While, often when you work for someone else there are rules to respect, deadlines, very specific concepts to work on, but I was able to develop the projects always with my style and my ideas. I think it’s extremely important for an artist to have his own style in any work he does, both personal and commercial.

You have held many courses and workshops in Italy. How many people have you taught the light painting technique?

I started with the idea of ​​creating workshops as early as the end of 2014, I realized that light painting in Italy was not very known and my goal has always been to spread and make known its creative potential. I remember that in the first workshop I did in 2014-2015 only two students participated! But I was happy anyway and I continued collaborating with festivals, private schools and public schools, I took lessons in a high school, in a university, at the academy of fine arts in Milan together with my friend, teacher and Light designer Liliana Iadeluca and it was truly a splendid experience. One of the best workshops was a few months ago, immediately after the lockdown, in July. I was afraid of having few members, but instead there was a sold out! There were more than 20  students and I was very happy! There was a great desire to start over and be positive, meeting new people despite the restrictions and safety measures during covid-19.

During the lockdown period not being able to do live lessons, I started giving private online lessons through the zoom platform. I never thought I could do it, instead it was fantastic to be able to teach and meet students from all over the world as well as from USA, India, North of Italy… I realized that we must always find a new path and be positive, even in the most difficult moments. It is also nice for me to see that so many of my students are passionate about light painting and continue to experiment on their own, some of them have become great light painters! And with some of them we have kept in touch and we are friends now!

 You say it is difficult to create light painting images because it is difficult to find information. But is there a chance that one day many people will know this technique and consequently light painting will lose its magical effect?

I am convinced that its magical effect will not fade, even if many people will begin to experiment it because each image is always different from the others, copies are never created, it is impossible! It’s like creating a painting: each artist has their own painting style, uses the brush and techniques in a different way! I think the same thing about light painting: everyone can create their own style and everyone can apply it to different genres. Abstract works can be created, applied to still life, portraits, night photography, fashion, macro photography, commercial photography, self-portraits… there are no limits. Each brush also creates a different effect, and each light source is different. This is why every artist will find his own unique way of doing light painting.

Do you only work in the light painting genre?

I actually started by photographing landscapes of my hometown. Then I started experimenting with creative techniques, including light painting. Over the years I have studied fashion photography and commercial photography. For some years I have been a freelance photographer and I work as a full-time photographer, both for private photo shoots, and for photos for agencies and Brands. I also do other photographic genres, such as portraits, lifestyle, food and interior photography.

What is really important in photography for you?

Sensitivity is very important for me in photography. Sensitivity to light, composition, ideas, concept… sensitivity and the eye are essential in my opinion to create a good photograph. I think sensitivity is within us, photography and all the rules of composition can be studied, but sensitivity cannot be learned. And it’s really important to create an interesting and good image, to tell stories, our story. Photography reflects ourselves and who we are.

Can you tell us about your favorite tricks?

I don’t have any “tricks”.. I experiment a lot and never stop, curiosity has allowed me to do light painting every time as the first time with enthusiasm. My favorite “trick” is that of double exposure, every time I show this technique during a lesson everyone says “wow! This is brilliant, it’s pure magic! “

I think there are some photographers who inspire you. Can you tell us about these people?

The first artist who inspired me who brought light painting into fashion photography for the first time was Patrick Rochon, with whom I had the pleasure and honor of having a lesson and he was a great inspiration for me. One of the photographers and masters who inspire me is the Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi. He is the master of light, he has a unique and unmistakable style and portrays the fragility and beauty of his women with the use of the torch with light painting. A few years ago I visited his exhibition in Milano and had the honor of meeting him and the thing that amazed me most was his humanity, his great sensitivity and humility.

 What was the most brilliant exhibition or contest of your life?

The most important competition for me was perhaps the first one I participated in, the “Leica talent” competition and I decided to participate just for fun. Then I received an email, in which I was informed that I had reached the semifinals and had been chosen from among thousands of projects in competition. At that moment I realized that maybe I could believe in what I was doing and continue on that path. I decided that I wanted to become a photographer! Then I didn’t win that contest, but it gave me the push to believe in myself and my work.

 Do you have any other jobs outside of light painting photography?

At the moment I am dedicating myself to my light painting projects but I continue to work in the field of photography. During this period I had to take a break from work and I had to start a remote part-time job, not being able to travel and with all the covid-19 restrictions. I hope I can start again soon with new works! I am positive and I can’t wait to work on new amazing projects 🙂

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