Color the sky with Cindi & Austin

Color the sky with Cindi & Austin

By Arden de Raaij

Somewhere in the dark midst of North Carolina (Stanly County to be exact) strange lights are known to appear. Hovering orbs, twirls and trails color the sky on a regular basis. The locals talk about ‘el extraterrestre’ or area 41. Since the lights have been appearing two years ago, no-one still knows what is going on. But now we know better! These amazing creations are from a young man named Austin and his mother Cindi. Cindi got into photography 20 years ago, but didn’t have any time left for taking pictures when she had kids. Her son Austin picked up the camera 3 years ago, got into light painting photography and dragged his mother into it as well. Since then they’re like a super-hero family with light painting powers. They’re constantly reinventing their selves and never cease to amaze.

Austin, we know you introduced your mother into the world of light painting. How did you get into light painting yourself?
I believe it was back in 2005 which was when I got my first camera. I would say it was then I first started getting involved with light painting. I didn’t really know what it was called but I had friends who knew some rave moves with glow sticks and I brought my camera out and placed it on 16 second exposure being it had no bulb mode. I was impressed with what I saw, yet I didn’t think it had a name at the time. It wasn’t until a year ago though that I really got back into it.

How’s life in Stanly county, NC?
Cindi: Life in Stanly County is slower paced than in larger cities like Charlotte, which is 25 miles west of Stanly County. You can go out at night without fear of being attacked. Our county schools have good, caring teachers. There is always a neighbor to help you when you need some help. I think it’s a great place to live, but one thing I do not like is our county does not offer entertainment for our young people.

Austin: It’s peaceful and has some beautiful sights to see. Yet this isn’t the county for the young. There isn’t anything to do which is one reason I’ve grown closer to art and music when I was in my early teens. It’s a place you really have to dig to find a spot to light paint because everything is so lit up by the street lights.

What makes light painting so intriguing, so magical?
Cindi: I like the color of the lights and how they glow and light up the darkness. To me, it is magic when you move, twirl or spin a light and all the movements are captured by the camera. Austin has a way of making light orbs that make me think they should be in a fairy tale.

Austin: For me it’s the fluid motion and knowing that simple movements you make in every day life with a light flowing by your direction can create something phenomenal. I feel in the same way a light performance is much like a dance performance. I think that’s what is so magical about light painting.

Is the rest of the family supportive of your work?
Cindi: My daughter loves how our light painting pictures look, but has only helped us a time or two. My husband doesn’t care to get involved with the actual light painting, but he has made several of our light tools before.

Austin: My parents both are supportive of my work. My dad is the one who helps create a lot of the tools we do have. I feel that this is a way for me to get closer to the both of them. My sister and her boyfriend both think it is cool. My sister has gotten into photography recently and I would love to see her experiment more.

Do you ever get any weird looks when swinging blinking lights around in the middle of the night?
Cindi: We have had a couple of neighbors ask us what we were doing. We try not to swing too many lights around in view of some of them because some of them are senior citizens and I am afraid they wouldn’t know what was happening outside. When we go out in the county, people have stopped and stared. Last weekend, we had some giggly teen girls whispering and laughing while they watched us light paint. I am sure if we had asked them, they would have joined us.

Austin: All the time, I personally was the one who was a little more fearful we’d get arrested. Yet over time I’ve gotten comfortable going to odd locations. Most of our neighbors don’t even pay attention at this point because it’s become a normal occurrence.

In both of your photostreams on flickr we see a lot of different techniques, how do you keep reinventing yourselves?
Cindi: Both of us are constantly trying to think of something new. There are times when I see something on TV that sparks something in my mind. There was a photo on Flickr that I saw and decided to try adding part of one of the effects to one of our techniques. Well Austin saw the part we added and ran with it. Our newer light orbs were the result. So, you can look at something and it might spark an idea. Austin has always been creative. When he was younger he was always asking, What if you would do this or what if … We have also tried techniques that other people have used and tried to make them a little different, to make them our own. Tdub (Creator of the Light Junkies group on Flickr) has been a great help in showing us some different techniques. He is always trying something new. We have also been inspired by another Light Junkies member, TCB.

Austin: That is actually my favorite part of this all. My mom loves taking it all out to the scenes, but I love the joy of creating something no one has seen before. It isn’t hard though being this is still growing and there are things people haven’t tried before. I have been working on several ideas.

Do you see lightpainting as a form of art and photography, or just a ‘gimmick’?
Cindi: Yes I do. I believe it is photography at it’s best. We don’t simply stand behind the camera and take a picture of something- we create something and then take a picture of it.

Austin: I see light painting as a form of art and photography. I feel the fluid motion of it all is a performance. It is much like painting if you’re not swift and have some idea of what you’re going to do before hand then your light will look rigid.

We’ve just scratched the surface of light painting, and think it has a potential to grow big. Do you think it will grow bigger, or will it stay something for the hardcore light junkies?
Cindi: Well, last year there were just a few people that I knew of that were light painting, now there are a few thousand. I am getting messages from people on Flickr all the time that want to know how to light paint. I try to help them as much as I can. It’s easy to get started and the people in the Light Junkies group are always willing to help someone. I think it will continue to grow bigger as long as there are curious people that want to learn it.

Austin: I definitely think it will grow. I see in the future the use of much more powerful lights and tools. Light writing technology is still growing as well. I truly think as light painters we need to spend more time looking into entertainers as well as other artists and the movements and motions they make. The next big thing could be created from a break dancer and having a light attached to this foot while (s)he spins on their head. We just don’t know, just continue to experiment. Motorized technology is definitely on the way though.

Are there any toys you have on your wish lists? (lightsabers, death rays, etc.)
Cindi: I am always on the lookout for new light toys. I think I am a light toy junkie. My children are both college age and I still go through the toy isles to see what I can find. I like the lights that change color- I think they make the best light paintings.

Austin: Definitely I would say at the moment the LED Lensor X21 would be at the top. I am always on the look out for devices which could innovate light painting. I would love to be able to use fireworks, but in the area we live you can’t have them legally.

Do you have any specific goals with light painting? (having an exposition, lightpaint on the arctic, creating a new world order of light painters, etc)
Cindi: I think my goals are simple. I want to get more people trying it. I would love to have a local group of people that could go out together and light paint. I also want to improve on my light painting.

Austin: Well my mom has already sold a light painting photograph. I would love to be able to say the same myself. I would say my biggest goal would be to continue experimenting and coming up with something new. I would love to travel the world and be able to light paint in extreme locations but for now I will settle with little old North Carolina.

What can we expect from you in the future?
Cindi: I never know what we will come up with in the future. I believe the skies the limit. But be sure to look out for an old woman twirling light sabers in the air.

Austin: Just expect more pictures from me. I can’t say much more than that, I don’t want to give too much away ;-).