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Troy Paiva

Issue 50 Aug / Sep 2009

Sharon Stammers caught up with the cult photographer at a recent Fagerhult UK seminar.

I came across the photographer Troy Paiva in the most tenuous of links. My mum had cut out a photo in a magazine of an abandoned garage lit in an eerie blue filmic light. There was something not quite right about it. It said it was inspired by cult photographer Troy Paiva. ‘Interesting,’ I thought and hit the Google button. So I came across Troy’s work without even seeing one of his own photographs. I thought that he must be a cult figure to permeate the world of photography like that and stored away the info for another day.

Then the opportunity to ask him over to London for a talk occurred. As part of their Masters of Light seminar season Fagerhult were approaching various cult figures in lighting to come and speak. The season examines the mastery of different types of lighting practioners and the medium they work in. Here was a chance to contact some very cool people and persuade these ‘Masters of Light’ who inform and inspire our work to come in person. So this is what happened; Tadao Ando was un-contactable, Ingo Maurer said yes but not until 2010 or 2011, Max Keller said yes but he would only speak in German. Troy Paiva was up for the chance to dust off his passport and try out his photography style in the UK.

The talk was held on June 4th and centred on his vast body of work and the development of his light painting techniques. He describes himself as someone who has explored the deserted back roads of the American Southwest, since the 1970s, starting in 1989 to document “the abandoned underbelly of America” by the light of the full moon. After years of development and perfecting his technique, Troy’s work is now created using a method he calls ‘light painting’, perfect for capturing the atmosphere and mystery of the modern ghost towns and eerie junkyards he was already exploring. The coloured lighting in the photographs is achieved using a flashlight or strobe flash covered with theatrical lighting gels. Troy emphasises that the lighting effects are all done during the exposure and the images do not get altered in Photoshop.

“Its effect reanimates these dead places, turning them into mutant tableaus of some vaguely familiar parallel universe. The minutes-long exposures allow the stars to spiral around Polaris and the moving clouds to smear ethereally across the sky. Many of these subjects are already gone; bulldozed, burned down, subdivided, melted for scrap or simply vanished beneath the shifting desert sand.”

In addition to countless appearances in print, online and in galleries, Troy has published two books and regularly holds workshops that people wait years to get on. Not only a cult hero in the pioneer of night photography, Troy is seen as one of the forerunners in the subculture of Urban Exploration; trespassing in abandoned factories, decommissioned military bases and other derelict industrial landscapes. Check out his website for a complete guide to Light Painting and lots of top tips for safe Urban Exploration.

His low cost but high impact lighting techniques have been adopted by amateur and professional photographers all over the world which is what has made him a cult figure in photography and indeed a master of light.


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