Carla Isati Octama
It was pitch black on a quiet Saturday evening in the East Parking Lot of Plaza Senayan in South Jakarta, when suddenly an array of colorful lights began dancing in the night air. From a distance, the lights looked like fireflies, light sabers, maybe even aliens.
But on closer inspection, it became clear the light was emanating from glow sticks, being swirled around in the black sky by a group of young people.
It wasn’t a rave, it was members of the Jakarta-based community I ‘Light’ This (a play on the Facebook tool “I Like This”), a group brought together by their common love of light graffiti photography.
Light graffiti artists create bold, colorful works in dramatic strokes without leaving a mark. The light “paintings” are simply captured on camera at a long exposure, recording the trail of the glow sticks as they swipe through the air.
The group was founded in March 2009 by Syarief Maulana, better known as Mbuy, and his friend Adhe Novi Ali Umri. After discovering the possibilities of light graffiti photography one night, they were eager to share their newfound hobby with friends.
“In the beginning, we just tried light graffiti photography, then we made a small group on Facebook for our close friends. But it turned out that many more people responded [to the group], and from there we built the community we have today,” said Mbuy, a graduate of the design school Interstudi Jakarta.
The community holds fortnightly gatherings of about 50 people and, after almost three years, has attracted 6,602 members on Facebook. The gatherings are usually held in the East Parking Lot at Plaza Senayan.
One community member, Pradito Gumilang, or Dito, said that the parking lot was the perfect venue for practicing light graffiti.
“We used to gather at Taman Barito and Taman Ayodya, but it was too bright there,” he said. “Senayan is perfect because it is so dark.”
Dito joined the group a year ago, eager to learn how to create the magical-looking images. He started out as a “shooter,” the one who takes the photograph, before moving on to develop his skills as a “lighter,” someone who “paints” the picture with glow sticks.
“I only started trying my hand at being a lighter after shooting for six months,” he said. “The shooter only has to learn to use the timer on the camera. But lighters have their own challenges. It’s hard to be a lighter.”
Creating an image out of light, Dito said, requires a high level of imagination. The lighters can’t see the picture while they are drawing, so they need to have their work memorized to make sure that all the lines meet up in the right places.
At the fortnightly gatherings, members discuss their various techniques for creating clean, colorful works. The movement, speed and angle of the glow stick can affect whether the results are drawn in thick or thin lines, and how precise the created images are.
“The uniqueness of each piece comes from the technique, the way the shots are framed and how they turn out,” Mbuy said. “The results can be fairly quirky. Most viewers can quickly figure out how the shot was taken, but few can figure out the ‘painting technique.’ ”
Aside from glow sticks, other light sources can be used to create the images, including flashlights, matches, camera flashes or LED lights.
Most members of the group are male, but it also has a couple of female members. One of these, Cindy, is not worried about staying out with the group until the small hours of the morning, saying it’s like being part of a big family.
“I like being part of the community because it’s something different to do, and very cool,” she said, adding that the men in the group always looked out for the women at night.
Mbuy said that anyone interested in joining the community could just check the Facebook page and turn up at the next gathering. “There is no need to fill out a registration form or anything,” he said. “Just come along the next time we have a photo ‘hunting’ session. We are glad to take in anybody who wants to join.”
In addition to the gatherings, I ‘Light’ This also holds workshops and events for beginners. Their last public appearance was at the Jakarta Clothing Expo 2011. Mbuy hopes that interest in the community will grow across the capital. He also plans to hold an exhibition of the group’s work.
“So far, we have introduced light graffiti and our community to the public via social media, seminars and joining in events. Holding our own photo exhibition would be the next big step for us,” he said.