We could all learn something from Jukka Laine. Eight years ago Jukka was working for a company creating lighting design for the city. It was at that time he started to feel the need to do something more meaningful with his time, eventually the Valopaja Light Painting workshops for the mentally and physically challenged was born, here is how it happened…
LPP ∇ Can you tell me a little about your background and how you started working with light?
JL ∇ About eight years ago I was working in a company that designed lightings to city areas; parks, streets, buildings etc. I wanted also do some voluntary work and in 2006 I started as a volunteer friend for a mentally disabled man (I´m still meeting him once in a month). After one year of voluntary work I started to do a part-time job in a club for mentally disabled people. And then in another club, and in another club… It was much more fun than work in the office from nine to five so in 2008 I made a huge change and quit my job and went to work as a social worker (assistant in schools etc).
LPP ∇ So the Valopaja light painting workshops were born out of this change in your life?
JL ∇ While I was working one day I got this idea of what mentally disabled people would think of making shadows with lights. The first evening was a success, some of the participants said that it was incredible. In that time, five years ago, I didn´t have light painting including the workshops. Only shadow installations with LED´s, wire and glass. I started to arrange light workshops for mentally disabled people and got very good feedback.
LPP ∇ How did the light painting come into the workshops?
JL ∇ At that time I had a pocket camera and by a mistake I found that it´s possible to do light paintings with it (15 seconds exposure). This was a huge step for my light workshops that I started to call Valopaja. Valo is finnish and means light and paja means workshop. With this new possibility to make light paintings I expanded my working area and arranged workshops for people with adhd, CP, visual impairment, hearing loss, memory illness, autistism etc. But I also arranged workshops for normal children and adults.
LPP ∇ What were some of the first light paintings that you created and what was the reaction from the people involved?
JL ∇ A few years ago I worked as a personal assistant for a man with a wheelchair. One day I had an idea: “You have a wheelchair and I have LED´s , let´s put them together”. In the next evening we attached the lights to the wheelchair and went outside to do some light paintings. He really liked it and told that he has now a wheelchair 2.0. It was very cool even without Light Painting. After that I did a wheelchair light paintings with disabled people but also with older people. One elderly man said that he has had his wheelchair for 20 years but now it´s really useful.
LPP ∇ What are some of the greatest benefits that the participants get out of your light painting workshops?
JL ∇ It´s about doing group work with other people, more important than the final image is the thing that people do during the photo shoot. In the dark room it´s also easier to get people to talk and tell some stories with a help from the shadows on the wall. It´s like watching clouds and imagining what they look like.
Light painted portraits are also a great way to make disabled people visible. I mean that they are usually categorised as B-class people but especially light painted portraits make them visible and in every workshop I have a projector to project portraits on the wall.
LPP ∇ What are some of your challenges?
JL ∇ Working with mentally challenged or autistic people who don´t understand how a shadow or light trail is done can be difficult. Some of the participants lack the motor skills to create a light painting themselves but for that we get creative and will attach light sources to their wheelchairs so they can still be a part of the light painting process.
LPP ∇ How did light painting photographers Janne Parviainen and Hannu Huhtamo get involved in your project?
JL ∇ In 2010 I was surfing in Flickr.com and found pictures of light painted skeletons. Those were light painted in Helsinki so I send message to Janne Parviainen. He was excited about my workshops and told that we should do collaboration with his friend Hannu Huhtamo. Since then we have had workshops in some big events in Helsinki.
We have this real-time light painting software and besides making shows we give people a chance to try real-time light painting. There´s one video where mentally disabled people dance with lights in their hands.
LPP ∇ Are you planning on expanding the workshops?
JL ∇ Yes, the next step is to teach light art to those young adults who are homeless and having problems with drugs. Next autumn I will also have a light art course in University of Helsinki
LPP ∇ The work you are doing is awesome and inspiring I hope that other light painters will try to do something similar in their own communities and continue to spread the light!