Light painting photography with David Wilhelm

The elementary students at The School of Wonders have been on an educational journey since the first day of school. A simple conversation was overheard between two students about there being seven skies around us.

As we listened to their conversation grow, we began to understand that they were trying to make sense of the various layers of the atmosphere (for more information on “the seven skies” click here).

From this simple conversation, we as educators helped continue this investigation for the students. The students have journeyed from exploring the atmosphere, understanding the order and compositions of the planets, to even exploring the dynamics of outer space and other elements that appear in it.

During our yearly fall festival celebration the students were even asked to create costumes based on their favorite planet or space subject. In order to take it one step further we asked the students to see if they could describe what their planet or star would sound like. Deep analysis and various associations to temperature, speed, and size were taken into consideration while the students chose their music to accompany their costume. When it was time for the fall festival, we were absolutely blown away with what the students created. Driven by their own ideas, they created a visual and auditory experience based on a scientific subject that they were studying in class. We continued this musical association into another project where the students associated sounds to the seasons and used shadow play to show us what the music visually looked like.

They analyzed tonal changes in the music and applied movement with their bodies to show change.

Because this musical and artistic association proved to be such a rich experience for our students, we decided to pursue this form of association when we began preparing for their end of the year self-portrait study in art class.

We began this self-portrait study the first year that the elementary school started. Mrs. Marjon, the atelierista, believed that providing the students with a deep exploration of who they are, what they like, and why our differences should be celebrated was a valuable subject to explore in depth for the students let alone any artist. In the past, the self portrait curriculum has explored subjects such as understanding mood through color and tone and exploring symbolism in reference to loved ones, moments, and memories. This year we are excited to take the student’s lead for the subject of exploration. Since music has continued to be a vital form of association we decided to challenge them with the idea of creating a short clip of music with a guest musician that describes their personality. To accompany that piece of music, the students will have a chance to make their music visual once again. However, this time the students will be using light painting as a vehicle to make their music visual.

We were very excited when local photographer David Wilhelm offered to work with our students on this project. Initially when we discussed this project and the goals that we had for our students, David expressed how each student would benefit from understanding their body’s symmetry and being aware of their core in order to draw more effectively with light. As a team we immersed the students in symmetry through math, English, and art. In art class the students were introduced to artist Heather Hansen ( who uses her body in order to create beautifully symmetric pieces of art. After watching a video of her creating one of her signature pieces the students were given a change to use only chalk a symmetrical body movements to create a giant piece of art.



Symmetrical chalk art created by the students at The School of Wonders

By the time David came to teach the students light painting they had a deep understanding of how to draw images by using the symmetry of their body. For their class he set up a completely dark room for the students to explore light photography. He also connected his camera to a projector so that the students could see instant cause and effect while working with a medium that is ultimately enjoyed as a momentary experience.


David Wilhelm setting up for the light photography session

The students used light sticks, flashlights, and LED lights to experiment with. He even explained how you can build your own light tools by using loose parts. The students had fun creating their own tools and then seeing what they looked like on screen.

Aside from the creative freedom that was explored, he also educated them on the mechanics of a camera and how by slowing down the shutter speed, the camera captures movement and you can see the light dance across your picture. Other techniques such as light stencils and multiple exposures were address as well. The students were absolute amazed by this lesson and we are excited about providing the students with a chance to explore movement through a different language.

Each student took turns picking out or creating their own light tools, drawing a symmetrical image, and then learning how to actually take the pictures on their own and review them. The students painted squares, triangles, flowers, and even minecraft faces by using the symmetry of their body.


Light painting of a flower by a student at The School of Wonders


Light painting technique: using a secondary light source in order to make a face visible


Light painting of a triangle by a student at The School of Wonders (practicing a symmetrical shapes).


Light painting technique: light stencils


Light painting of a face by a student at The School of Wonders

The images that were created at the end of the experience were absolutely beautiful and an educational moment that our students will never forget.

We look forward to the weeks ahead where we will explore more and use the techniques that David taught us.  Ultimately the students will make the connection in using this medium as another language to describe their sense of self.

Below is a poem written by the Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach.

The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.


The child
 is made of one hundred.

The child has

a hundred languages

a hundred hands

a hundred thoughts

a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.


A hundred always a hundred

ways of listening

of marveling, of loving

a hundred joys

for singing and understanding

a hundred worlds

to discover

a hundred worlds

to invent
a hundred worlds

to dream.


The child has

a hundred languages

(and a hundred hundred hundred more)

but they steal ninety-nine.

The school and the culture

separate the head from the body.

They tell the child:

to think without hands

to do without head

to listen and not to speak

to understand without joy

to love and to marvel

only at Easter and at Christmas.


They tell the child:

to discover the world already there

and of the hundred

they steal ninety-nine.


They tell the child:

that work and play

reality and fantasy

science and imagination

sky and earth

reason and dream

are things

that do not belong together.


And thus they tell the child

that the hundred is not there.

The child says: 
No way.

The hundred is there.


-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach


To view more of David Wilhelm’s light painting photography, click here


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