Gian Claudio di Cecco, utilising light painting, a style once favoured by Pablo Picasso, found inspiration for his work from Cambodian models
Gone are the days when surreal photography could only be the result of camera trickery or darkroom chemistry. In the age of Photoshop, it is taken for granted that almost any otherworldly effect can be conjured up on a laptop. But one Sicilian photographer in Phnom Penh insists on “painting” psychedelic contours onto nude models with just his camera and laser pointers.
“All you see in my picture is real – I don’t touch anything,” said Gian Claudio di Cecco, a 47-year-old photographer and video/projection mapper who divides his time between Phnom Penh and Berlin.
Di Cecco is a light painter, a practice almost as old as photography itself. Among the most famous examples is Pablo Picasso’s 1949 series of light drawings, which he painted with LIFE magazine photographer Gjon Mili.
When a camera’s shutter is left open for seconds or even minutes, a unique artistic effect can be created by moving a light source over the subject. In its most simple form, a person can “write” words in darkness using a torch and camera.
Di Cecco said: “Sometimes people ask me, is that a picture or a painting? And really, it’s both – it’s a live painting with a picture.”
For his most recent exhibition, which is on indefinite display at Duplex cafe and bar on Street 278, di Cecco “painted” onto the bodies of four nude female models in a pitch black room. Using exposure times of up to two minutes, he pointed vibrantly coloured lasers along the models’ bodies, creating an effect where their surface textures are obscured but their shapes are clearly visible.
Using a laser pointer to create intricate patterns in such a short period of time was a time-consuming challenge.
Di Cecco said: “When you open the shutter for 20 seconds, you have to go really fast with the light – it’s like dancing. And sometimes the model moves, and you have to try and try with the same model for the perfect picture.”
Apart from the technical difficulties involved, di Cecco said that finding Cambodian women willing to pose nude was his greatest challenge.
He said: “In Europe, you are a professional photographer and she is a professional model – stay naked, or not naked, it’s her job. In this culture, naked is a taboo.”
Di Cecco eventually found four models – one professional and three amateurs – who he described as “open-minded”. Although their faces are obscured and their identities remain a secret, he said that one of them was a well-known Cambodian celebrity.
Di Cecco said that the rest of a person’s body could convey just as much personality, through their poses and posture, as their face.
He said: “For me, the face in this picture is not the focus. I try to take the personality of the body, so I ask my models to speak with me, play with me, because I want to know you.”
Although di Cecco worked as a professional commercial and fashion photographer for 25 years and is selling the prints of the nude laser models for $300 apiece, he said that he no longer spends his days catering to clients’ tastes. He even spurned a major international hotel chain’s offer to commission a series of photos, he said. His lifelong love of photography, which began at age 8 with his first camera, transcends his professional ambitions. Instead, he prefers to follow his own interests.
With laser and light painting, he added, the light-capturing essence of photography is brought to the forefront.
“Because really, a picture is light – only light. When you see me, you don’t see me really. You see my reflection. This is a picture.”