EK Interview: Synack’s Underground

art blog - Synack - empty kingdom

Synack is a photographic light painter from Melbourne, Australia. Ashby Rhodes interviewed him to learn more about his craft.

Tell me about yourself.

I am 35 years old, living in Melbourne Australia. I have been here most of my life and love this city. I work as an IT Consultant during the day, which takes up way too much of my time. I have a young family and two kids who I love heaps.

Where did your photography start?

I first picked up an SLR in high school for a photography subject, which I loved – I think I got an A+ (my only one in high school). After that I did not touch an SLR until August of 2009! Yep, only 6 month ago!

You only touched a camera 6 months ago. Did you get anything good that first night?

I found myself busy with work and was looking for some sort of release, and so I got back into photography.  Just started to study, and got back into it. Stumbled upon light painting….was fascinated with how the person could be removed from the shot. You think that when you take a shot it captures everything in the frame.

How often do you take images?

I take photos almost every week. I usually go out on Friday night with a group of friends (fellow light painters) or on the weekends by myself. Friday nights are great to go out after work and unwind underground and express myself creatively.

How did you learn to paint with light?

Here is how I started – After seeing a photo on an urban exploration site of someone doing a “spirograph wheel” shot in a drain I was totally amazed by photo and I had to learn how they did it. I wanted to solve the mystery of this particular shot and during my research I stumbled across the whole genre of light painting. Not only were the light painting photos absolutely amazing to look at but I have found a great joy in figuring out how a particular technique/effect was achieved. This started my love of light painting and many, many, hours of practical research and development into new tools and techniques for my light arsenal!

A few weeks after I started on my light painting journey I discovered that the ‘spirograph’ photo that peaked my initial interest was produced by a local Melbourne urban explorer and light painter. We have since been out on many photo shoots where I have meet a great bunch of people and artists.

What lights do you use to paint in your photographs?

I use many different types of lights in my light painting including the following: LED ‘tactical’ torch (usually with gels), various LED lights (including custom built, IKEA lights, Christmas lights, rave/kids toys, bike lamps, etc), Electroluminescent (EL) Wire, Cold Cathodes, Canon 580EXII or 480EXII flash (off camera – often with gels). I also use things like ‘sparklers’ and burning steel wool in some of my shots and love to make unique light tools to create interesting light effects (eg. orb / disk makers).

What camera do you use to take photos?

I am currently using a Canon 5D Mark II, with a 24-105 f4 lens – stuck on 24mm for light painting and would love to get an ultra wide 14mm f2.8 for the types of spaces I love to go in!

You say you have a canon 5d Mark II. That’s a really nice camera. Is that the first camera you picked since high school?

<<laughing>> I spent four to six weeks researching different cameras, picked up a cropped frame nikon and it didn’t fit well in my hand so i took it back and picked up the 5d.

How long do you have to expose a shot to finish painting?

All of my exposures take as long as I need to complete the shot / performance / composition. This can vary from 15 seconds to 10 minutes depending on the complexity of the shot. It should be noted that any ambient light will limit the exposure time possible with light painting.

Set the scene for when you’re working, sneak out the window at midnight, drink beer, and run from the cops?

I am lucky that my wife supports my photography and I can usually go out when I want too.. the kids don’t like it too much though.
The usual photo shoot consists of location planning several days before, checking whether (I don’t go in a drain if it rains – too dangerous), charge my gear the night before, then bust on out at dusk, grab a meal on the way and a coffee (fantastic stimulant), then storm into the location – usually underground or abandoned. Always need to watch out for the cops / security guards but usually not a problem for most locations I go into. Then, I usually explore the location first to spot the most interesting spots for photographs, then take lots of photos – I often setup at 2-3 different spots, have heaps of fun, eat heaps of gummy bears, usually finish up around 2am. Then home to look at the nights shots on the computer screen and upload to flickr – if any good.

What are these brick tunnels in your photographs?

The red brick tunnels (RBT) in my photographs are storm water drains used to channel ground water run off into the ocean / river (usually not sewage – thank god). Some of the brick tunnel in my photographs are over 100 years old and are awesome places to explore and take photographs. Today a majority of the new drains are concrete and are pretty boring. Melbourne has probably the best drains in Australia with lots of old drains and ones with interesting features.

What’s with the star wars characters?

Ahhh.. the Stormtooper shots. Stormtroopers are cool, aren’t they??… I am actually using the Stormtooper to constrain myself in a new lighting technique I have developed. One of the biggest problems I have found with light painting is there are so many different techniques and compositional elements you can use – it can be overwhelming. So the Stormtrooper is helping me at this moment to improve the use of my new technique that I believe has not been done before. You should expect some more photographs with this technique in the coming months… I might even through in an Ewok or two!

Whats the next step for you?

Continue to refine an improve my photography skills not just in light painting but also in the more “traditional” photography styles like street photography and strobing. Oh yeah, and I should be having another show of my work mid 2010.

What’s your favorite koolaid flavor?

We dont have koolaid down-under but it would be green (if there is one)!

What inspires you and your art?

I get alot of inspiration from urban landscape, movies, japanese anime/manga, architecture and technology.

Tell me the most f’ed up thing that has ever happened to you.

Being told I can’t have kids after chemo!

How did cancer affect your art and life?

It partly got me into art, I was in the work force and building a career on the side, it was intense and my stress levels started to increase. Having cancer showed me what I should appreciate…I was told that there was a 95% chance I wouldn’t have kids…so i proved them wrong.

What advice would you give to photographers who are inspired by your work?

Get out there and try light painting for yourself it is a lot of fun! But be warned it is addictive!

Who are some other artists you love?

lapp-pro.de, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and too many others to mention..

Many Many thanks to Synack and his family for providing this interview. Empty Kingdom wishes you the best. Check out more of his work HERE.