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Eric Lee-Johnson's night sky photography

New Zealand artist and photographer Eric Lee-Johnson used light in interesting ways in his photography. Here is a selection of images he created in the 1950s.

Eric Lee-Johnson was mostly known as a painter in his time, but he was also a prolific photographer. In the late 1950s he took a series of night photographs in which he would leave the camera shutter open for long periods.

In some of these he recorded star trails, the concentric circles made as the stars move over the night sky. In others he used a torch or other light to create his own ‘trails’, whirling the light source around as he stood in front of the camera. You can’t usually see him because his figure is much dimmer than his lights.

When you take these sorts of photographs you cannot exactly predict the results. But Lee-Johnston had a background as a graphic designer, and might have wanted more control, because some of the images are made by sandwiching more than one shot. This is clearly the case with the top dressing plane, because such aircraft do not operate at night.

It may just be speculation, but Lee-Johnson could have been inspired by the first spacecraft launched into space, Sputnik 1, in 1957.

– Athol McCredie, Curator Photography