A Whole New Light

L1170979_v3Photography is a solitary art form. Despite advancements in technology, a photographer very rarely arrives at a scene, points, clicks and is satisfied. A photograph that is truly a work of art is a product of hours and hours of preparation, the utilization of finely honed skills and, most importantly, patience. It isn’t at all what the average person imagines.

“I call myself a fine art photographer,” says Zed Saeed, certainly not the average person and certainly not an average photographer. “I did a lot of fashion photography for a very long time in Los Angeles. Then I moved to Louisville with my wife almost two years ago.”

Originally from Pakistan, Saeed came to the U.S. in 1983 to go to college at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts: “In my first semester, I took a film and photography course, and I never looked back. That was it. I briefly worked in New York, but most of my work was in L.A. because I wanted to work in movies.” In fact, Saeed has a decades-long career working in the world of film and television.

Essentially a post-production expert, Saeed’s job, in many ways, was the most difficult in the filmmaking process as it incorporates editing, color correction and the laborious addition of effects and sound. Post-production requires a keen eye for detail and accuracy that many do not possess, but Saeed’s work was so notable that it earned him a spot on the team of renowned film editor Walter Murch on his Academy Award-winning film “Cold Mountain” as well as a nine-season stint on the hit comedy “Scrubs.”

Upon moving to Louisville with his wife, a Kentucky native, Saeed still manged to find work in town: “I worked on that 360-degree surround sound Derby movie at the Kentucky Derby Museum with Donna Lawrence Productions [“The Greatest Race”]. They’re in town. They worked on that movie for 20 years, and this was their year to update it.” Despite the relative ease with which Saeed was able to return to what he knows best, there is a story Saeed will never forget that rekindled his love for the progenitor of film: photography.

“On my very first day in Louisville, we had gone in to stay with our brother. He’d given us a little apartment on the third floor. We decided to take a drive. My wife hadn’t been here in decades, and I hadn’t been here ever,” reminisces Saeed. “We’re riding down Main Street, and we’re like, ‘Hey, this is a great town!’ All these towers and buildings and Museum Row. Then we hit Ninth Street. It’s like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in reverse. We went from this colorful city to just black and white.”

Saeed recalls that it was this moment that awakened his latent photographer’s instincts, and since that day, he has learned about the history of the area and started taking photographs of the abandoned buildings in Portland in an effort to get viewers of his photographs to appreciate the architecture that many in Louisville take for granted.

Working in Louisville, however, proved to have its own set of challenges: “Being a photographer, you’re very sensitive to light. You notice the effects of the weather, and coming from Southern California, it’s a huge change. In Los Angeles, you’re used to this very particular color of light and the bright sunlight. The first thing you notice in Louisville is that the light is hazy. It’s very soft.” Drawing on his wealth of experience as well as the work and techniques of other photographers whom he admires, Saeed was able to rise above these challenges and develop his own spin on a technique created by world-famous photographer and Yale professor Gregory Crewdson.

“I thought I could use a similar approach to light these buildings,” says Saeed. “The process I use is called light painting. It’s a very counterintuitive process. Even photographers sometimes have trouble wrapping their heads around it.” The one inescapable rule of this technique is that it has to be dark, so you’re going at night: “You set up your camera. You do these long exposures. You open the shutter of the camera, and while the shutter is open, you use flashlights or strobes with gels on them and fire them on the streets or in the buildings. You can take a tiny fluorescent tube and wrap gels on it and paint the walls up down like a painter paints the wall.”

Saeed explains the process simply and claims that the tools necessary are not fancy or expensive. The work created, however, speaks for itself: “I want the people of Louisville to see how beautiful these buildings truly are. Sometimes, the weirdest parts of a city are what make it so special.” See his gallery for yourself, and you just might see Louisville in a whole new light. VT

The “Colors of the Night: Light Painting in Portland” exhibit opened on June 3 and runs through June 29 at the Tim Faulkner Gallery, 1512 Portland Ave., Louisville, KY 40203.