Matt Stock combines his two passions, photography and science, to create hyper-realistic nighttime photographs using his innovative technique Painting with Light in the Dark®. Not only is Matt a photographer, but he is also a visionary. His mission is to show the beauty of night and get others to explore Florida in the nighttime hours, in hopes to spread public awareness that nature needs to be preserved 24/7 so that it lasts for future generations. In this presentation, Matt focuses on the Everglades at night and light painting, featuring his series “Abandoned Vehicles of the Everglades.” Matt excitedly shares his discoveries and misadventures on his passionate search for lost vehicles that have merged with the surrounding flora and fauna. It is a wild ride that broaches environmental concerns while appreciating the history of the land and the people that he encounters in this part of Florida.
One of the most common misconceptions about Matt’s work is that it isn’t real because of the high contrast and high saturation that make it look surreal. In fact, everything in the frame is real! The secret is that each photograph is comprised of multiple shots, from dozens to hundreds of individual frames, that have been cross lit with lighting in all directions. To achieve this “painting with light,” Matt mounts a camera on a stationary tripod so that it doesn’t move, and spends hours walking around the scene with a remote shutter and light source, illuminating sections of the scene to photograph at a time. This type of light-painting involves a deep understanding of lighting equipment, and how distances and power output affect the light brightness as he continually moves around the space. He cites historical examples of photographers who have been venturing out into the night to photograph things throughout history, including photographs capturing bombings, the moon, Hiroshi Sugimoto's movie theater interiors, and even portraits of Picasso light-painting!
Matt doesn’t work alone on his journeys to the Everglades. He brings along his trusty crew, complete with a “snake guy” and a “gator guy” who keep a lookout for dangerous animals along the way. He relies on his crew due to his loss in situational awareness that occurs when he focuses on the more technical aspects of photography. Still, Matt and his crew face many challenges on his long and dangerous journeys through the Everglades. Most audiences assume that the people are the most dangerous things that he finds, but in fact he has only had one frightening instance involving warning gunfire! Rather, Matt has been stung, infected, poisoned, scratched, bit, and has even endured an emergency hospital visit. As for less life-threatening problems, he has forgotten to bring his tripod on a trip once, and had to make due with objects found by his crew. Despite this, he remains positive, and notes that it is imperative to adapt to these challenges. He can’t prevent obstacles from happening, but he can embrace imperfections so they become a part of the amazing story.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes
The Everglades National Park has millions of visitors every year, so it is hard to find new ways to see it differently than people have before. It doesn’t help that a lot of people view it as scary or unapproachable, especially at night! To truly experience the glades, though, you have to literally get your feet wet and venture out to explore. By celebrating the glades at nighttime, Matt confronts the one-sided view that bad things hide in the darkness. He seeks to challenge this negativity, comparing the darkness to a sculptor’s block, which he chips away at with light to create his art.
Furthermore, Matt desires to instill an emotional connection between his audience and the Everglades so that they care about this peaceful and quiet sanctuary as much as he does. To achieve this, he seeks to demystify the Everglades, which harbors mysteries like the abandoned vehicles that Matt photographs. He estimates that hundreds of them exist in the glades, and presents us with the questions: How did it get there? Who abandoned it, and why? Sometimes Matt is able to find out more about the vehicle. Other times, the mystery remains.
What’s next for Matt Stock? Since his favorite part about his projects so far have been the people that he encounters along the way, he has plans for a portrait series on the Gladesmen and Gladeswomen. He finds these people inhabiting the Everglades to be the most trusting and wonderful people he has met. Matt is intrigued by their disappearing way of life, and with the help of a folk life historian, he will honor them by recording their stories. Matt will photograph them with vintage film camera gear that lends an authenticity to the Gladesmen’s lifestyle and old ways.
Interested in hearing Matt Stock speak yourself? Look up his TEDxCoconutGrove TED talk that covers behind-the-scenes of the Painting with Light in the Dark® technique! You can find his work on his website, mattstockphoto.com