Light Artist: Barry Underwood

Barry Underwood is an ecological activist and environmental photographer who creates on site installments to depict human and nature relationships and the spirit of nature. He received two degrees, one in Theater and the other in Photography from Indiana University Northwest. He currently is an Associate Professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

“My innate curiosity about the ecological and social history of specific places drives my practice. I strive to foster awareness of environmental change by engaging viewers in unexpected visual hypotheses offering novel lenses through which to consider the impact of human action on our surroundings, both locally and on a larger scale. My photographs reflect human disturbances, metaphorically suggesting how society divides and surveys landscapes or how humans force their will on the natural environment.”- Barry Underwood


Most pieces usually start from a drawing, but that’s just to get a thought moving around about a piece. He will survey the landscape and walk around it a lot to testing angles, and just sit in the space. Next he’ll take test shots with a digital camera and try to figure out how to compose the shot. Then he’ll use a computer to draw and line up his installment and the area, before actually going ahead and making it.


By imposing flat and abrasive color onto a site,  his photographs contrast human interference with the visually rich, wide tonal range of a natural landscape colors. He also shoots with film in order to capture long exposures, and his installations are crafted out of mostly battery operated LEDs, balloons, as well as glow sticks. Creating such installations can take anywhere from a few hours to two full 24 hour days.

“Equipment is just a tool which is important to understand the equipment in order to make a good image. To effectively communicate an idea, you need to understand the language, history of visual images, and cultural history”- Barry Underwood


This piece is a diorama Barry constructed. He had the idea of a piece of ice pushing from one tree into another, and used the diorama as a maquette, but liked it a lot and left it as the final piece.


Most of his pieces are never light painting, rather static pieces, that you can walk through and interact with. Pink is about 12 feet tall, and he hung lights suspended by spider wire that you cannot see.


Some pictures use light to describe our human impact on the environment and create a feel of movement, like in this picture, the light illuminates a clear path someone would travel.


Other images, focus on light acting as the “spirit” of nature, as we see here, the trees are connected to the ground and water by a brilliant yellow glow that creates the feeling of energy and life.


Barry Underwood Lights the Environment

Landscape Light Installations by Barry Underwood

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