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Showcasing Louisiana: Night painter

Updated: Jan. 27, 2021 at 3:16 PM CST
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(WAFB) - A dull green boat paints a gray streak across a monochromatic Atchafalaya Basin. Gray skies, murky waters, and dormant cypress belie the color for which Justin Patin is searching.

“We’re location scouting -- trying to find a spot for tonight.” Patin starts early to paint the night sky. “Sometimes, I have an idea -- a rough draft -- other times, it has to grab my attention,” he said.

Showcasing Louisiana: Night painter Justin Patin
Showcasing Louisiana: Night painter Justin Patin(WAFB)

Patin is looking for a splash of color in the drab skies of a winter afternoon on the basin. Decaying hunting stands and sinking house boats attract his attention.

“Lord knows how long that’s been out here, or the stories it could tell,” he said. “It’s part of the swamp now.” None of it grabs him as the subject of tonight’s painting.

Showcasing Louisiana: Night painter Justin Patin
Showcasing Louisiana: Night painter Justin Patin(WAFB)

The basin is a subject close to Patin’s heart. His family has lived on, and made it’s living in the Atchafalaya for generations.

“It’s a very unique landscape that not a lot of people understand,” he said. “In south Louisiana, the swamps are eerie, beautiful, mysterious, rich. They are color, life.” Capturing all that in a single painting is a tall order.

Patin’s boat slips past a lone cypress tree standing tall above the water line. Its burnt orange needles catch his eye. He stops his boat and pulls a camera from a large hiking pack on the floor. “I consider myself a painter of light more than a photographer. I use photography to capture what I create.”

He snaps off a few test shots, studies them, then repositions the boat. “What I’d really like to do is go wide,” he explained, “get these clouds to lighten up to give more light.” After a few more photos, Patin has a plan.

He anchors the boat, then sinks his 12-foot tripod into the murky waters so that the top rides above the waterline. Then he adjusts his camera. He has just one chance to get it right. “By the time I set everything up, make sure everything is in focus, and night comes, I’ve got to work with what I’ve got.” he explained. “If I move the camera, I’ve got to start all over, from scratch.”

Then he waits for the tree to be swallowed by the night. “It’s peaceful,” he said. “It’s a mental reset.”

Patin has been painting swamps with light for three years. His photographs are everything he loves about the basin: eerie, beautiful, mysterious, rich. His photographs hang in galleries around the state. Patin also prints and sells his photographs from his Rose One Studios (roseonestudios.com) in Baton Rouge.

When the night is at its blackest, it is time to paint.

Patin launches a drone equipped with two bright lights. He uses the drone to brush strokes of light across his canvas for one long exposure. He checks the shot, the repositions the drone for another stroke.

He takes multiple exposures with his drone painting light from all directions. Back in his studio, Patin stacks the images, and with some deft editing creates a single image. One that tells the story of decades on the basin.

“You get to see and experience things at night, that the majority of people don’t get to see and experience,” he said. And we get the chance to experience them through the eyes of a painter and his lights.

In Baton Rouge, you can find Patin’s work in the Elizabethan Gallery and frame shop.

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