Jose Leiva, 74, of Lewiston has won international awards for his “light paintings” inspired by the Dutch masters. Jose Leiva self-portrait

LEWISTON — In total darkness, Jose Leiva moves the beam of a flashlight over an arrangement of fruit and old books, snapping photographs as he goes.

He will take as many as 20 frames for a “light painting,” the process of focusing a narrow beam of light on each section of the still life and then piecing the best shots together.

He uses a computer program to layer and flatten the images and merge them together, he said in a recent phone interview from his home in Lewiston.

It is all about the light, which has to be warm and diffuse, he said.

“I was inspired by the Dutch masters, Rembrandt and Vermeer,” he said.

To capture the warm light, Leiva uses old, incandescent flashlights.

“LED light is very cold,” he said.

In this photo by Jose Leiva, his granddaughter Stephanie Lonsdale of Falmouth, 16 at the time, poses as “The Girl with a Pearl Earring,” a painting by 17-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. Jose Leiva photo

The process has brought Leiva, 74, international recognition and awards. In August, he was named the winner of the month of July by The Universe of Colour Photography, an online photo platform with 50,000 members competing for recognition.

It was one of “three or four — it might be more” international awards he has won, both for color and black-and-white photography, he said.

He is humble about it.

“It was like, ‘OK, I’ll take it,’” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Lewiston. “No cash, but they spread your name all over the world.”

He said he gets messages from people around the world asking how he creates his light paintings.

“It’s a lot of little nuances,” he said. “It’s hard to describe.”

He did not invent it, but he has modified and refined the process, from his home studio, to the point of garnering international acclaim.

This light painting created by Jose Leiva was inspired by the Dutch masters. Jose Leiva photo

A native of Laredo, Texas, Leiva moved to Maine in the mid-1980s and worked in photo labs. He eventually got a job as a staff photographer at the Sun Journal. Now semiretired, he is a contracted photographer for Central Maine Medical Center and LA Metro Magazine.

Leiva is a self-taught photographer who first picked up a camera professionally when he was based in Brindisi, Italy, with the U.S. Air Force. He was 19 years old.

Between the Air Force and Maine, he worked for the FBI in Washington, D.C., and NASA in Houston, via a contract with IBM. Both hired him in part because he had a top-secret security clearance from the military.

He left Washington after a year.

“I’d seen enough autopsies,” he said.

At IBM, one of his duties was to destroy classified documents for NASA, which was working on the space program. He got transferred to Burlington, Vt., and from there found his way to Maine.

He was an award-winning photographer for the Sun Journal, where he worked for more than 20 years.

He enjoyed the work, and he still enjoys going on shoots. But after decades of straight shooting, he needed a new challenge, he said.

“I got tired of the low-hanging fruit,” he said. “I wanted try something different.”


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