Looking Back: Volunteer Brings Light Show to 2016 Summer Games

A photography hobby of volunteer Shereef Moustafa’s turned into a dazzling light show for Special Olympics Southern California athletes at the 2016 Summer Games.

Shereef, a volunteer since fall 2004, dabbles in light painting photography on the side. The technique captures exposures made with the movement of a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph. The end result is like giving someone the ability to scribble whatever they wish into the night’s sky with a highlighter pen and coming away with a picture.

“It’s kind of difficult for anybody to process what this activity is about until they see it,” Shereef said.

Shereef, from Long Beach, started experimenting with the art form since about December 2015 with his own children and one of their neighborhood friends, who is wheelchair-bound. That eventually led to putting on a display at a gallery for the Arts and Services for Disabled the following March.

He showed the results to Special Olympics Southern California staff and they found a way to implement the activity at the Summer Games athlete dance.

Standing roughly 10 feet away, Shereef took the photo as the athletes waved the light “like a sparkler” and others danced with it. Other shots included a “parade” of multiple athletes.

The idea: just have fun with it.

“Some of them would get more creative and [produce] bigger arm lengths,” Shereef said.

Among the subjects that stood out was a female athlete in a wheelchair. To create a more distinct artwork during the shoot, Shereef attached his own bicycle taillights to the top and bottom of the wheel while the athlete herself held a separate light. Also in the frame were three other athletes with their own lights.

The tile floor that the wheelchair was on created a “very smooth kind of arch look that you wouldn’t expect,” to go with the three streaks.

As he was snapping the photos, Shereef’s camera was tethered to a laptop and the laptop was tethered to a projector that would display the image on a wall. In all, the process – from taking the photo to the end result – is roughly five seconds.

The “weird request” of asking anyone to wave around a colored light for a few seconds can draw apprehension, Shereef said.

As time went on, and athlete after athlete created their own image, Shereef shifted his attention from the product on the wall to the reactions on their faces. Introverts and extroverts alike shared a similar feeling.

“The best part is that moment when the image shows up on the projector,” he said. “There’s about five seconds of, ‘What is going on?’ As soon as it hits the wall, they’re just like, ‘Wow!’ It’s just amazing.

“Watching them was just great. This very abstract thing that you’ve told them to do is resulting in an image that is creating this reaction. It doesn’t matter if the image is very similar to the one done just before – it’s their image. That’s what’s cool about it. They’re always different.”

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