LIFE magazine’s Gjon Mili, a technical prodigy and lighting innovator, visited Pablo Picasso in the South of France in 1949. The meeting of these two marvelous minds and sensibilities was bound to result in something extraordinary. Mili showed the artist some of his photographs of ice skaters with tiny lights affixed to their skates, jumping in the dark — and Picasso’s lively mind began to race.
“Picasso gave Mili 15 minutes to try one experiment,” LIFE wrote in its January 30, 1950, issue in which the images shown here first appeared. He was so fascinated by the results that he posed for five sessions.”
This series of photographs, known ever since as Picasso’s “light drawings,” were made with a small electric light in a darkened room; in effect, the images vanished as soon as they were created — and yet they still live, six decades later, in Mili’s playful, hypnotic images. Many of them were also put on display in early 1950 in a show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Finally, while the “Picasso draws a centaur in the air” photo that leads off this gallery is rightly celebrated, many of the images in this gallery are far less well-known — but no less thrilling.