Trick of the Light
The quiet that exists in European towns the day after Christmas is both eerie and peaceful, alternating between them both in ways that made us feel as if everyone had disappeared from the planet, and then grateful to be experiencing the town as the solitary travelers.
In the somewhat grim, darkened streets, the cold and damp was even more penetratingly chill and then, suddenly, a beam of light slipped out from under the cloud bank and struck home, and then was gone in barely the blink of an eye.
Sometimes spaces seem to be stage sets designed by a mind far beyond mine in creativity. My work as a photographer has been to be a receiver of things, not a creator. Moments appear and I say Yes!
The Heart of Darkness was not Dark that Night
Ordinary things still surprise me. A hay bale for instance, rolled up in the fashion of today’s farming methods, is often just pitched into the stall for the cows to chomp it down in their own sweet time. But here it unspooled itself when the wrapper was cut, and mimicked the wave that was already set in motion by the winds while the grain was growing in the fields earlier that summer.
While standing in front of it, the ‘object’ it became was satisfying to look at in unexpected ways, and led me to both see it for what it was, and to reconsider it for the other non-objective properties it held. I saw the color it became in it’s season of drying, I looked at the light it appeared in in the darkness of the stall, I thought about the flatness it presented while at the same time being enriched with curves, swirls, and eruptions of forms that splintered out along its edges. All these small thoughts made me stand there staring at a hay bale!
At times I wonder how these simple things have taken hold of me; a city boy whose love of the messy mix of speed and life on the streets has been overtaken by the study of stillness in the form of natural or man made things. It must be a certain time of life I’ve entered. I am taking ‘long looks’ at things that earlier slipped by and now call out for consideration.
Maybe it’s the season changing, but something from the landscape kept coming over me. The summer had been a brutally hot one, and the land baked day after day, and seemed to be unyielding even though wheat and sunflowers grew abundantly. Perhaps it’s the first few cool days and the light’s new, revealing power that made me conscious again of the space I live in.
I walked in the freshly turned land and could sense my small scale relative to the land’s vastness, and tried to make a photograph from that gut feeling. I ask myself, and have for many years now, ‘can I photograph from the gut with the eye being less of a primary force?’
The light in the house has changed too, and turned the tall space of what was once the hayloft into a camera obscura, projecting the arched shape of the window on the wall for a 20 minute exposure, in which the form of the acacia tree outside drew itself across the wall like a silent movie screen playing a slow motion fade out.
It’s lovely to see how natural and simple the principles of photography, before it was photography, continue to make their presence felt. I can easily imagine how in earlier times, say the 15th century (probably well before that too), people had these same ‘momentary visions’ come and go inside their homes, but were unable to hold on to them until Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot figured out how to fix the image for later study.