Light expanding from source / Source


Early in my photographic life I formulated a guideline that has served me well to this day. Since light is the essence that reveals subject matter, and because my urge was to pursue essences, I adopted the practice of looking more for “qualities of light” than interesting subject matter. Because color tends to arrest the attention, my preferred medium for creative photography was and remains black and white, which emphasizes the qualities of form, texture and geometry.

Whether on location or in my basement studio, my first consideration was always the light—its angle, brightness, color, contrast and it’s modulation between soft diffusion and crisp specularity. Working in this manner and reflecting on the results over time, I noticed that certain qualities of light contributed to an evocative spiritual quality I refer to as numinance. For instance, the above image calls me to consider both the nature of light and its use as a metaphor for intelligence, ideas and “illumination” in the spiritual sense.

In science, the essence of light is still an open question. At the atomic level a unit of light is referred to as a photon, but that’s just a label to describe an energy that has a fixed speed but no mass and can behave as either a particle or a wave depending on how it’s observed. Photons are entirely different from matter, yet they give rise to and sustain matter. We know they’re produced when energy is either added or subtracted within an atom, specifically when an electron—best conceived as an energy field—“jumps” from one orbit to another, incredibly, without crossing the distance. Gazillions of these events happening together result in the streams of light entering my eye. Physicist David Bohm saw these emissions as information, content, form and structure itself, regarding light as “the potential of everything.”

The above image also evokes in me considerations of the first light of the universe, a result of the great expansion or Big Bang. A key property of light, like the universe, is that it expands in all directions at once, piercing the darkness. It’s this expansive feature that gives rise to light as a metaphor for birth, awakening, increased awareness and spiritual evolution. Deepak Chopra observed that, “In the dark we will always seek the light.” We are creatures who seek meaning, clarity and understanding. Literally, light throughout the cosmos is itself the source of our increasing understanding of the universe and our beginning. A photographer friend, Walt Weidenbacher, referenced light as a guideline for living when he said, “The world is as big as the candle we carry.”

Are we not all, potentially, radiant? Sources of light? Through transmission and reflection we reveal ourselves to each other and the world, and awaken within. Having been fortunate to cross paths with many individuals who radiate light through qualities of character, refined personalities and expanded consciousness it gives me joy to think of them and know that they’re illuminating the darkness, making a positive difference in the world.

Can you name three individuals that you know who are sources of light in your life? Now, besides acknowledging them, consider the nature of their light. What are they radiating? What are they reflecting?

Beauty is the radiance of spirit. —  Alex Gray, artist

About This Image

I’d been working with an image that had flare, faint lines of light streaming from the sun, and I wondered if I could reproduce them in the studio with the lines enhanced. “Flare” in a camera amounts to the scattering of light within the lens system, modified by the shape of the aperture, the blades that admit more or less light onto the film or digital chip. The brighter the light; the brighter the flare.

I set up a 4×5 camera on a tripod in the studio and pointed it toward a round and clear 250 watt quartz bulb about ten feet away. To insure sharp, high contrast and radiating lines, the source had to be as tiny and bright as possible without any kind of reflector or housing behind it. I positioned the camera and bulb so its filament was in the center in the frame. Then I turned out the lights to insure total darkness.

The alignment turned out to be critical. Slight changes in the camera position made dramatic differences in the image, so I adjusted the alignment until the streaming lines of light were at a maximum—which turned out not to be dead-center. Since the amount of flare was different at different aperture settings there was no way to evaluate the exposure, so I exposed several sheets of film at different f-stops.

This image, photographed at f16, had the most prominent lines. The negative was very dense, so to bring out more of the gray areas in the halo’s I overexposed the paper. Even more exposure would have revealed the coiled filament in the bulb, so I left it white in order to generalize rather than particularize the source to give the image a numinous quality.

Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: