When the light writes (you)
It’s been a while since I took up again an artistic hobby from my childhood: photography. As the elderly dealer from whom I stock up on films says, it’s not just me, but many are returning to photography, and in particular to analogue. And I thought I was demodè!
In fact, selfies are much more fashionable! Who does not share with friends and relatives the more or less daily business just experienced? But a mobile phone is enough! Whip out your phone, shoot the pic, share it. We make so many that we have images for every moment of our life.
Yet, there are those who take a machine, a camera, made solely for this one purpose, discover a subject and try to share it. Load the film, adjust the zoom, the exposure, the shutter speed, the focus and finally you can press and shoot. The necessary weeks pass and then you can admire the photo, share it, make a present of it, make an exhibition, or simply discard it because you’ve made a mess (how many times!).
Art needs time, patience, care, concentration. Maybe even natural gifts, of course. In this period of quarantine almost no one lacked time; perhaps we have seen several exhibitions and shows made available online by museums and various entities: how many centuries concentrated in objects, representations, music. Centuries of time and experience. Maybe in this period we have discovered our hidden talents, or we have developed in some art that is not only how to choose the right film…
When you have an old camera in hand, you have a limited number of shots. It can be a limit, but also an opportunity: selecting which frame to favour, the one that is most touching or the one that seems the most silent, but which still makes an impression. It brings one to make a choice. Dwelling on a few scenes, one then experiences what St. Ignatius also notes in the Spiritual Exercises: «it is not knowing much, but realising and relishing things interiorly, that contents and satisfies the soul» (n.2), one does not look at quantity but to a qualitative surplus (a magis). But this often happens also in everyday life: we experience places and relationships that give life and others that fade away. We are the ones who are called to give a voice to scattered realities, really “photo-graphing”, writing through the light different moods, thoughts or just the wonder that is in front of us. It is up to us to notice what we live, what that we have around us, to choose what to care for and what to leave out. Like when making a shot: what is captured is just a small square of reality!
If we move on to colour, this art also becomes chromo-graphy: seeing the different colours that make up one’s life, expanding the range, trying to give the right name to the present nuance.
Noticing the more pronounced hue, or an unexpected contrast. Seeing then that, often, what the film captures is not exactly what your eye perceived. Like when your friend downplays the most catastrophic event that ever happened to you: and not all films have the same sensitivity!
Finally, what photography would it be without the fundamental element, light?! Natural, artificial, direct or reflected, a whole range of possibilities. We take it for granted, but it is what allows it all. Even plants and animals, like us, try to stay in the light, although it is sometimes overly present and burns everything or it is completely absent, leaving only shapeless spots. But it is precisely when the light is low that more attention is needed: a steady hand, the diaphragm well open, longer exposure times. Letting in what seems not to be there, yet which manages to impress itself on the film. Like the night-time photos of the stars.
In all cultures, light has been important and so has been trying to fixate it: just think of the grandeur of works such as Stonehenge, or the Greek (or more ancient) astral maps. Furthermore, the calculations of the solar movement and the stars were the first motors of scientific discoveries and revolutions. In short, everyone was attracted by the light as much as by its giving meaning to our life.
As Christians we have experienced the beginning of Easter time these past few days. And the first symbol is the candle, lit by a fire, carried in procession saying that Jesus is the light of the world. Certainly the flame of a candle is not the sun that eliminates all shadows, but gives time for one to adapt one’s view, it is dynamic, easy to handle and can multiply.
Whilst waiting to be able to go out and photograph so many places (especially in the mountains), I can focus on the scenes of my life and my story. As well as each of us: what is the light that inhabits my days? What can I tell in the various “shots” that I live?
Change your gaze, perspective, zoom in on a particular … In the end time passes by just the same and what’s more the album of your life becomes even richer. Seeing is believing!
Photo of the Author ©