Light intrigues me. I know that when I go to the deserted village of Imber on Salisbury Plain the light is inevitably harsh and my skies blow out readily, even sometimes when it’s drizzling. I know that Lacock Abbey gives a gloriously soft and honeyed light in the ruins and a dark, somehow 1920s fictional subdued light in the corridors and a nasty synthetic darkness that’s of the wrong time in one of the set rooms. One of my favourite things about dark evenings is the way that the single glass fire door at the local supermarket spotlights and showcases the evening shoppers, who can’t see me gawping from the carpark because of their reflections in the glass. I love the way that the local cinema lobby is brighter than life, and the combination of gleaming white ceramic basins and reflective tiled surfaces bouncing around the world’s cleanest light in the ladies toilets. I know when the dates are when the sun rises at one end of the Caenhill flight of canal locks and sets at the opposite end. On the Foundation course I learned how to use a tiny Maglite in the dark to light paint rich colours into a portrait, I learn still how to balance light, time and motion. I wonder at how the light in Cornwall where I grew up is somehow clearer than the light here in Wiltshire. It’s all so very personal though, it feels odd to be looking at how other photographers see and use light.
Eugene Atget, routinely documenting Paris as the Bechers would later document water towers, worked in noon-day light to minimise shadows. I’ve never really had much joy with this light, though since I upgraded my normal lens I get less blown out highlights. His approach here is matter-of-factual – the light is there simply to illuminate, not to add mood or atmosphere (as the course notes point out). Later on in his life he used light as a more of a player in its own right.
Sally Mann’s use of lighting in Southern Lands is far less documentary and far more evocative. The light does the job, but so much more besides. It says as much by what remains in darkness as what remains illuminated. Most of her work seems to be in black and white, the only colour that I saw was an occasional image in Body Farm. Yet the brightest parts are so bright you can barely discern the detail, and the darkest parts require careful scanning to see the detail. There’s something dark and fairy-tale ish about many of the images. Sally uses the light as skilfully in her portraits of children and her observations of decaying bodies in the Body Farm series. It’s an approach with no compromise.
Michael Schmidt uses light functionally, dispassionately, curiously. Somehow the texture in his images shines out, from the crinkled card of an eggbox to the smooth gloss of a strip of sellotape. On reading the article linked to in the article I was interested to read that he often worked in black and white but photographed scenes with no black or white tones present. In fact, on the link given, all bar two of his images are in black and white. His green apple can almost be tasted and smelled, the tiny blemishes on the skin are all very obvious. This made me think of the forthcoming exercise 4.4 to photograph a natural or organic object.
You can see my Pinterest board on this below.