The Metaphysics of Light

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The Metaphysics of Photography: The Art of the unSeen

     Light, one of the great radiant forces in our universe, is invisible.  That is to say that light radiation itself cannot be seen unaided by the naked human eye.  It may only be seen once photonic energy has struck something of substance or has passed through it.

     The artist's world has ever been defined by light.  The painter works with paints made of dye and elemental compounds applied by brush onto surfaces both textured and without blemish.  The sculptor shapes the earth and its materials with his hands into meaningful creation.  These are things of substance, of paint and clay, illuminated by light.  Yet, only the photographer is fluent in perceiving, carving and revisioning the radiation we call 'light.'   Invisibly, it enwraps our world, powering all photographers' artistic imageries, both natural in source and artificial.

     In nature, light energy exists everywhere around us.  Light fills the ether of space, cast out from the stars, racing to the earth, striking mother Earth's atmosphere and far beyond.  As the darkening world turns and the hush of night becomes day, our first sensation is soft light.  Our atmosphere incandesces with gentle rounded illumination.  Darkness, the absence of 'seen' light, becomes violet turning bluish, and then softly brightening until we can perceive it.  This is the chromatically cool worlds that we see during the times of awakening light before sunrise.

     With the coming of first light, collimated radiant energy punches directly through the atmosphere to be perceived as the warming yellow-red rays of day.  Raking across the Earth's surface at angles close to the horizon and then later, rising higher, we can see this point source focused light giving sharp, golden relief to the natural reality that is. 

     Light serves the ardent artist scientist.  We, photographers, add and manipulate to the existing reality to create new ones mirroring the artist's inner psyche.  The experienced artist paints with artificial light to great effect in their own works, emphasizing that which is important, leaving dark that which is not.

     Like a modern day Prometheus, some photographers bring light sources themselves into the act, to direct the eye and to tell their tale.   An example of this would be an electrician holding a naked lit lightbulb in his/her hand.

     Studio photographers retreat to their own darkened sanctum sanctorums to create.  Eschewing all 'natural' light, studio photographers exert the most complete control.  Employing artificial spot lights, large window light boxes, fiber optics and myriad other tools, studio shooters bend light to their will, using opaque scrims to feather and diminish and mirrors to enhance and embellish.  Their worlds are ones of the most exacting perfection where no lit detail remains that is not intended.

     All photographers are painters of light: the alchemists of the invisible, the sorcerers of the unseen.

-©Glenn R. Steiner 2010 (Excerpted from "The Art of Seeing" published by Alcove Publishing 2010)