Monday, 15 January 2018

Darkness to light - Day 47

Day 47 (Tuesday 16th January 2018)
47 years ago, on the 16th January 1981, Leon Spinks (the American professional
boxer who in only his 8th professional fight 
won the undisputed heavyweight championship
in after defeating 
Muhammad Ali) was mugged and robbed. After being attacked in the
street he was taken to a motel and had $450000 worth of clothes, accessories and jewellery
taken, including his gold teeth. Spinks' boxing heavyweight title was short lived and
after boxing he became a wrestler, winning the world title in 1992 (he is the only person to hold
both the boxing and wrestling world titles). He has suffered heavily as a result of boxing - in
2012 he was diagnosed as suffering from shrinkage in his brain due to the impact of opponents' punches
Today is my father's birthday. He is turning 87. He is an amazing man (and a much loved father and grandfather) and I hope he has a wonderful day. 

The author of today's post, the highly talented photographer Paul Clarke, took a wonderful picture of my father at my eldest son's 21st birthday and I treasure it. If you have not seen his work, I urge you to click onto Paul's website: - it's no wonder that he has won multiple awards. He has an eye for detail (he writes beautifully too - his blog on his business site is worth reading). You can also find Paul on TwitterFlickr, and Facebook. He is witty, engaging, perspicacious and highly intelligent - a joy to spend time with.

It perhaps should come as no surprise that a photographer has much to say about darkness and light.

PS I have used various photos that Paul took this year to illustrate his post - you can see them (and more) on his blog and website.


In my professional world, the world of photos and images, nothing happens without light. Literally, nothing. Seeing it, shaping it, playing with it – that’s what we do.

If I look back over the last decade as I’ve made the shift into this world, I can pick out distinct points when I started to think of light in different ways. How it might be brought into focus; how it behaves in a tight field of view; what colour it is (even when it’s “white”) and how it’s less important whether something is generally bright or dark, but much more important how light and dark contrast with each other.

This was taken in bright sunshine using the sun as the "lightbulb",
 but tightening up the camera to enable only the brightest light to get through

Over 2017 there’ve been times of deep personal darkness for me, but also plenty of light. Shakespeare nailed the very human need for contrast in Henry IV Part One, of course: “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work” - and we have many modern equivalents.

We need the light so that we can recognise the dark, and the dark so that we can appreciate the light.

As I’ve hauled my way slowly into this new industry (from a post-40 standing start), my own lights and darks have happened in different ways. Sometimes they’ve been about finding any business at all. Or about overcoming some technical difficulty, or unfamiliarity with equipment.

This collection of more than 190 antique and modern pieces of photographic equipment
was neatly arranged and photographed by Portland-based photographer 
Jim Golden.
The equipment was borrowed from members of Portland’s photo community.

But the later stages have been the hardest to conquer. Putting it simply: if you try to do something well, you’ll get better at it. If you get better at it, you’ll attract tougher assignments. If you get tougher assignments, you’ll set higher standards for yourself.

It’s a spiral of expectation and challenge, and in the second half of this year it bit me. The particular client will never know of course – we’re good at hiding our own terrors in this regard. The job always gets done, and done well. But the process – that moment of realising that you’re through to a new level, and must deliver, can be awfully painful.

Composition study: shells by Amiria Gale

I think it’s something that’s particularly tough in the creative arts. What I make – by definition – has never existed before. I produce concepts, not just outputs. Were I making steel rivets, there’d be some opportunity to make a better rivet, but not much. I’d be measured on speed and consistency of delivery, but the product would be a known.

Making unknowns – whether in words, music or pictures – is different. Working with humans, as I do, means that the subject’s reaction to the unknown thing yet to be made will also be an unknown. Unknowns piled on unknowns! Where’s the light to be found in all of that? It’s very easy to fall into the dark.

I did fall, and at the lowest point I felt like giving it all up. If I lost confidence, then there’d be no creativity. No creativity, and there’d be no clients. No clients and… and so the spiral descends.

But I pulled back from the edge, this time. Going back to the simplest principles of how light works with dark. Sticking with my instincts about where the strength of an image would really be found. Stripping away composition and complexity to tell a story with as small a number of elements as possible.

October wedding photo by Paul Clarke
The job was delivered, eventually. The client was happy, immediately. The dark… didn’t recede as such, but took on a new texture. And so did the light. And so we head into a new year.

However brightly or dimly the light shines for you this year, I hope that you find plenty of contrast. That’s really what keeps us going, after all.

Seagulls by Paul Clarke

No comments:

Post a Comment