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Should we be afraid of the dark?

Should we be afraid of the dark?



The regulars of our reviews might have noticed that there are now more than a few of them that feature cars shot in the depths of night instead of the bright afternoons, as has long been our usual practice.

I'd like to think they are making a stylistic contribution to your overall viewing experience on the site, although truth be told, the serenity, absence of traffic, and overall quiet isolation (as well as the predictability of artificial light), have all been stronger draws for me to head out to shoot under the cover of moonlight.


Expect to see more night shoots from us in the near future!

I can’t really whip up a smooth transition here, so let’s just move on to talk about that isolation for a bit. Those used to looking from behind the viewfinder, I think, should not be too alien to the appeal of a quiet photography session.

Many of the great photographers including Henri Cartier Bresson and Elliot Erwitt shot predominately alone. Then there's Vivian Maier, who did not gain recognition for her work documenting the streets of Chicago until after her death - something all of you struggling to gain traction on Instagram ought to think about.

Photography is commonly imagined to be a quiet and solitary hobby/job - or it is, at least, in the fields where the object of said photography is predominantly the street or landscape. I like to think it probably is equally isolating in other fields. Darkroom work isn't exactly best done in a crowded room, and even today I’d like to think editing digital photos is typically done alone.

But as is the case with many things in life, there are exceptions to the rule. Consider, for example, Philippe Halsman, who not only worked with Salvador Dali to produce this astonishing piece of work, Dali Atomicus (that apparently took a total of 26 attempts to get right), but also was a dear friend to the surrealist painter.

Would the same shot have been possible if the two did not have a close working relationship? I highly doubt it. Look up the photograph and you’ll find images of the exposures that were rejected for one reason or another - Dali Atomicus was no doubt an excruciating piece to get right. It’s no wonder Halsman always saw some strange artistic value to blowing up a few cats (remember, this work was all shot on film).


I doubt Philippe Halsman would have been able to accomplish this exposure were it not for his relationship with Dali

I'm not sure what sort of life Halsman lived, being in such proximity to one of the greatest artists of his own time - note that he was also in contact with Albert Einstein, whom he also famously took portraits of, and additionally had worked for Vogue in France before fleeing to the U.S.A when war broke out in Europe.

But prior to all this, he was sentenced to prison after being convicted for the murder of his own father, where he contracted tuberculosis to boot. Now, I'm no fan of the stereotype of the hungry and struggling artist, but perhaps a bit of a life lived in the darkness is fundamental in bringing out the best of our creativity.

If you’d allow me to introduce another artist who was also convicted of murder, I'd like to have you consider the works of Caravaggio.

Caravaggio is arguably best known for The Taking of Christ, but my favourite from the artist is The Calling of Saint Matthew.

There's just so much to unpack here - notice Christ's halo here is barely visible, the cross in the window atop his outstretched yet not entirely tensed gesture - a dark foreshadowing of course, how the other tax collectors on either sides of Matthew lean away to add to the composition of the painting, and how two of them are even so obsessed with the coins on the table they miss the divine in their presence entirely.

It's a beautiful work, no doubt. But of course, the most beautiful part of the work, is how the light is depicted - an allegory for the illumination that would from henceforth guide Matthew's later years.

The YouTube channel Nerdwriter1 puts it quite beautifully (watch the video above) - witnessing a Caravaggio must have been shocking to anyone that has only known the flat light of the works of the renaissance.


And that, is exactly what I want to point out today (and what I think is most important for all who want to shoot in the shadows) - to remind you to keep looking out for the light, even in your darkest hours.

For all those who are struggling with their work when behind the camera, take pause to think about how maybe dynamic range and the ability to lift your shadows is not exactly all that useful in creating images that tell a moving story. Use the light to add visual hierarchy to whatever it is you're trying to shoot, and let everything else take its proper place - obscured away in irrelevance and in the shadows.

Caravaggio is a prime example of this technique - it is precisely because of the dominance of the shadows that such a tiny stream of light is given such predominance, so much so that even those just vaguely familiar with the biblical tale will recognise instantly just what the story being told here is.

And for those who are struggling with life's greater challenges - don't give up just yet, as when you're behind the camera, keep looking for the light.

There's no doubt plenty of challenges out there: I'm sure inflation rates (even here) are wearing away at the ability of many to live comfortably. And the World Health Organisation has announced as recently as November of 2023 that loneliness is now a 'global public health concern' - not the sort of news that bodes well for a global society that's supposed to be emerging stronger post-pandemic.


Can't find that zest for life? Perhaps you need a bit of company that shares the same passions as you do?

If you're feeling alone, look for company - the photography community here is greater than you know - and there's plenty of other support groups out there I'm certain. Your greatest achievements are yet to be accomplished. If there's a calling, then keep working at it and let all else find its own place. Hell, you might even achieve international renown only after your last days are done.

And for those for who things have truly become dark - remember, help is always at hand. Make that cup of coffee. Call 1-767. Don't let the light go out just yet.


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