Don’t be afraid of the dark.

Dark is important in our art. Dark is both the absence of light and the result of light .  The absence of light and subsequent subtraction of information creates mood, mystery, and drama.  The result of light is found in shadow, texture, contour, and form allowing depth, richness, and guts in our imagery.

No darks, no chiaroscuro. Dark can be a simple defining additive supplying texture in a jacket, pleats in a dress, or the soft curve and delicate space of a breast. Darkness can lead to mystery as Josef Sudek maintained, “the charm of everything is in the mystery” and Frances Bacon reminds us, “the job of every artist is to deepen the mystery.” The dark can also take us into the realm of the grotesque.  Mortensen warns us, “those who turn away from the grotesque are losing the richness and completeness of artistic experience … as everything exists through it’s opposite.” The dark can take us to the “other side” of our work, if we do indeed have another side to explore.  Basically, if you cannot manipulate, exaggerate, feather, blend, or interrupt shadow, if you cannot dance with the dark per se, then you do not know light.

Shadows can also be your friend. They provide elements of design and contrast, facilitate exaggeration and drama, and give ways to hide what you don’t want seen. We all need to spend time in the dark.  Appreciate the richness and mood of a Brassai or a DeCarava print.  Experience Ingmar Bergman, OrsonWells, Alfred Hitchcock, film noir, German Expressionism.  Feel the deep shadows, get lost in the shafts of light. Nothing safe. Definite emotions.

So, what can you do ?  You can light with less light.  Could you live a month without a softbox, umbrella, or an Octabank ?  Turn your subject away from your light source, a small light source perhaps. How little light can you use and still maintain the emotional impact of the photograph ?  If we light everything, then we have presented all of the information leaving nothing for the fertile imagination of creative minds !  Feel the dark, invite mystery, and inject more mood into your work.  See what happens when you ask your viewer to engage his mind a little bit more when experiencing your image making. Don’t be afraid of the dark.

“You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.”  …  Arlo Guthrie

“Dark is the next best thing to light.” …  Ken Merfeld

Categorized as Light

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