Quick read, Shuhe, China, 2006
A local shopkeeper savors a read and smoke at high noon. This is by far the worst light of the day, offering harsh, unforgiving contrast. But I have two things going for me here: indirect, reflected light off the paper is softly illuminating his face, and the sun is just grazing the end of the top of the end of his cigarette. I use the spot meter to expose for the newspaper, which intensifies the shadow areas instead of graying them out. While the fingers, newspaper and chair are strongly lighted, the face and cigarette, which are the most important elements in this image, are subtly illuminated. His black hair and sweater have absorbed much of the light that strikes them, but just enough of his chest and hair show to give his body form.
Wangfujing Street, Beijing, China, 2006
I love lighting challenges. I learn from them, and perhaps others can as well.
While walking through this busy Beijing shopping district just after dawn, I noticed an intense reflection of sunlight on the glossy paving stones that lined the curb. Within that reflection was the shadow of a man and his pushcart. I wanted to abstract the man and cart, hold as much detail in the reflection as I could, and still give some context for the busy street around him. I exposed with a spot meter on the reflected sun. The reflection was so intense I knew that I would sacrifice some detail in the street texture. I made this image at 1/400th of second at ISO 80 with the lens closed down as far as it would go. I could have darkened it more with a faster shutter speed, but I would have risked losing background context. Exposure control is a balancing act – there are no right or wrongs here, only an objective to reach. I wanted to hold background detail in the street and I did. The image works for me because it is full of life and vitality, yet also quite abstract and hauntingly beautiful. A bit of burned out street is a small price to pay. I am not after technical perfection in my pictures. I am only concerned with expression.
Break of day, Beijing, China, 2006
When I shoot, I look not for things to make pictures of, but for the effect of light itself on things. I was drawn to the sidewalk shadows created by a row of columns, and the rhythmic rays of light that fell between them. These repeating diagonal lines could draw the eye into a scene. But what scene was there to draw the eye to? I solved that problem by moving my position until there was more space between the two columns at right than anywhere else in the picture, and then waited for people to pass into and through that space. I was very fortunate – within a few minutes, two people entered that space, walking together, step for step. Their back legs formed rhythmic diagonals that echoed the diagonal play of light and shadow in the foreground. The image became more than just expression of form and rhythm. It expressed a bonding process that makes two people into one – the rhythm of life itself.
Shadows at the corner, Shuhe, China, 2006
These ancient buildings display strings of lanterns and golden signs -- a tell tale sign that they have been gentrified for touristic purposes. Yet the rhythms of early morning life on the streets of this village are authentic. The shadowy figures at right are farm workers who could well be figures right out of the 1930s. I was drawn to this subject by the play of color, light, and texture on the building, but it was only an exercise in form until the figures hurried past me into the deep shadows at right. Shadows within shadow, they become abstractions that prove timeless symbols.
Oil Company Sign, Barstow, California, 2006
This sign, photographed in the late afternoon shadows at Tom's Welding and Machine Shop in Barstow, California, might have once encouraged travelers along US Route 66 to check their oil levels. Today it offers a nostalgic glimpse of a logo long since discarded.
I would not have photographed this sign without these shadows. They hide the face, arm, and a leg, leaving the warm late afternoon light to stress the active leg, chest and one of the arms. The name of the company is also abstracted – this image is about an icon, not a corporation. Even the company’s venerable slogan, “Best in the Long Run,” is obscured by shadow. I want this figure to exist in memory as much as in fact. The illuminated partial body, sporting large and small rust spots, says it all.
Rusting Wheel Hub, Barstow, California, 2006
This vehicle wheel hub l has long since come to a stop at Tom's Welding and Machine Shop in Barstow. The golden light warms its rusted finish and with a little imagination, it might seem ready to move once again. I moved in close to abstract it and stress the detail, right down to the tiny figures and symbols etched on the hub. The dark shadows in the background abstract much of the wheel itself, leaving our eyes to feast on the rusty hub with its bolts, nut, and pin, a true relic of the industrial age.
Choices at #101, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2005
Warm light and deep morning shadows mark the start of a new day. What will that day bring? I use the deep shadows blanketing the foreground to suggest that question. The warmth embracing both this woman and the house she is emerging from represents the comfort and security of the known, while heavy shadows signify the mysterious and the unknown. The interplay of light and shadow are working together as symbols for meaning in this image, as are the two doors, which suggest differing options. I intended this image as an expression about the choices we face, the mysteries that await us, and the chances we take.
The Dawn Casts Long Shadows, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2005
Morning and evening light in San Miguel's clear air and high altitude illuminates the warm colors of its buildings, the colorful clothing of its residents, and casts long and mysterious shadows. I find the man’s sharply defined shadow to be aggressive, perhaps even somewhat threatening. Yet the soft shadow on the right hand side of the image seems more of a mystery than a threat. The man is pinned between both shadows, and framed by the black hole of the doorway behind him. He is so relaxed that he notices none of this. But as photographers, we must notice such things. The meaning of our pictures depends on them.
Mourning Shadows, Mirogoj Cemetery, Zagreb, Croatia, 2005
This sculpture, marking the tomb of a 19th century resident of Zagreb, seems to be mourning a loved one. I use light and shadow here to tell the story of grief. There were originally three parts to this image -- the evergreen tree draping the top and left side of the frame, the sculpture behind it, and a tomb in the background. I used my spot meter to expose on the brightest part of the picture – the leaves. The sculpture gets darker as a result -– it seems to grieve even more as it merges into the dark background. The tomb itself vanishes into shadow, creating a large empty space in the center of the image. I use that emptiness to express a loss that cannot be replaced. It is the shadow that best tells the story here.
The Face of Time, Franciscan Monastery, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 2005
The soft reflected light falling on the face of this figure atop a 14th century sculpted column in the Monastery’s cloister creates a timeless image – it almost comes to life before us. I often think of the flow of light and shadow as sculptural in itself. It reveals as it hides, offering our imaginations food for thought. Some might opt to convert this image to black and white since there is very little color in it. I did not choose to do so. The tiny amount of color here is subtle but important – it is the palette of the middle ages itself, a bit of beige, a trace of purple, wrapped in the softness of gentle, indirect light. It is what gives this image its title.
Family Plot, Mirogoj Cemetery, Zagreb, Croatia, 2005
The haunting Mirogoj is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe. Some say Zagreb's former citizens buried here are better housed in death than they ever were in life. The small figure of the child is the focal point of this image. To make it contrast to the overall scene, I spot-metered on its brilliant white marble and everything else in the image falls into the shadows behind it. The cemetery itself thereby becomes context for the poignant sculpture of the child.
Self-portrait, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005
The morning sun was at a perfect angle, throwing a shadow of a heroic sculpture, depicting a mounted Indian holding a buffalo skull over his head, on to the street. As I tried to photograph this shadow, my own shadow kept appearing in the frame. I finally gave up and changed my concept. I would make the problem into my subject matter. I simply held on to the pedestal of the sculpture with one hand and shot with the other. Fortunately, I was wearing a wide brimmed hat, which, in combination with my photographer’s vest, makes me look very much like a figure out of the Old West. The resulting abstraction speaks more of Santa Fe’s history than it does of either the sculpture itself or myself. Both become symbols of a larger idea.