Textures of Chan Chan, Trujillo, Peru, 2003
The Citadel of Chan Chan, located in the deserts of Coastal Peru, was the ancient capital of the 13th Century Chimu Empire and the largest adobe city on earth. This picture of two of Chan Chanís ancient honey-combed walls communicates because of contrasting lighting direction. The wall in the foreground is illuminated from the side to stress its texture and give it a dimensional effect. The wall in the background, however, receives frontal light, which flattens its texture, and makes the subject lighter as well. Because of its side lighting, the recessed areas of the wall in the foreground are heavily shadowed and give it a sense of depth. On the other hand, the recessed areas of the wall in the background show almost no shadows within them. Whenever I shoot subjects that have surfaces facing in different directions, I can usually expect such contrasting effects as in this picture. I always try to be conscious of where the light is coming from. I prefer to use side lighting for dimensional effect and backlighting for abstraction. Frontal and overhead lighting is usually boring, flat, and literal, unless used for contrast and context as in this shot. Thatís why I generally try to shoot early or late in the day and avoid the flatness of overhead mid-day light. The flattening effect of frontal light is another reason why I prefer to use natural lighting instead of flash in my photography, and Iíve always advised my students to do likewise.
Tango Mysteries, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2004
As I began photographing the shadows cast by the neon tubing attached to the side of this Tango Club, a woman walked into my frame and lifted both arms to her head, as if she was dancing the Tango. I pressed the shutter release at that instant, capturing her with her arms frozen on the back of her head, leg bent forward, head down. Is she dancing? Or is she just fixing her hair? Weíll never know. When I later studied the details of this photo on my computer, I was astonished to see that the advertising photograph featured within the sign at right shows the head and arms of another woman in the very same pose. These congruities and incongruities turn a Buenos Aires street shot into a thematic image worthy of close study. Light and shadow combine to give this image its context and intensify its meaning Ė abstracting the woman by shadowing her face and body, creating a dark stage for her to dance upon, and illuminating a background filled with mysterious detail.
Natural Bridge, Aruba, 2003
One of the main attractions of Aruba's east coast is a 100 foot-long coral formation carved out by the pounding surf over the centuries. Rather than describe the appearance of this bridge in my photograph, I wanted to express the feeling of walking twenty-five feet in the air over the swirling waters of the Caribbean Sea on a bridge designed by nature. Using my wideangle converter lens, I backed away and used my spot meter to expose for the intense sunlight on the water itself and thereby abstract the image. Everything went black except the foaming water and a hint of blue sky. The tourists standing on the bridge itself became tiny silhouettes, defining its size through scale incongruity. It is the interplay of light and shadow that turns what would have been a literal snapshot into an expressive image.
Schoolroom, Humberstone Ghost Town, Iquique, Chile, 2003
Humberstone once served a flourishing nitrate-mining town at the junction of the Pan American Highway and the road to Iquique. It became a ghost town when the mining stopped in 1960. Forty-three years later, this abandoned town is almost perfectly preserved in Chileís Atacama Desert. Some of its interiors, such as this schoolroom, have been carefully restored to their original appearance, right down to the paint on the desks. I wanted more than just a picture of a schoolroom, and the light streaming through its one window and onto its desks and floor, gave it to me. I used this light as a symbol Ė a glowing substitute for the energy of children who have long since departed.
Archduke's Crypt, Artstetten, Austria, 2003
Archduke Frans Ferdinand, whose 1914 assassination in Sarajevo triggered World War I, is entombed in this crypt on the grounds of Artstetten Castle, just outside of Vienna. The only light entering the crypt comes from a small window, barely enough to cast a soft golden glow on the tomb of the man who almost became an emperor. The soft light enhances the mood of this memorial image, while the interplay of light and shadow add a sense of dimensionality to the scene.
Kremlin Cathedral, Moscow, Russia, 2003
The gilded medieval domes of Moscow's Cathedral of the Annunciation rise over the Kremlin's walls against a brilliant blue sky tinged with feathery clouds. Early morning light softly burnishes them with light and shadow, causing them to seem as if they are rising out of the picture toward us, as well. Within just a few hours, when the sun moves higher in the sky, these same domes will appear flat and harsh. The angle of light is critical to both effect and meaning -- the lower the sun, the greater dimensionality.
A mother's tomb, Central Cemetery, Vienna, Austria, 2003
Highlights graze this bronze monument to a woman who left four young children behind. It was the interplay of light and shadow that attracted my interest first, not the tomb. These highlights emphasized only the youngest and the oldest of the children, and minimized the rest. Nature sculpts and resculpts this sculpture with light every day. It's meaning changes hourly. At this moment, the light was coming from the side and grazing only the two children who look to the left. I exposed for them, knowing that if I exposed for the entire scene in order to make shadow detail more visible, I would wash out the details in the highlighted areas. Shadows withhold and suggest meaning, while light fully reveals it. I often expose for highlights, and let shadows go dark. It makes my pictures more abstract, less literal, and often more dimensional, leaving room for the viewer's imagination to do its work.
Dusk, Svir River, Russia, 2003
The Svir River links the two largest lakes in Russia -- Onega and Ladoga. We moved onto the Svir at dusk, its rippling water still reflecting the lingering sunset. I exposed for the sky, allowing the Svir's mysterious waters to grow even darker. Light sculpts its ripples into rhythmic echoes of the clouds overhead. Of the thousands of images I made in Russia, this is one of my favorites -- I can look at it again and again and never tire of it. I think it holds such fascination for me because of its dimensional and abstract qualities, created largely by the interplay of light and shadow in the sky and on the water.
(In November, 2004, after a number of people expressed dissatisfaction with the point of this image, and after Zebra was kind enough to suggest the "revision" below, comparing it to my original image, it occurred to me that I could make an additional point with this image by revising it myself, using Photoshop as my tool. The version above is my new version of the same image that Zebra has labeled as "original." What I have done, essentially, is to use the new Photoshop CS "Shadow/Highlight" tool, which revealed much more detail and color in the clouds that I had realized were there. I did not have the Shadow/Highlight tool available to me when I originally edited this image back in 2003. I essentially have changed the message of this image in Photoshop by creating more emphasis on the Sunset (highlights) and less emphasis on the shadows. We now not only have the tranquility I wanted so much to express, but it is also an evening of great beauty. The added color brings warmth into the image that was not there before, extending an idea that Zebra suggested in his first re-do of it. I think this image is much stronger in its new version, and wonder what its critics will have to say about this. It shows us that with Photoshop we have infinite opportunities to affect the meaning of our images. It is if I went into the darkroom (in the good old days of film) and created a print that expressed entirely new ideas. It is perfectly legitimate in my view to do so. I added nothing to this image that was not actually there that night. It was just not properly presented in my first version. It is now. Let me know what you think.)
The Ring of Fire, Kamchatka, Russia, 2002
I was photographing a range of Siberian volcanoes from the deck of a cruise ship at dusk. A seagull drifted alongside the ship, and when it entered my frame, I was able to capture it floating over the distant mountains. As much as this picture is about the moment, is also about light. A intense golden haze envelopes the horizon and the entire sky becomes luminous, filled with a variety of colors generated by the glowing evening light. I exposed for the sky, allowing the gull, sea, and mountains to become abstractions in shadow. This area of the Bering Sea is known as the "Ring of Fire". And so is my photograph.
Adobe Gate, Camino del Monte Sol, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2002
Light can have a subtle, as well as dramatic, effect. I photographed this old adobe gate just after dawn on a very cold winter morning in Santa Fe. The sun is still low in the sky, and screened by trees. It illuminates the wall with diffused, rather than direct light. It casts soft shadows that brush the surface of the wall in a range of warm, dappled tones, enriching the colors and drawing the eye to the charming weathered carving on the door.
Ittigran Island, Siberia, Russia, 2002
I was very fortunate to be up on deck shooting as the sun broke through heavy morning clouds during our approach to this tiny Siberian island just off the coast of the Chukotka peninsula. I had never seen a mountainous landscape illuminated as selectively as this one was. Siberia is one of the harshest lands on earth, yet the fleeting early morning light had turned this rugged, remote island into a place of great beauty. The sea itself becomes a black, abstracted base for the scene -- the barren mountains are splashed with streaks of gold, while heavy clouds roll by overhead tinged in purple, yellow, and gray. My ISO setting of 400 provides a subtle texture to complement the nature of the landscape.
Grand Palace, Bangkok,Thailand, 2000
A palace spire reflects the setting sun in a blaze of gold on a field of deep blue. I deliberately underexposed the picture to make the sky darker than it really was. It creates more contrast for the temple spire, which became a burnished stack of golden cubes. Because of the effect of reflected light, this golden spire becomes a glittering abstraction symbolizing not only the Grand Palace itself, but Thai culture as well.