My first forays into photography were all about revealing as much as possible. I didn’t understand how darkness could help me notice the light.
In our sunlit, beach-combed, selfie-world, it takes a little bravery to move into the shadows.
The cruck barn at the Pendle Heritage Centre at Barrowford, Lancashire has a particular quality of light that is underpinned by the shadows. It’s a light that draws the eye inwards – into the building and into the self.
Tanizaki’s book In Praise of Shadows, extols the virtues of darkness, noting that our evolution from the use of natural and candle light helped shape the places and objects that we use.
He says that “the quality that we call beauty…must always grow from the realities of life and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.”
In my journey towards the shade, I also found an ally in John Ruskin:
“I do not believe that ever any building was truly great, unless it had mighty masses, vigorous and deep, of shadow mingled with its surface.”
My final guide towards the darkness was a man from my home town of Middleton near Manchester. Edgar Wood was an architect with an artist’s eye. In an address to the Manchester Society of Architects in 1908, Wood draws out the atmospheric qualities of shadow whilst talking about another artist, Henry Wilson.
“He employs his materials with real power, seeing those that will best convey his aims, the glory of soft gold, the luscious and crystal richness of marble, the reflecting surface of metals, the sparkle and preciousness of jewels….Nor does his message end with this but in addition there is the strong imaginative faculty which is manifest in the subtlety and mystery of arranged light – which forces the imagination to dream in the dark splendours of colouring – half seen, half guessed in the high obscurity of his rich interiors..”
Thanks to Tanizaki, Ruskin and Wood, I’m no longer afraid of the dark. Shadows contribute to hidden depths in a photograph – so much so that they have the ability to take on a third dimension. They become portals into an immersive world that allows the viewer to hover within the confines of that space.