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« Photography in Service | Main | An Aloha to Film »
Sunday
Jan312010

Finding Light in the Dark


The steel cold bars of her hospital bed framed her eyes. Oceans of lapping blue curiosity gazed at me oblivious to her predicament. Emma Jane was 6 months old and in the fight for her life...

Clients’ names bounced on my caller ID, the ringer off, and voicemail full. We had been through this all before and I had my system down. The portable coffee maker from Walmart sat atop the dorm sized fridge the candystriper found in the nurse’s lounge. My cot eased with a folded down comforter, I’d sneak her out of her crib at night, winding her IV’s through the maze of machines to our little bit of heaven. She curled into my side, her head resting in the nape of my shoulder, breathing into my soul.  Only this time I’d brought one extra bit of comfort, my camera. I wasn’t sure why I brought it this time, it seemed a bit inappropriate to take pictures of your child in the hospital. So much of our journey was plagued with uncertainty. 15 doctors, no diagnosis. The slightest cold would manifest itself in one of her lymph nodes on her neck and infect, abscessing and resulting in surgery to remove the node and infection with fevers reaching 105 at times. I was running on pure adrenaline each time we ended up in the hospital, 6 times in all. I was helpless, without answers, without direction, without control….except for one thing. I could capture her moments, I could hold her in time, I could make it all ok, creating a reason for that moment to exist outside of that cold, white room. I wasn’t just going to be a mother sitting helpless with her child. I could alter this experience. These were moments I would never have again, the isolation with my child, just she and I against something larger than us.  Suddenly with the camera around, I could reframe the fear and remove the anxious moments by viewing her through my lens and capturing all that was beautiful in that moment. The silhouette of her tiny head enshrouded in a ray of light from the machines. Her tiny hand holding onto her IV as though directing its nourishing fluids into her weakened veins. In her eyes I was able to see the catch light in her soul assuring me everything was going to be fine, she was strong and beautiful, teaching me to embrace all that was right in the world, even when everything in that moment seemed so very, very wrong. It was during this time I didn’t dare to use flash, I could only operate in high ISO mode, with impossible white balance situations. Suddenly having to understand the technical aspect of photography was mandatory. It was in these darkest hours of my life that I finally understood….light.
The light in Emma Jane’s hospital room, to the naked eye, was cold and bland. Yet because I had become one with the environment, I was able to sense beyond the obvious. I was connected to a story being told by the shadows, through the arc of her hair in an unexpected silhouette. The gauze bandage on her neck illuminated in the darkness, a metaphor for the protection of her fumbling innocence. The juxtaposition of her wounds and her peaceful eyes, the unbridled trust she had in the windows to her soul. Light is not always ambient, it sometimes travels from within.
A story is told with the use of shadows.  I learned from that time with Emma, that all light is good light, it’s just different light. It’s how you use that light that makes it interesting or not.
However, there is a light that is my favorite of all the lights. I call it the Sweet Spot. The Sweet Spot is your best friend, and lives in almost any building, any house, any location. The only issue is, it plays hide and seek. You simply need to know it’s there and it gladly comes out to play. This treasure is located within the fall of shadows, but not all shadows or shades, you need to learn how and where to look for it.  In the hospital the light draping into the windows allowed an oasis of possibilities in capturing the perfect catchlight in her eyes. The most common location for a Sweet Spot is in doorways, or even in the dark  abyss of your garage…. The darker the room with an open wall, window, or doorway to the light, the more precious the glow. 
Emma is a healthy, rambunctious child now. A Dennis-the-Menice of sort with the nickname DilEmma. She raptures us in all her chaotic grandure, leaving me remiss in the ability to capture the camera quickly enough, thank goodness for the iPhone...
I've learned much from my mentors, held their wisdom close and prayed endlessly for osmosis that one day all of their knowledge would be embedded in my subconscious. Yet it was this innocent child, in the darkest moments of our lives, when I truly wakened to the beauty in embracing the imperfections of life, and light...

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