Las Luces: A photographer’s mission to train the eye and, maybe, the heart

Dec 22, 2016 | 8 comments

Here’s a broad brush-stroke of a statement: I have a knowledgeable command of photography and humankind. I know what the ingredients of a well crafted photograph are and I know what the eye and also the heart are drawn to. Saddle up with me for a second, we’ll be taking a little ride right through the middle of my mind. We’re going to see about composing a photograph and composing the heart.

As my knees dug into the rough cobbles of the plazaleta, I continued to adjust the perspective of my lens.  My gear was locked down tight on a tripod with the camera only 14 inches from the ground. It truly is a degree here and a degree there in order to achieve the most satisfying result. That’s after you have selected the proper lens for the job at hand. In this case, I’m using a wide angle lens in order to be able to capture all the components I want in the photograph. The lens I chose for this composition sees about twice as wide as normal human vision.

Painters are able to create as they see fit, adding or subtracting elements from the chosen scene to suit their needs. They are able to match their intended message to the story the painting tells by being able to adjust in this way.  I am a self-taught photographer who uses many of the techniques of skilled painters in preparing my composition. I study the masters and use their techniques to inform my photography. I do not “make” what is not there so I borrow from what is available at a given scene in order to milk it of its goodness. A technique of French Baroque painter Claude Lorraine (1600-1682) was to use pools of light in a darker foreground in order to direct the eye up and out into the painting. This also serves to help separate planes of depth within the artists work. J.M.W. Turner and John Constable admired his work and used these and other techniques into the 18th and 19th centuries.

I know the human eye is drawn to light. If I show you any photograph, your eye will go to the lightest area of the photograph first before exploring other elements within the composition. When appropriate, I use wider angle perspectives to draw my viewers into my art and to keep them engaged. The photograph above has several pools of light and also different planes of depth within it. My use of the combination of these two elements, light and depth, invites the viewers eye to explore the scene. But, there is more.

I use these elements to “direct the eye” in the manner, actually the order, in which I want the photograph viewed. To lead the eye presupposes a beginning point and subsequently, a destination. A well-made  photograph should keep the viewer engaged and cause their eye to “rove” the work, often moving back and forth between several elements as they mentally assemble the image in their mind. In this picture, the luces lead you up and out into the photograph where your eye next meets the horizontal band of people.Your eye quickly moves to the tree since it is large and lighted and then you examine the large suspended ornaments. After that, it will be the building which has a lesser quantity of light falling on it and then the few stars shown in the space of night sky in the top center of my work. For most people, their eyes will then completely reexamine a scene like this a couple of times before settling on a division of attention only between the luces and the tree.

As I carefully adjusted my equipment to obtain the desired composition, I wasn’t really having to think all this out since I have made countless compositions along the way. For me, it’s like riding a bike, you don’t forget how to do it, you don’t have to think about it. I knew I had assembled what I needed to please the eye in numerous ways. I had created a perspective that allowed you to actually enter my art. But, in my true form, I had to start thinking about it anyway because that’s how I’m built. I began to concern myself with how another part of the body responds to various scenes; perhaps I could refer to them as situations.

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That thinking doesn’t have to begin with self examination, you can just examine others for what you imagine their intentions or responses to be. But, I think you will be ill-paid for your efforts. In order to be paid for my efforts, I have to examine me. In this case, I began to consider my heart and what it is first drawn to. When I see a scene, a situation, does my heart immediately go to what is light as my eyes would in one of my photographs? Well, hmmm, of course it DOESN’T!  In a way, I can’t believe I’m typing this but truth is worth everything and I’m going to provide it its due, allowing it to prevail.

Well, at least my eye always goes to the light first, I remind myself. However, conscience has a mouth that luckily for me does most of its communication by shouting at me in lieu of talking to me. Yes, it’s the truth, I’m a human and it’s my nature to sometimes see the darkness in things first.  Actually, I may see the darkness first and then my heart informs my mind that the total content of the scene is darkness. So I am caught right there for some unfathomable reason, denying any light is in the situation or scene. Of course, it may indeed be brimming with light but somehow, I can only see the dark in it. That’s even if only a few percent of the scene has a darker context, a lack of light so to say.

So, as I made the final adjustments and allowed the shutter curtain to open and close recording my composition as you see it here, I had quite a conundrum on my hands. Frankly, my thoughts troubled me, I really didn’t like them too much. I’ve read a great deal about light along the way. I want my heart to see light first, not darkness. And, I want to be a person who always projects light onto my fellow humans. Well, always is a tough concept. But, besides being an emitter of light, I seek as a human to also be a reflector, to turn light back on the people who use their hearts to shine that special light on me.  And, there are many of them. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t made to think so much, it would be an easier life in numerous regards. But its value? Not as much I’m afraid.

So, what will I do? I know what I can do; it’s what I will do that is the issue at hand for me. I’m purposing to let my heart always see that beautiful light first and then stay focused on it. I’m purposing to always be a little lantern, a luce, a luminary, an emitter of light. I purpose to work at draining that part of me that is darkness so I don’t absorb light but reflect it back on all the good people around me. I’m purposing to train my heart as my gift of sight has been trained. To go to the biggest, brightest light first and then, examining all other bits and pieces of light within a scene/situation. I purpose to remind myself that any darkness within me has no purpose in service to myself or others. And, I purpose to train my heart to interpret scenes with the same level of skill my eyes provide my camera. That’s a lot of purposing for me! However, there are many who love me, care for me and help me. I’ll be getting there with my own efforts but know this, all your love and encouragement turn my little path into an interstate highway. Every one of you greases the skids of my life journey and I thank you all for it. It’s all of you who make my path what it is.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all of you and your families. I’ll see you next year!

Brian M. Buckner, Cuenca, December 22, 2016

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