Darkness has had to endure so much bad press over the centuries. Various cultures and belief systems have successfully libeled its neutral nature as somehow evil and horrible. In the west, darkness is supposedly ruled by the “God of darkness”, Satan. We have dark humor, dark emotions, and the inky darkness of the depths. It’s no wonder so many of us have a fear of the dark.
Dichotomous religions believe there is absolute darkness and pure light. But, in reality, there are no such states in the known universe. If you try to experience “pure” light, you will become blinded. If you try to locate absolute darkness or the complete absence of light, you won’t find it. There are photons in the depths of caves and specks of light in outer space. If you find a very dark place and then close your eyes, you’ll see a dim, reddish orange glow.
I long ago debunked my own dichotomy of absolute darkness and absolute lightness in every meaning of the two concepts. It has been very liberating. I can fully appreciate and enjoy the magnificent views of White Sands, New Mexico at noon or the brilliant white snowdrifts after a blizzard during the next day’s clear skies adorned with solar brilliance.
I also, love and crave the deepest, blackest nighttime in an Indian rainforest, during a new moon, or within Carlsbad Caverns when the ranger switches off the lights. The spiritual sensations border on the euphoric.
One of my very favorite activities is to darken my bedroom as much as possible, then lay on my bed with eyes open to meditate upon my surroundings. It’s an amazing way to perform a reality check.
My friend, Andrew, completely lost his sight when he was wounded in the Vietnam conflict. He told me that he was surprised at how quickly he was able to accept the fact that he would never again be able to see. To have a blind friend is more of a treasure than I could ever have imagined. Andrew has deepened my appreciation of the darkness by his own, enthusiastic attitudes about it.
Aside from abstract, etherial aspects of darkness, the lack of light has been useful in many practical ways. One of those uses was revealed to me during my adolescence. I was a photographer’s assistant at my junior high school for a year. The journalism teacher took pictures of school events for the monthly school newspaper. I was privilaged to help out in the darkroom. Much of the time, the work was done in total darkness without even so much as a red lightbulb. The darkness enabled the development of the etchings of light made onto the glass plates.
Later in life, I was able to do some of my own work that formulated onto the emulsion coated film within the very dark box of a 35mm camera. Despite the wonders and immediacy of today’s digital photography, I still prefer to view the images from old style film cameras. The two featured images on this page originated from my trusty old Canon AE-1.
The dark sky was shot with Ektachrome film on a dark, cold December night in the late 1980s. It was a shot that I initially thought should be discarded, but I soon found some artistic merit in it.
The self-portrait is a light painting. I was suffering from an injured foot, so I couldn’t trek away from home for my usual outdoor expeditions. Yet, I was itching to take pictures one morning in November of 1988, just past midnight.
I loaded the AE-1 with slow Kodachrome slide film then set the camera in manual mode with the aperture stopped way down. I shut off the room lighting then opened the shutter in “bulb”, time exposure mode. This particular image was “drawn” with a small penlight. That morning was very conducive to more light paintings, as well.
The point is, that artwork contains the essential ingredient of darkness in various shades. The use of darkness becomes an integral part of an almost spiritual process of creation and discovery. The dark enables creativity as much as the light does.
The journey of life can be greatly enhanced when you allow part of that journey to be undertaken in the dark.
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes you appreciate the dark. Just be sure to watch your step when venturing out at night.