“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole.” Carl Jung
In my last post, I kind of took a detour from photography into the world of mysticism. It was important for this series to touch a bit upon the subjects I presented. But, as it was a bit off topic, I will now turn again to photography as a metaphor for the spiritual life.
The past few years have been pretty tough for my family in a number of ways that I will not go into. What has come from it prompted my last post, and will be the underpinnings of this one.
Over the course of my life, one bit of truth has become crystal clear, great things can come from dark times.
Photography means writing with light, and this tends to get us looking for light in order to make a good photo. That is as it should be. However, what makes light look good is shadow.
Shadow gives depth, it offsets color and brightness, shadow frames what we see, and it should be embraced in our photos, as well as in our lives. Shadow gives the appearance of texture in a photograph. Without shadow, the picture seems bland and boring.
It is the same with the dark periods in our lives. The tough times, those filled with anguish, personal pain, and confusion, will, beyond making us tougher and more resilient, add texture, grit and perspective. If allowed to, tough times will make a life far more interesting and beautiful.
Different subjects call for different approaches. Usually, when I set my camera’s exposure I desire to protect the highlights so they don't blow out. Because the dynamic range of a camera is not yet able to compare to the dynamic range of the eye-brain combination, there will be a trade-off. If I expose for the highlights, the shadows will many times go black, and if I expose for the shadows, I will of course blow out the highlights.
Sure we can take multiple images with different exposures and combine them in an HDR photo but I seldom do that especially in street photography or while shooting a wedding, there is not enough time. And even here, shadow plays an indispensable part.
When I shot negative film back in the day we were taught to always try not to lose information in either the lights or darks. Film's dynamic range is far narrower than digital photography, and the information once lost was gone for good, making it impossible to recover and alter the outcome.
I love the old Jazz photography, and while much of what we see in those photos was brought about by the limitations of film, I like the look. It is very moody, dark, interesting, it works your heart, and these images are as much a part of the jazz mystic as the music itself.
Photographers tried to capture the essence of that art form, and a light airy photo would not have done it. Jazz and the Blues delve right into the darkness of our souls, and there they find beauty and meaning. A good photograph does the same thing. Neither is possible to an artist who shrinks from the shadow in their work and life.
We as photographers and artists must embrace the dark and as Jung tells us, we as humans, if we desire to be healthy, must do the same.
A person who has not accepted the darkness within them usually ends up highly judgemental in and quite puerile in nature.
Health does not come from the denial of our darkness but in acceptance and only then can we work to minimize its effects in our lives.
Don't be afraid to seek out a spiritual director, counselor or psychologist. Many of us have experienced true horror in our lives and a trained professional can be invaluable.
When we take a peek into the darkness,we need to be kind to ourselves. Especially if it is our nature to beat ourselves up over every mistake. If we do this then we too may want some help sorting through it all. Remember that wonderful line from the Desiderata.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
When we have embraced our darkness and determined to work on it, we can forgive ourselves for things we have thought and done. Things which guilt has uses to sabotage our lives.
It will also give us the power to resist all who would use that darkness against us. Many folks are good at this ,as is the enemy of our souls.
Just as in photography the shadow gives substance to the photo, it also gives substance to our lives. Remember what Jung said, “How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow.” If I cast no shadow, I am more or less, chimerical.
So, we must cast the shadow, accept it and accept ourselves, it is the road to health. Then live!