Photography

The Beauty of the Night Sky

The milky way over an arch in Joshua Tree National Monument. © by CC Lockwood/ used with permission

 

Recently, a photographer friend, CC Lockwood, offered a welcome suggestion. Had I thought about doing a blog post on the beauty of the night sky? Not only did his idea inspire this new post, he was willing to let me include here two of his copyrighted photographs. They display well his masterful skill with a camera, especially in challenging circumstances. Following his lead, I will focus on the night sky theme here, and anticipate a proper focus on CC’s photography and books in a future posting.

Milky Way rising over the Davis Mountains. © by CC Lockwood/ used with permission

The allure of the night sky was recently and surprisingly brought home to me in, of all places, downtown New Orleans. For there, because of bright city lights, on a clear night you will see few or no stars at all from just about any location in the Central Business District or the French Quarter. Yet, sitting in New Orleans’ historic Saenger Theater for a concert, I was delighted and distracted by the ceiling overhead, mimicking the enchanting night sky, with subtle bulb-lights effectively representing sparkling stars and recognizable constellations. If you have been there, you will know what I mean.

One of my earliest memories of having a sense of wonder in response to the night sky goes back to our first house in a suburban area of Yokohama, Japan. My room had a built-in bunkbed. At the top of the ladder, at the foot-end of the bed, was a framed clear window. I remember moving my pillow near it, looking out on a dark and clear night, and marveling at the view of the stars above.

from Nepali Times

I also remember a late summer night in south central Minnesota, about ten years later. Some friends and I had decided to sleep out at a place at the edge of town. We not only had the benefit of a clear sky on a dark night, we saw a partial eclipse of the moon as well as some aurora borealis. It was an astonishing and memorable experience.

That we are still touched by such sights, especially when we get away from urban areas, tells us something. We are not so different from people who lived 2,000+ years ago in the Near East, whose words record a similar sense of marvel. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth his handiwork” (Psalm 19) These words spoke especially to me when I was camping on a then-somewhat-remote part of the south coast of Crete, preparing for Baptism, between terms at Oxford.

The image below, of the night sky over Zion National Park, reminds me of a more recent experience while camping on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It not only brought home to me those words from Psalm 19, but also the story about God summoning Abram out of his tent to view the abundant stars in the night sky as a sign of God’s promises (Genesis 15; in an image much repeated in the following chapters and books of the Hebrew Bible). I cannot think of a more evocative place than the Canyon rim to say one’s morning prayers at sunrise, and especially one’s night prayers under the canopy of light above.

It is encouraging to learn how in recent years managers of a number of geographical locations have sought to establish no-light zones, precisely so that we might appreciate the glory of the night sky. The website, https://idahodarksky.org, has some very beautiful images of what may be seen at such a location.

 

To see more of CC Lockwood’s evocative photography, as well as to learn about his numerous books, you can visit his website here: https://cclockwood.com/

The Beauty of Ansel Adams’ Vision

 

Here is one image of Ansel Adams’ encounter with the evocative forms, textures, and light-sensitive surfaces of the historic church in Taos, New Mexico.

Here is another of his images of the same church, from the east end:

Adams’ attentiveness to the features of the natural world, and with his particular eye to the dynamic interrelationship between light and dark, helped him to create a legacy of compelling photographs that continue to be a source of allure for those who love photography. Many of us find especially compelling his winter images, as well as those of Yosemite and northern New Mexico, where he spent so much time in the field.

Adams’ photographs often prompt me to think of John’s Gospel. This is because of Adams’ and John’s mutual interest in the juxtaposition of light and dark, and the dynamic relation between the two in our perception and experience. Given our present physical as well as spiritual existence in this world, and considering the terms of successful photography, the presence of the dark helps us appreciate the beauty of light.

A technical inquiry into Ansel Adams methods, about how he photographed scenes with film-based cameras, helps us appreciate the significance of his technique. He used lens filters to highlight visual contrast, and was equally attentive to the composition of the chemical baths used for developing the negatives and the subsequent prints made from them. Noticing and considering these aspects of his creative work helps us appreciate how the ‘given-ness’ of what he saw was also shaped by how he came to render and present it. If he had been a religious man, he might have attributed some of this ‘rendering process’ to the shaping power of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel writer, John, in receiving, interpreting, and then presenting Jesus and his ministry, as well as Jesus’ life and death, had a similar challenge. There was the ‘given-ness’ of Jesus’ teachings, signs or mighty acts, and his powerful presence in the eyes of many. Yet, John, led by the Holy Spirit, has given us a marvelous Gospel shaped by the spiritual dialectic between light and dark. And this is what brings to mind the ostensibly secular parallel provided by Ansel Adams’ portfolio. Among several passages in John, consider the marvelous account of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus by night in chapter 2. And John, alone among the Gospels, records Jesus as saying, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Perhaps, when we are brought to the hoped-for ‘other side,’ we won’t experience a contrast between light and dark, but rather something more like a contrast among various captivating colors. Yet, while in this world, and while our lives remain colored by sin, we see, and we see better, when we are blessed by the perception of contrast between light and dark.

A ‘both-and’ approach to what we encounter in life may be congenial and even comforting when we deal with paradox and contradiction. But, an either/or challenge to our preferred ways of seeing things can be bracing and helpful for our perception. This is one reason why, even though most of us see the world in color, black and white photographs can be so evocative. As John recognizes in his Gospel, the darkness that has not overcome the light helps us recognize the Light of the world.

 

In memory of Robert (Bob) Bolton of Albuquerque, NM (1948-2022).