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  • Writer's pictureEllen Fisch

The Art of Architectural Photography: Light the Lights!

As I always maintained, my passion for photography, architecture, art is all about the light. By nature the flip side, the rich, deep darks are also an essential part of my love of light. This fascination with light all began early in my life. Movies played a big part of it because they literally lit up the darkened screen and theater. There on the lighted screen, wonderful visuals would unfold. I remember seeing Walt Disney's Fantasia for the first time. Fireflies, dew drops, moonbeams and snow flakes twinkled with light as delightful music counterpointed the scenes. To an impressionable four-year-old, Fantasia was and very much still is an inspiration to impel me to create using light.

Too, I was raised in an older house, one that dated from the "gas-jet" lighting era that was well before my time. The jets were electrified and the old fashioned fixtures remained. Blossoming out of patinaed brass sconce arms, delicately crafted, hand-blown and fancifully etched glass globes were a romantic source of light for narrow hallways and steep stairs. Radiating from these vintage lamps, shadows of tracery decorated the walls and floors in designs that seemed magical. And too, there was natural light with its influences. My Brooklyn neighborhood was lush with trees. My childhood bedroom window looked out onto nature's fretwork of branches and leaves. The ever shifting lights and darks made a powerful impression on me.

As a youngster I drew and painted what I saw, especially architecture. I photographed with my Brownie and relished the exploratory aspects of viewing subjects through the lens. However, this passion for light was as yet undefined and not a conscious focus in my photography and painting. The light subliminally found its way into my images to give form and depth to the subjects. Although I took art classes in high school and prepared a portfolio for college, I concentrated on composition, form, line, design and the other mandates of tradition. And other influences continually impacted my work as art evolved during the 1960s and 70s. It was a time of change and there was a lot to focus on, as I believe that the "new" should be, at the very least, noted. The light was always there, but its profound importance eluded me until one specific moment.

In addition to my devotion to photography and other arts, I have always found the sciences deeply appealing, in particular the natural sciences. Shorelines, forests, fields, mountains provide an infinite number of resources for the photographer. Whatever architecture humans create, however unique and exquisite in design, nature's architecture is unsurpassed for the majestically imperial that at once seems quite possible. With this mindset I took a geology class in college. On a field trip to a cave that was known for unusual rock formations, I saw something so personally important that I am forever indebted to Geology 101. The cave was dark and musty. At one point I stepped into a puddle that spilled water into my sneaker. As a natural reaction I looked up to locate the source of the wet. Through a small slit in the rock ceiling of the cave fell a single sunlit drop. A tiny brilliance in the dark. The sight of this magical illumination caused me to consider light in an entirely different way. The light made all the difference.

I now use light as the most critical part of my work. Light defines, forms, describes. Its properties are one of the single most important parts of a photograph or artwork. The pictures I took on my travels in India use light in disparate ways. Some are of diffused, soft light to complement the antiquity of a work of architecture or monument. Some are full of hard-light contrasts to emphasize stone carvings or cavernous structures. In all my photography my use of light expresses my aesthetic feelings about my subject. Creating with light calls to mind the droplet of brilliance in the cave that gave light a whole new meaning for me.

Creating with light: black and white architectural photography from my upcoming book about my trip to India. In each black and white photograph, my feeling about the specific work of architecture is expressed through the lens of light.

Afghan Church: Mumbai, India

Nagda Temple: Udaipur, India

Jama Masjid: Agra, India

Temple Interior: Khajuraho, India

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