For four months this fall we lived on the brilliant paradise of Whidbey Island. We arrived by ferry in August, the perfect, late summer, Puget Sound weather surrounding us. Warm, dry days, huge, blue sky, sunlight for hours and hours and hours.
The kids went back to school in September and I got busy writing and learning. Since both kids have been in school full time I have taken every advantage of the long spaces of quiet to work. Writing every day, learning about blog design and promotion, and practicing my photography.
I’ve been writing for years, and even though I feel more confident about writing than blogging or photography, I still find that there are ways to improve my writing. It’s a a difficult thing to put your words, your heart out there for the world to see and judge. And I strive to find different ways and the confidence to do just that.
It’s even harder for me to put my photos out there. I still feel like a beginner photographer, scrambling up that huge learning curve. Even with the few classes I’ve had with amazing instructors, it’s really all about practice, practice, and more practice. Like teaching the muscles in my arm to sketch a realistic looking croquis in design school. Sketching class for three hours, at least two hours a day of sketching homework, sometimes just drawing eyes, thousands and thousands of eyes.
During September on Whidbey, the sunny days continued, the kids made new friends, Greg and I made new friends, it kinda felt like we were on an extended, super-relaxing vacation in the house we were renting, in the cutest town ever, Langley. Just a few blocks from the water, I could smell the salty sea air every morning. We made nearly daily trips to the beaches. Life was bright.
And the light in my kitchen, where I made myself a writing/photography nook was gorgeous.
For the past few years, once I took the leap to use only the manual setting on my Nikon D3100 and invested in a good portrait lens, I’ve been practicing taking photos in natural light, because natural light photographs are just oh so beautiful. Daily practice allowed me to see tiny increments of improvement, learning how wide to open the aperture, what shutter speed to use, where to place the item I was photographing in relation to where the natural light was coming from.
So many combinations, so many problems to solve, problems I enjoyed solving. Every day the light and I became better acquainted. Like a really fun friendship, that person you click with right away, that person you can talk to for hours, make cocktails with, laugh over dinner together, even struggle with through a new yoga class.
Then October came in like an ugly wet banshee, rain, rain and more rain every day, all day. The low dark clouds I usually associate with December or January in the Puget Sound came to visit early and overstayed their welcome like a relative who just won’t go home. At first the rain was a welcome reprieve from the dry air, but not for 31 days straight. I mean it just wouldn’t quit. It was the wettest October on record in the Puget Sound area in over a decade. The presence of the heavy gray clouds and rain left me without the light I needed for my photos. Suddenly a house full of great natural light became dark and difficult for me to shoot in. My photos became grainier as I increased the shutter speed. Everything looked dull.
I took to shooting outside on the covered back patio when I could, because at least there was a bit more light outside, but even then the windy rain made it difficult, as everything I wanted to shoot became wet. I wore Greg’s large raincoat with the hood up to shelter my camera as much as I could. Eventually I threw in the towel, cursed a lot, stomped around the house in frustration, reminded myself I was no kind of photographer.
Okay, so I only stomped around for a bit, then I decided to change tactics and study ways to shoot in artificial light. I looked up professional flash photography and how to make my own light box.
During October I also became nearly obsessed with perfecting French macarons. I had made them successfully, repeatedly in our electric oven when we lived in Everett, and now all of the sudden, every batch was failing me. I poured over recipes and advice on blogs, read about all the problems I might be having and what might be causing them. Did I stir the batter too much or not enough? Was the oven too hot or not hot enough? Maybe I didn’t let them sit long enough before I put them in the oven.
I tossed more than one failed pan in the sink and stomped around the house cursing this project too. Why in the heck did I have this need to perfect this silly recipe? Who really cared that much about a snobby French cookie anyway?
But after I cursed out my frustration and negative energy, and took a break, I went back to the problem. I finally realized I had to adapt to our gas oven and its weird fluctuations in temperature. I tried again. And I succeeded.
Then, how to photograph these beauties of my blood, sweat and tears, my success after so many failures. Unfortunately my perfectly baked macarons coincided with the sun’s disappearance and the arrival of the dark gray skies of October.
After thinking about it for a while and looking at food photographs on blogs and websites, it occurred to me that maybe I could try using the darkness. I couldn’t just quit taking photographs because it was too dark. In fact I decided to use the dark in my photography. I researched “dark and moody” photography on the internet, looked at gorgeous portfolios of these types of pictures, and read advice by professional photographers shooting their photos this way. I noticed, that even in these moodier photos, even though they might not be super bright, that light was still the most important element, even if it wasn’t always bright and happy. Like real life, I suppose.
That fall I was wrong about something, the banshee didn’t arrive in October. Nope, she came shrieking in with her mournful cry on the second Tuesday of November. She upended my world with her keening cry of death. How in the hell could we, the American people, have elected a man who is racist, homophobic, sexist, misogynistic, someone who makes us more vulnerable to those who hate us, someone who mocks disabled people, someone who claimed it was okay to grab a woman by her pussy, someone who threatens journalists and actors, anyone, basically, who dares to speak the truth about him?
What in the hell is wrong with us? Depressed for weeks doesn’t begin to explain how I felt. Is this the kind of man people want as a role model for their children, to lead our military, to have discussions with world leaders about nuclear weapons? Like with any grief, when you have others to take care of, you can’t just stay in bed and cry, you have to go on. Even though I wanted to toss that pan of pain into the sink and quit, I couldn’t. I can’t.
I still exist with my anger and my fear, but I choose to use my anger and disbelief as my own call against this bleak time. We will face darkness ahead, I believe that, even if, or perhaps most importantly if the only issue we face is the inability to communicate with and respect each other despite our differences. But we have to find our way through the darkness, even if we have to curse and rage.
Even every dark photo has a beautiful accent of light. The light will always be the most powerful force; I have to believe that. I will always, through art, through cooking, through friendship, through my own battle against injustice be searching for that light.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.