Grapevine with shadow

When I saw today’s Photo Friday theme, In Shadow, I knew I’d have a difficult time choosing one image to share. J and I have an ongoing joke about my fondness for taking pictures of shadows; whenever we go walking, J knows that if I stop and aim my camera down or toward an otherwise unremarkable wall, I’m probably shooting a shadow.

Shadows

I’m so fond of light and shadow, I have an entire blog category, a Flickr photo tag, and several photo sets devoted to them. I admire the way shadows simplify objects by streamlining them into mere shape; shadows, like photographs, condense three dimensions into two. I also marvel at the way shadows define presence through absence: because light isn’t here, some sort of object must be there. I love to watch the shadows of overhead clouds, for instance, roll across a landscape, and I’ve spotted more than a few overhead hawks and crows because their shadows have passed beneath my earth-bound feet. I’m intrigued, too, at the multiple meanings of the word “shade,” for the dark shape cast by slanting light both embodies the essential shape of a given object but also its transience: shadows, like the bodies that cast them and the ghosts they leave behind, are here today and gone tomorrow.

Three umbrellas

Yet, shadows are even more transient than that, for anyone who has spent an entire day meditating inside a well-lit Dharma room knows how oddly entertaining it can be, when you have nothing to do but sit, to watch your own shade–the upright shadow cast by your torso as it sits centered on your cushion–move around you like a sundial’s hand: here in morning, there in afternoon. Just like your thoughts, ephemeral shadows cast by clouds race across the floor before your downcast eyes: who knew that a quiet wooden floor had such daily dramas played upon it, unnoticed?

Due to a congenital quirk, J has trouble perceiving visual depth: to him, the world looks flat, not contoured. Rather than seeing the world in three dimensions, he sees it in two, with both shadows and objects looking like flat patches of color. Given this optical oddity, it makes sense that J is an excellent photographer: whereas the rest of us have to imagine how a three-dimensional scene would look when flat and framed, J’s eyes already focus on the bare essentials of color and line. Shadows, too, simplify a scene by eliminating the extraneous details of depth and distance. The sun is millions of miles away, but right here, underfoot, she announces her presence in shadow.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, In Shadow.