Awakening to the Light

The easiest way for me to explain the way of seeing that transformed how I work is with a photograph. This image of a mannequin standing alone on a downtown sidewalk exemplifies how being aware of the light led me to create one of my favorite photographs.

It was an early morning in downtown Los Angeles, on Broadway, a street that has become one of my favorite locations for photography. I was walking south on the west side of the street. I had chosen to walk there because the morning sun was illuminating patches of the west side of the street, while the east side was relegated to shadow. I knew I wanted to work with the warm, direct sunlight, even before I had discovered a subject to photograph. By paying attention to what was happening with the light, I was already creating an opportunity to take advantage of it once I discovered a subject.

I came to an intersection and was ready to cross when I looked to my right and saw the mannequin alone on the sidewalk. The sunlight, which was passing between tall buildings from the east, came down like a spotlight onto the figure, and I immediately knew that there was something special there. I quickly moved down the sidewalk, positioned myself just off the curb, and carefully composed my frame. I exposed frame after frame, carefully adjusting the composition and exposure.

People walked past, seeing the mannequin as nothing more than an obstruction in their path, but I saw something different: I saw how the direction of the light revealed the color and texture of the dress. I witnessed the contrast between the richness of the fabric and the dull, muted colors and textures of

Being in tune with what was happening with the morning light allowed my eyes to find this subject. Without that awareness, the mannequin would've been just another obstruction on the sidewalk.

the sidewalk and storefront. I felt excited as I exposed the images, knowing that I had discovered and was capturing something wonderful.

This image likely wouldn't have happened had I not been aware of the light. Like many of the people out that morning, I would've seen the mannequin as just another object on the street, an obstruction to get around rather than something to admire, much less make a photograph of.

Each time I give a presentation or lead a workshop and this image flashes on the screen, I hear the reaction of the audience. I know that most of those people wouldn't have reacted to the mannequin in that way if we'd been walking down the street together. They wouldn't have seen it in the way I did, because they wouldn't have been observing the light. But through my photograph, they're able to see the light, the mannequin, the street, and the world in the way I did at that exact moment. Within that single frame, I'm able to take their hands and say, "This is the way I see the world."

So, even before I raised the camera to my eye. I was seeing my photograph because I was aware of the light. I was introduced to my subject because I was awake to the qualities of the light and the potential it had to transform the world around me.

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