Shadow and Light

Chiaroscuro – Italian for the play of shadow and light, most often referring to tonal relationships in visual art (Wikipedia)

Walking through a garden or a forest is a much different experience than looking at it from afar. When seen from a vantage point, no matter how beautiful a view, only your eyes see the beauty before you and you are separated from it – it and you.  But walking in it and through it, that is a different experience altogether.  You and it become a “we” – fused together by a play of shadow and light, transient shifts of color and tone that enfold you as a part of nature’s spectral ballet.

Chiaroscuro is a term that painters used to describe the use of shadow and light to create the illusion of three dimensionality on a two dimensional plane.  Photographers embraced it  as a reminder that they were photographing light, not things. As I walked through the garden this week, each step became an experience of shadow and light. Every plant and flower took on a golden glow, filtered through the autumn leaves above. Standing below a fiery maple tree became a transcendent experience of standing in liquid gold; the deep umber and burgundy hues of light traveling through oak leaves captivated me for long moments.  The beauty of autumn is transitory, all the more treasured for that short period of time when we look upward at a canopy of color that is unmatched in any other season.

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Here is French singer Juliette Greco singing  Les Fuielles Morte (Autumn Leaves) in French in a live concert in Berlin (1967) in a simple arrangement of voice and guitar.  Sartre said of her that she had “. . . millions of poems in her voice.” (Wikipedia)

Where there is much light, the shadow is deep.  ~ Geothe

For a translation of the original French lyrics (by Jacques Prevert) to Les Feuilles mortes/Autumn Leaves (not the Johnny Mercer English lyrics) – see this translation by Coby Lubliner.

35 thoughts on “Shadow and Light

  1. From what I see on the Internet, it seems that Juliette Greco is still alive. Not having read anything about her in a long time, I would’ve assumed she was dead, so I’m glad to hear that she’s still around and to hear the young Juliette singing “Les Feuilles Mortes.” It’s a great song, lovely in its melody, nostalgic in its words.

    By the way, I looked up the Goethe quotation, which seems to be from a play named Götz von Berlichingen. As far as I can tell (it’s hard to be sure of anything on the Internet), the original words are “Wo viel Licht ist, ist starker Schatten.” I’d translate that pretty literally as: “Where there’s lots of light, there are strong shadows.” Loosening up a bit, I might say “dark shadows” or “deep shadows.” It’s a good yin~yang thought.

    • Steve, always a pleasure to read your comments. I think Juliette is still alive but not active professionally. There’s a great photo of her on Wikipedia at age 85, still striking.
      Oh, I love the fact that you can translate Goethe! It is always a hit and miss affair when using quotes that are translated works, though I do like the poetic turn of the quote that I used. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. What you write in the first paragraph is true for all photography. We need to be one with the subject to be able to transcend something bigger into the picture we want to create. As for the series of pictures here, they are all delightful, so full of colour and the smell of autumn. I like the way you move in and out while taking the photographs.

    • Thanks for commenting, Otto; it is an enormous compliment that you “smelled” the leaves of autumn 🙂 I went through a period as a photographer where I felt I was separating myself from the world, becoming a spectator, via my camera. I stopped taking photos for a while. Now, I try to cross that divide and use the camera as a link rather than a barrier. I know this is an issue that you discuss in your blog, perhaps one of those elements of creative work with which we all must encounter and grapple.

  3. Oh, Lynn… this is such a lovely post. It was perfect after a week of cloudiness and seemingly little light. I love the video of Juliette Greco singing Les Fuielles Morte. Beautiful and such a wonderful accompaniment to your slide show. I’d forgotten the word chiaroscuro. It got lost somewhere along the way. It’s wonderful to encounter it again. Thank you for the beauty of this post. 🙂

    • Robin, thanks for such a generous comment! I’m so glad I took these photos; since Hurricane Sandy blew through here, our trees are bare and everything looks so different. More light, less shadow. But I love the change and shift of the seasons anyway 🙂 Glad you like the Greco video – it was a great find, as I love the French version of the song and the guitar accompaniment was so perfect for the mood. I LOVE your new gravatar – red shoes! I need to get a pair of those!

  4. Ah, Lynn, this was so lovely. You do have a way with words and photography. WW and I were just talking about some of the things your blog has taught us about the ministry of gardens. We are beginning to see the mindset behind English gardens of old. In a tme when entertainment was limited and the pace of life was slower with few distractions, a stroll through a well-planned garden at various times of the day must have produced such delight.

    But the best treat of all was the French version of Autumn Leaves. Would you be appalled if I told you I remembered the words in English and sang along? It is one of my favorite songs. Thank you so much for that treat. I am home sick with the flu, and this made my day. 🙂

    • Oh, I’m not appalled at all! Autumn Leaves is a classic, no matter what language, a certainly a fav of every jazz guitarist I know. I loved your comment about the garden – it is easy to think of gardens only in pictures when the best part is moving in and through them and realizing that they move with you.

      Feel better and enjoy burrowing in for the day.

    • Thanks, Jean. I’m glad I photographed when I did; most of the leaves came down last night as we got the edge of high winds and rain from Superstorm Sandy. Now the trees are just wet and bare – but at least they are still standing!

  5. Hi Lynn–
    I love to read your writings. You have a way with words that captivates my attention and suddenly I’m walking through the garden with you, Juliette’s soothing alto voice crooning along with nature’s sounds. Enjoy your weekend.

  6. I love the way you address the necessary interplay and integration of opposites in order to live/appreciate a “whole” life: just a wonderful reflection to read with morning coffee: thank you for helping me start the day so gently and deeply!

    • Thanks, Kitty; I’m so glad it was a “good morning” post for you. I think my whole life (and probably others’ lives) is spent trying to integrate those seeming opposites in a meaningful way. Nature always enlightens me in this respect.

  7. Wonder words, pics, and song to capture the season. My favorite picture is hard to describe, but the one with leaves and shadows. Thanks for sharing this today – especially as our weather is drastically changing!

  8. Chiaroscuro is name of the villan in the children’s book
    despiroux (I didn’t spell that right 😦 ) – he is a rat that craves
    beauty but grows bitter when beauty rejects him – he is
    appeased when it’s discovered that all he really wanted was
    to attend a party and eat some soup. 🙂

    • Oh, I know the story you mean – The Tale of Despereaux. The rat was “Roscuro” but I never made the connection to chiaroscuro before – thanks, Rastelly! Along the same lines, I once named a feral cat “Chiaro” who hung around the garden for a while – she was a patchwork of black, brown, and orange with a tiny bit of white, more shadow than light.

  9. Perfect for this time of year. Did we see that gate dressed in Spring colors? I don’t know French but I understand the longing in her voice. Beautiful post! Chiaroscuro is one of my favorite words.

  10. Thanks, Hudson! You are absolutely right about the sensory experience of autumn; I considered going there but decided to keep it short and sweet. Even as I wrote the post, the shadows of leaves falling past the window kept me “in the space.” Glad you enjoyed the stroll 🙂

  11. A close encounter of the good kind. Getting in close does offer the best rewards as your words and photographs express, quite timely for autumn. There is more to autumn then just the colour. There is changing moods, changing vibrations, changing smells and it all happens all to fast. I guess what am trying to say, I did enjoy the walk through your autumn just now. Thank you.

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