Outside of the Cleveland Museum of Art, one will find the tree-lined Wade Lagoon. During a recent trip to the museum, my daughter and I had the opportunity to walk around the lagoon while the trees were blooming. The pink, purple and white petals were stunning to observe. As we paused along the way to take photos of the blossoms, some of the shots were filled with shadows that obscured the colorful blooms’ brilliance. After befriending the natural outdoor light, adjusting our cameras, and changing our positions, we walked away from the tree-lined lagoon, having captured the full beauty of the blooms.
George Eastman once said, “Light makes photography. Embrace the light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know the light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” Understanding the intensity of the noonday light and its effect on taking photos certainly helped my daughter and me on our quest to move from shadowy scenes to beautiful images. Eastman was correct. Knowing the light made the difference.
Light in the Shade
After delving into the world of shadow and light as seen through my camera lens, as I read and reread Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” I was struck by the symbolic images of shade and light she referenced. Gorman’s words, written for the inaugural ceremony of our 46th President, Joseph R. Biden Jr., were to reflect upon the theme of “America United.” She began her poem with a profound question, “When the day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”
Yes, where can we find light when there is shade all around us? Where can we see the light amid a global pandemic? Where can we find light when the color of someone’s skin determines how they will be treated by society? Where can we see the light when one is judged solely on their ethnicity? Where can we find light when who we love is up for public debate if a particular standard is not met? Where can we see the light when a gender pay gap still exists? Where can we find light when agism continues to be an issue? Yes - where can we find the light?
Gorman answers her question by the end of the poem - and I found her answer to be profound. She writes, “there is always light.”
Light has never left us. Even in moments of what feels like never-ending shade, there is light. The caveat according to Gorman is that light is with us, “if only we are brave enough to see it if only we are brave enough to be it.”
I read in these words that silence and complacency do not bring about the light we seek. On the day I was taking photos, the shadows were there in my pictures. They were real. And, I knew that there was more to the scene than the few shadowed photos allowed. In understanding light, and with some work, the true beauty of the blooms before me was captured. I hear the same thing in Gorman’s words. The shade is real, and, too, the light is present. To see beyond the shade to “America United” takes work. Brave work.
Ah, bravery. Best-selling author, researcher and professor, Dr. Brene Brown talks about being brave in her work on Netflix entitled, “Brene Brown: The Call To Courage.” Brown notes five aspects of being brave which include, “Be intentional about who you accept feedback from. Belong to yourself first. Gratitude. Embrace discomfort, and come off the blocks and dive in.”
This work is not easy. Embracing discomfort is hard work. The pay-off for being brave is witnessing light in others and ourselves, for the light is there.
Glimpses of Light
In the shade of the last year, I witnessed glimpses of the light of which Gorman wrote. I saw the light in the brave people, the essential workers, with whom I work every day. My co-workers come to work to serve the residents we care for throughout the pandemic because our love is more vital than our fear. We came to work when the pandemic was at its worst. At times, we came to work afraid. We showed up when we were tired. This community of essential workers embraced the discomfort and dove into the water to care for our people.
I saw the light in the brave people who came forward as witnesses to George Floyd’s murder and gave testimony to what they saw for justice to occur. I saw the light in the brave protestors speaking out against Asian hate crimes in the U.S. I also saw the light emanate from those seeking gun reform laws following a terrible month of gun violence. These are just a few of the ways that light is shining around us. It is a small snapshot of the people who have accepted the call to bravery bringing forth light and overcoming the shade.
As Eastman spoke about light is critical to a good photo, I hear how critical light is for uniting our country in Gorman’s words. We, too, want to embrace the light and admire it. We want to know the light and love it. But as Eastman noted in the case of photography, we need to see the light for all that we are worth. Silence and complacency will not work. Bravery is key. May we be brave and shine together.