thinking with pictures

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Light of limbo; time traveler

early evening photo of waterway and group of ducks

ducks at dusk near Funaoka shrine, Echizen-city, Fukui-ken, Japan (click image for full view)

Dusk is such a mysterious time The shadows and luminosity change perceptibly; and within just 45 minutes full daylight turns to semi-darkness. So one’s sense of time is challenged: no longer is there a feeling of ‘eternal present’ and the ordinariness of normality. Instead it becomes effortless to blur the boundary in one’s waking consciousness that usually so sharply separates present from past and future. This scene could easily be 2015 or 1950 or 1815, apart from the paved road and utility poles and wires.

Perhaps something similar happens in language learning. Once the fundamentals are mastered and one can interact with little effort in the new language, then a bit of blurring begins in the line that used to separate “us” and “them,” or “foreign” and “familiar.” It may become hard to remember whether a given conversation or source of  an idea was conducted in one’s first or second language as the two become more porous in one’s mind.

And again, from a different field for analogies, perhaps something similar happens in rising levels of proficiency and fluency in a sport, hobby, or other skill-based form of expression. As one picks up momentum, eventually the static parts begin to blend and produce a certain rhythm and pace which one can effortlessly transpose or move across and within. A dialog begins between oneself and the particular medium one is working in. In all these cases a similar blurring effect happens – blurring of chronological moment (orienting one’s place in the flow of time), blurring of self-perception in first and second languages, or the power of mastery that results in “flow” or effortless fluidity in the particular field of actions.


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golden hour, blue hour, gray hour, night

fading light Sunday after 4:30, central Echizen City

fading light Sunday after 4:30, central Echizen City

For some reason the fading light of the evening beckoned and rather than climb the steps and make supper, I set off for a walk to the riverside and enjoyed the cool November air and the rising north breeze. Street lights began to shine, headlamps on the cars came on, and the dusk deepened. What is it about the day’s changing light toward the evening (or in reverse order: night to gray, to blue, to golden at sunrise) that is so appeals to emotional response? The time when the sun is low in the sky and the light temperature shifts to the warmer tones seems to amplify and intensify the colors alone and against each other, the shadows are sharpened and darkened, too. As the golden hour gives way to the blue hour with its cooler light tones, it is the opposite effect to the golden hour. Now the reduced range of colors makes those remaining colors seem precious; or at least they seem different to the normal look of broad daylight. Even a familiar location takes on an unfamiliar look in this light. Then the last of the colors become even more muted until the light values that define shapes and relative distances is something like grayscale. Now the full night is not far away, so something magical happens – the boundary between history and the ordinary daily life of the present tense blurs a little. The leap of imagination to step into the past or the future is a small jump. It takes just a little effort to imagine the time has changed. The line between the living and dead thins in the quickly passing twilight as night takes over. What is the attraction of night photography?.Using a tripod changes the pace and length of exposures that now is possible, thus producing images different to ones quickly composed and captured. And the extreme lighting of artificial source versus unlit adjacent space means that point-source light is clearly defined, individual, palpable and 3-dimensional (unlike the all surrounding direct sunlight and indirect sky reflection). All together then the 2 hour span from Golden to Blue to Gray to Night provides a seamless stream of changing light conditions, each of which has appeals on its own. But when taken back to back, it is a feast for the eyes in four courses!

rearview: On the importance of hindsight

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rearview: On the importance of hindsight

Southbound on the springtime highway and alert to Whitetail deer invading the road at the twilight hour, I checked my sideview mirror for other drivers on the road and there caught sight of the evening glow and the shine of the car’s body. Some colors shifted in the weak warm color-balanced light. The lesson here is the to not only look for photo opportunities that may lie in front of you, but also to look with equal care to left, right, bottom, up, and even behind. Photos may present themselves for capture in unexpected places, time, or angles. So it makes sense to carry a small camera at all times and to look in the opposite direction to one’s ostensible subject.