Shed Light | Ann Whittaker

 Ann Whittaker. Palm Springs, 2017. Film. Hasselblad. 

Ann Whittaker. Palm Springs, 2017. Film. Hasselblad. 

“ the magician of the cosmos.”
-bruce watson


As photographers, we begin our day in darkness–place of imagination, possibilities, potential, and abstraction. If we want to catch the best light, we must pack our bags in darkness, consume our caffeine of preference, and walk or drive to our destination before form has come to the landscape.  It’s a blank canvas filled with only what we can imagine.  We have an idea of where we’re going and what we might see, but, when the light comes, our imagination greets the form of a landscape that will only look this way once–light is truly the magician of the cosmos. It will change a landscape, a person, a subject day after day after day. Light recreates everything it touches with every new dawn.

An Ode From the Road:
Let it be known that Jen brews a cup of the smoothest coffee for me every morning while we’re traveling. She knocks on my door, and there she is, holding the classiest cup of jo you ever did see. Pro tip: partner with humans that have big hearts when you have to wake up before the sun is out. I’m pretty sure the imagination loves a little stimulation in the dark. Jen is forever my caffeinated morning muse.

We set out to catch the shed light.  

What? It’s a paradox, see? Let’s explore, shall we?


Initially, when we hear or use the phrase “to shed light,” we are talking about exposure–if you shed light on something, you make it clear to understand. You see it without its bells and whistles. It’s like a snake that sheds its skin–now it’s bare, like the desert, unobstructed by masks, ego, facades. To shed light on something is to see it at its essence, at its core. There’s no more abstraction. It is what it is, and the stories and narratives fall away. It is exposed. No more hiding, no more imagining–you see it. And yet, tomorrow, when the sun rises again on the very same object, it will have a new form and shape because the sun will have moved or a cloud will filter the light.

Which is why photography, to capture one specific moment, is truly magic. It will never look exactly the same again. We are light catchers.

ETYMOLOGY: shed (v.)

:: cast off
:: to divide, separate, discriminate, decide
:: scatter abroad, cast about
:: part, separate, distinguish
:: divide, split, to cut

Light begins almost every cultural creation myth–let there be light. First there was darkness (a womb where imagination begins the process of creation), then the light was divided from the darkness–in Hebrew, it was “cut” from the darkness. Light was shed, and forms were split, separated, and distinguished as the light scattered.


As a catcher of light, I happen to love darkness–it is my refuge. Don’t get me wrong, I love light–I really love light. But I also believe that space and time and rest are healthy for any relationship. Burnout is real. Light can be overwhelming in its beauty, its honesty, its turned-up volume. Darkness requires me to step away from the camera, from seeing, and back into a world of dreams and “anything goes.” Darkness truly is a natural state that takes no effort, no defining, no constraints.

In his book Light: a radiant history from creation to the quantum age, Bruce Watson describes night as the muse for early tribes when they would gather around a fire. I suppose that they intuitively knew that in order to de-pattern their brains from what they already knew, darkness had to come to help them imagine other ways of being and other ways of doing. There’s something about shutting out the light that rejuvenates our imaginations–perhaps this is yet another way of shedding light.  

 Ann Whittaker. Palm Springs, May 2017. Film. Hasselblad. 

Ann Whittaker. Palm Springs, May 2017. Film. Hasselblad. 


From yin (shadow) to yang (light), things materialize–they take shape. There is clarity in form. I think of how Michelangelo could look at a block of marble stone and cut a distinctive form that is clear and real. From yin to yang. I think about composing a picture: I know (sort of) where I’ll be going; I know (kind of) what the landscape or cityscape will look like; I know (maybe) that something will happen to bring life to my chosen backdrop.

The final form of any of my photographs never entered my imagination, however, if I had not dreamed in the dark places, my muse would have never pushed me out of the door. Light always brings more form and clarity to what I thought I had in mind–and the results surprise me in the most remarkable ways.

ETYMOLOGY: clarity (n.) → clarify (v.)

:: brightness, splendor, clearness

:: make illustrious, make known
:: splendor
:: to glorify
:: brilliant

Clarus (clear, distinct) + facere (to make, to do)

To shed light: to separate the light out of the dark, to give things form, to see things as they are, in their essence, without abstraction or distraction. We are photographers, hoping to shed light moment to moment as the contours of shadow and light dance together. We seek the clarity of common ground, where complexity dissolves into simplicity.