Sunday, January 4, 2015

Looking Back At Christmas

            Everyone takes pictures of family, friends, pets, and presents over Christmas.  I’m no exception, but I also like to photograph illuminated decorations, lights, displays.  I find the gleam of lone colored lights in the midst of winter’s darkness to be very appealing (see last year’s Christmas blog on “A Little Touch of Christmas” for the reasons why). 
            Since the holiday is now past and quickly drawing to a close—even if many of the trees are still up—I want to share some photographs taken this year (well, at the end of last year) to help in making a proper goodbye, and to see if the mood can still be maintained, at least until  the end of this blog. 
            The first photo was taken in the PPG “Winter Garden” in Pittsburgh.  I love the “W” formation that occurs when the tree is viewed from a low angle and contrasts with the strong lines of perspective in the ceiling above it.  I’ve taken variations of it over the years, and this time the result was formally symmetric and yet still “Christmassy”:  

            Outside that building in the courtyard is the skating rink, with an even larger tree in the middle of that.  And the walkway across the street leading up to the rink also has trees decorated with lights.  They make for a fine entranceway to the area late in the day when the sky is darkening:  

The contrast of the ivory point-lights against the purplish-blue of the rest of the scene provides subtle contrast and is ideal for the early evening mood. 
            Also interesting is how Christmas lights can become almost abstract when seen in close-up or under modifying conditions.  For example, this shot is of lights wrapped around a brick support column outside the “Good Zoo” at Oglebay Park in West Virginia, near Wheeling:  

The texture brought out by the glows and shadows makes the stonework look more like Styrofoam than brick, softening an otherwise harsh impression.   
            Another abstract view arose when we drove through Oglebay’s new illuminated rainbow tunnel.  The lights are stationary as they change color, but the long exposure and the moving car made the resulting trails seem dynamic and haunting: 

Though the whole length of the tunnel I saw only through the viewfinder of my camera, the number of exciting “starburst” pictures  that resulted was worth it.        
            Finally, near the skiing area at Oglebay, the blue lights wrapped around the trees produced an oddly undersea marine-life impression, turning the trunks into underwater phosphorescent growths gleaming with organic color as they seemed to lift bizarre “feelie” extensions.  The addition of the car’s headlights makes for a furtive interloper from some other universe: 

            These are all abstract patterns of Christmas—avoiding most things personal, intimate, or “cute.”  But even in these pictures that at first might strike you as stark, the interplay of light, color, and shape still create—even without pets, family, and gifts—that essentially “quiet” impression of Christmas, turned-in, secretive, a little haunting, and dependent as much on aesthetic arranging and artistic effects as does a tied bow or Santa’s red suit.  It’s a gift-wrapped season, and as much a joy to look at as it is to feel. 
            So I leave you with these visual impressions, something tangible for your Christmas memories, as we wave good-bye to a holiday that currently might recede in our hearts but not yet withdraw from our view.   
            I hope you all had a merry Christmas, everyone.