“Where Shadows Come to Die”

Perhaps it would be better titled, “When” than “Where” shadows come to die. The image below was made at Squire Valleevue Farm’s eastern meadow shortly before noon, May 26th. By late morning in the month of May in northeast Ohio the sun casts only weak shadows that cause the landscape to lose much of its texture and perceptive color.

Several years earlier I had photographed this same meadow at the same unpropitious hour yet had the good fortune to capture what became a popular series I named “Constellations.” The images were ground-level views of dandelion heads, white spheres clustered like so many stars, their desiccated yellow petals dried in the sun, replaced with white threads; orbs of geometric, flickering fluff fixed in a transient state awaiting a propagating wind. Mirroring these constellations of dried dandelions, small, tightly bound cumulous clouds arranged themselves against a blue sky. The successful images that day were unexpected as the effulgent light almost directly overhead produced almost no shadow, absorbing red, orange and yellow wave lengths, rendering the landscape texturally flat. And though the more recent photograph pictured below was afflicted by the same midday light, it too retains dimension and texture. But why?

As I found myself comparing other photographs I had taken at midday, I developed a theory as to why some appeared washed out and some still succeeded in the harsh light. My own experience suggests that there may be another explanation to this counterintuitive phenomenon. It may be illusory, simply a function of the sheer number and variety of elements in the image, especially the number of complementary colors that add texture and dimension, creating the illusion of shadows as the visual effect defies conventional lighting orthodoxy.

The photograph below provides some insight that I should have discerned years ago. Early blooming magenta heads of clover in the foreground, violet hued, little bluestem prairie grasses and contrasting variegated green Timothy grass, dotted randomly with bright buttercups, in toto creating a counterpane tapestry of light and color, appearing to undulate in waves, spreading, almost floating across the meadow. And in the distance, anchoring the scene, the farm’s small hoary-white barn, flanked by a brilliant black locust, its first leaves of spring opening, soft neon yellow and green.