Sun-blind to the shadows: how our struggle can sneak underfoot
March 26, 2019
Photographers love light. We just do.
The general rule is that the more light, the better; but there is such a thing as too much light. High noon, the time of day the world is at its brightest, is arguably the worst time to take photos. The light is harsh and unforgiving. It’s often hot and subjects easily get sweaty or washed out. When the light is that strong, a shadow is hard to find.
Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing what it is like to love someone struggling with a functional mental health issue (functional anxiety, functional eating disorders, functional addiction, functional depression). The tricky part, I said, is that you can often see the good while the bad is still happening.
As I said this, at first thinking of other people in my life, I felt a pang of truth and self-awareness in my chest. That was exactly how I managed 12+ years of self-hatred and disordered eating: I knew people could see the light and I knew people liked it, so I used it to block out the shadows. I kept them sun-blind to my darkness.
Photographers quickly learn that just as light is important, so are the shadows.
It’s easy to miss to the shadows when if the light is bright enough. It’s often just easier to ignore the dark, shadowy parts of ourselves or our loved ones all together. Light is bright. It’s warm, safe, and easy; but it’s also blinding, and in that way it can be deceiving. When focused on too much, light causes us to lose sight of the shadows and it is there, unacknowledged and unfettered, that the darkness grow deeper.
Have you ever looked a high noon shadow? Look down. It’s usually directly underfoot, sitting where we cannot see and stretching deep into the earth, threatening to pull us down and envelop us in its blackness.
When the shadows stretch out in front of us, we can work with them. When the dark sits side-by-side with the light, we can find a little balance. Our eyes can adjust to the depth and the complexity that stretches out before us.
As much as we love the light, we have to acknowledge the darkness to expose the full picture.