THERE’S A BIT OF A STORY behind how I came to make these four photos I made a couple weeks ago, and if you have seven-and-a-half minutes, I’d like to share it with you.
On the 24th of May, Sarah, Watson and I finished an episode of Family Feud and were about to head upstairs to bed. It was probably 10:00pm.
Watson went out back for the final time, and I sat on the back steps, feeling the breeze. It was gentle, the breeze. My cheek touched it as it passed. That might sound strange (it was strange to type, just now), but I felt as though, somehow, this small bit of moving air was meant for only me, at that moment.
“Just notice me, for a second,” the breeze seemed to say.
Watson and I made our way back inside, having successfully evaded Max (the deeply troubled dachshund next door) and, for some reason or no reason at all, I sat back down in the middle of the sofa and began flipping channels on the TV, instead of following Sarah up to bed. Watson decided on the love seat as his bed for the moment, curling up into a furry, black and white ball against one armrest.
Sarah had gone upstairs at some point when Watson and I were outside, and I guess I didn’t realize she had turned off all the lights downstairs, leaving the living room to be lit by the television alone, which is plenty of light with which to navigate our downstairs quarters.
Our television remote has about .05% battery power, and I sat there for a good twenty minutes before I reached the threshold of frustration required to hit the power button and finally retire for the night.
With a push from my thumb, the TV instantly went black. The darkness hit my eyes immediately, and I was unprepared for it. It took me a moment to adjust. Nothing irregular. I stood and walked over to Watson to say goodnight.
ME: Goodnight, buddy. Love you.
WATSON: Goodnight, Rosie.
WATSON: Just kidding, dude. Goodnight. Love you.
I realized my eyes had adjusted to the light, and that the light my eyes had found was coming from a familiar source, but one I hadn’t ever really paid much attention to.
The light was coming in from our porch bulb and was streaming through a small window, illuminating the staircase and the wall beside it in a way that commanded my attention. It was as if the light was calling to me to notice it.
My camera happened to be sitting on the table next to the couch. I reached down, picked it up, and turned it on without ever taking my eyes off the light. I was spellbound. I put the viewfinder to my eye, instantly saw the frame I wanted, and pressed the shutter.
I looked at the picture, like the impatient child I have always been, wanting instant gratification. With only a quick glance, I thought I had something decent and should probably head up to bed. But, I suddenly felt compelled to take a few minutes longer with this experience.
“Slow down, a minute. Where do you have to be right now? Nowhere. Relax. Remember the breeze from earlier? Take a few minutes with this. Be curious. Look how beautiful it is!” I thought to myself.
I moved around that staircase from every angle I could think of, looking through my lens and capturing whatever I could see. During the entire experience, I was completely at one with my intention, my work, my purpose. I was in a *zone.*
Now, none of this story is about how good or bad my work is. It’s about how I got to notice something for the first time that I had probably seen hundreds of times before and never recognized. It’s about how I spent time in the midst of the beauty that is always there but rarely seen and came away with a way to share that experience with others.
*Seeing the light on the stairs* is certainly a metaphor (maybe even a decent book title), and I’ve been looking closely at the lessons that metaphor brings me.
It’s also different than a metaphor, though, because in the experience of making those photos, I spent about twenty minutes creating. And during that creative process, I was in communion with that which is more than me. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I was being called to see that light on those stairs.
Maybe I have been called to see it before. Maybe often. But this time, I *heard* this call, this persuasion, and spent time being guided by it.
I think the photos are pretty decent, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they were terrible. The experiential reality of a realm *beyond me* was made present to me through that twenty minute photo session.
I believe art is one of the conduits through which we can share with each other what being a human is like, and, through the gift of creativity, also come into communion with the “Mysterious More”— a name I once heard Marcus Borg, an intellectual hero of mine, give to what many might call, God.
When you hear a song that moves you, watch a television show that enraptures you, really examine a painting or a photograph that transports you, let a poem wash over you in a way which takes your breath away, or even notice the way a bit of light hits a staircase in just the right way, your life is different than it was before that event. It’s undeniable.
I have begun giving myself permission to trust those moments again. I respect them in a way I haven’t for a very long time, if I ever really did. Those moments, those events, give me such hope. When I experience them, I feel as though what I do matters.
With art, there is a creator with an intention, an audience with some kind of expectation, and the work. When I was shooting our stairs, though (and in many other personal examples I have thought about since), I felt I was *sharing* the process of creation with something beyond me, with the Mysterious More.
Why can’t I call it *God*?
Because, I just can’t right now.
Maybe I will again, but for now, I affirm a *Great Mystery.*
I’m doing my best. That’s my story.
I wish you peace.
2 thoughts on “Seeing the Light on the Stairs”
Compare your photo to Emilio Pettoruti’s “Cone of Silence” prints. He explored the theme in several related prints. He was a giant of South American art in the early 20th Century, but less known than Picasso and other contemporaries.
Thank you for this information, Karl. I’m definitely going to check him out!