L is for Light

| May 4, 2014

As a child, any time in my parents’ house or in my grandparents’ apartment when the stove’s light was not turned on, I would turn it on. These amber lights fascinate me, and still do until this day.

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In Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsay, the work’s heroine, exposes her vulnerability in the dark, immersing herself in her own microcosm. Mrs. Ramsay’s sublime, privatized experience with the lighthouse’s light evinces her intimate relationship therewith:

Losing personality, one last the fret, the hurry, the stir; and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity; and pausing there she looked out to meet that stroke of the Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three, which was her stroke, for watching them in this mood always at this hour one could not help attaching oneself to one thing especially of the things one saw; and this thing, the long steady stroke, her stroke. Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at—that light, for example. And it would lift up on it some little phrase or other which had been lying in her mind like that—“Children don’t forget, children don’t forget”—which she would repeat and begin adding to it, It will end, it will end, she said. It will come, it will come, when suddenly she added, We are in the hands of the Lord. (Woolf 63)

The light consoles Mrs. Ramsay, akin to how she cares for her family. The beam’s oscillation enables her to transcend reality; her mind’s movement parallels the light’s. Mrs. Ramsay’s near divine, celestial presence throughout this novel—even after her death—reinforces how her power and care affects everyone within the Ramsays’ household. Physically and spiritually fostering harmony for all holds primacy.

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I was only a child when Bauhaus embarked on their ‘reunion’ tour, so unfortunately I did not go to this show. While I understand that editing, particularly the use of grayscale, partly constitutes my aesthetic experience with this video, Peter Murphy’s use of the light bulb as he sings accentuates the eeriness of his lyrics and the music, especially Daniel Ash’s obscure guitar playing, make this performance absolutely haunting.

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I did not study art history in my undergraduate career, and therefore I do not have the proper ‘terms’ to analyze the following photographs and paintings properly. Nonetheless, I went to the MET about three weeks ago, and I found one photo and two paintings that really struck me, particularly on account of their use of light.

Branco, Miguel Rio. Touch of Evil. 1994. Silver dye bleach print. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This haunting work does not do justice on a digital platform. In person, I found that I could not stop engaging with this photograph, looking at the how the photographer distorts the subject’s face and also uses light to establish a disquieting mood.

Hammershøi, Vilhelm. Moonlight, Strandgade 30. 1900–1905. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The unsettling ambiguity of these nineteenth century paintings has me wondering what occurs in this scene—a space devoid of life—but not really. Light infiltrates these works and almost serves as the only acknowledgeable presence therein. I found myself examining the works’ starkness and desolateness. I found myself introspecting and imagining myself in this place. Imagining when I have felt this stillness illustrated.

Mellery, Xavier. The Doors. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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In contemporary photography, Alison Scarpulla’s work intrigues me:

Photo by Allison Scarpulla

Photo by Allison Scarpulla