The Light

Many years ago while I was working for the Diocese of Cheyenne, I brought my camera with me to an event at a parish.  The bishop saw the camera in my hands and said “Matt, take some pictures.”  So I did.  What started out as a request for some snapshots to use on his blog turned into a full-fledged part of my ministry, where I use my photos in much of my work, as well as a most enjoyable and challenging hobby. 

Obsession might be the better word here, because that occasion tripped a creative lever inside of me that had never been tripped before.  Prior to coming to work for the Church, my business required that I pour over spreadsheets and investment analysts’ reports, which were not really right-brain activities.  Seeing the possibilities of expressing creativity through photography, I dove headfirst into the picture-taking pool.  Since that time of the bishop’s request, I have taken tens of thousands of photos.

Most of those photos have been deleted, however, because they were awful.  Out-of-focus, poorly composed, over-exposed – I believe I committed almost every photography sin.

One cannot become a better photographer by just taking more photos, as that approach just equals more junk. To become a better photographer, one must take a critical look at ones photos with the intention of learning from those mistakes. In my desire to get better, I learned that it helps to look at the masters of painting to see how they use light in their work.  Since photography is all about light, I thought that was a great idea.

In 2018, the Denver Art Museum had a show featuring sketches and paintings by Rembrandt, a true master of light in painting.  We lived close to Denver at the time and made the trip to see the show with some friends.  I took my camera with me so I could make a record of Rembrandt’s work for my study.

I took a photo of every piece in the exhibit.  I went home that night and downloaded everything to my computer, ready to make a detailed study of all that I had seen.

But I got distracted and they sat on my hard drive for 3+ years, never seeing the light of day. 

Recently, two friends, independent of each other and just a day apart, brought up Rembrandt’s painting of The Prodigal Son.  I was reminded of the photos I took and looked at them again in detail.   

Rembrandt’s use of light brings depth to the sketches and paintings.  The sketch shown nearby, Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves, uses light to emphasize Jesus and, peripherally, the two thieves, while clouding the others in shadows and darkness. It feels as though we are a part of the scene, not just viewing a flat sketch.

We are approaching the fourth week of Lent, a benchmark that may find us wondering how we fell so short of fulfilling our intentions of faithfully preparing for Easter and how we can get back on track.  This is a question I ask of myself, and this sketch brings me hope that I can salvage my commitments.

Darkness is the absence of light.  Rembrandt casts light from above upon the crucifixion, the cruel torture and death of the Son of God.  Without the light, there is darkness and no hope.  But the light, even in the darkest moments, gives us hope that this is not the end of the story, but the beginning.  Thanks for reading.  If you would like to see the photos of Rembrandt’s works, write to me at mpotter@evdio.org and I will send you the link.

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