God, Light, and my Photography

Posted by Travis Threats on

I am a Christian.

That sentence needs to stand by itself.  Odd how people are often reluctant, other than in church, to simply say that to others.

In setting up the topic of this blog, are these two statements.

I am a Christian.  I am a Ph.D. trained college professor and scholar in a health field.

Unfortunately, there are those who think that these two are incompatible- devout Christian and scientist.  In many university education, I have had several professors I would call “preaching atheist.”  This is a concept I never had before going to college.  I knew there were atheists, but I did not think they were seeking converts.  But right in the middle of a statistics class, the professor broke into a long rant on 1 does not equal 3 on the mathematically proof against the Trinity.  In a class on Greek literature, the professor similarly broke from the topic to state, in about 3 different class periods, that Jesus was not the son of God.  As a faculty member, I once was visiting at a university and happened to be in a faculty meeting.  The Chair said that they were interested in this one candidate and that she had called her phone to get additional information.  She told the faculty that the person had a prayer on her answering machine and here is her quote “I am going to eliminate her from the pool because we can’t have some religious fanatic on our faculty.”  It was one of my many failings as a Christian that I did not speak up.  My thought was this is not even my faculty so why should I intervene.  This is as inexcusable as someone hearing a racist remark and saying nothing.  My silence confirmed to this Chair that I thought that it was not acceptable to have a scientist that was a devout Christian.  I suspect I was not the only one in the room thinking what I did, but there is often a fear that expressing Christian beliefs in an academic setting could hurt your career.  Now, before I go on, I want to state emphatically that I am not in the school of thought that college professors are single handily turning college students away from God.  We are LUCKY if they put into their long-term memory 50% of what we tell teach them on the subject matter at hand.  They certainly are not going to change their world view because we express an opinion!!

Science and religion are not opponents.  I believe that science reveals the nature and truth of God.  I suspect that the “preaching atheists” do not actually believe there is no greater power.  They do, they believe science itself is the greatest power, that which can explain all things.  And as the most learned about science that would make them the equivalent of the high priest. 

Christianity has also been accused of spreading intolerance, hate, and making some superior to others.  Science, on the other hand, is pure and objective.  In the epic battle between Creationists and Evolutionists, the “high priest” of it for scientists is Charles Darwin.  Yet, Charles Darwin repeatedly said that in the controversy concerning humans evolving from apes that he would rather be evolved from apes than Black people.  His “survival of the fittest” has the philosophical underpinnings of the strong should rule the weak, because nature prefers the best.  The weak should disappear. This point is not to villainize science, just to point out that it too can spread intolerance, hate, and making some superior to others.

Which leads me to that I am a person of faith and a person of science. Which leads me to light.  My belief is that it is in light that God reveals Himself, not all of Himself but just a glimpse.  But a glimpse of the infinite still leaves us with a lot!!!

The nature of light has perplexed scientists including Albert Einstein who taught us the most about it. A quote from Einstein-

“As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists

I state that Einstein was not an ordinary “human being,” but a genius.  Not only because of his discoveries in physics but because he was genius enough to know that science did not have all the answers. Lesser minds believe in the absolute knowledge science can reveal.

Now back to light.  Light is absolute- its speed travels in an absolute way.  It is not relative like mass, time, and length.  Its properties continue to be studied.  It is both a wave and a particle.  It is the only thing that is truly timeless.  We take it for granted in our lives.  It is said that it is impossible to explain the concept of “wet” to a fish.  It is always there so it cannot be a state of anything.  Light bathes the earth but we pay little attention to it. Science tries to downplay it to simply a set of physics principles.

But why are we drawn to sunrises and sunsets?  It is because then the light becomes something mystical, something we realize is magical and holy.  It is not generically everywhere like a blanket.  It is streaking out into the sky, producing beautiful colors.  Those colors are always there in white light which contains all the colors.  But because of atmospheric conditions, the contrast with the dark, the earth’s rotation, the angle we view it that, the greater distance it travels before reaching our eyes, that we see the white light broken up into these marvelous colors.  Now we notice the magnificence of light. Now “serious” photographers too often dismiss such photographs.  I have read many times that to develop one’s photography skills that first must avoid sunrises and sunsets.  It is too easy, not a challenge as a photographer.  Perhaps what they are really concerned about is that their photography cannot match God’s splendor, something even an amateur can capture.

Visible light is a small part of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, all of which is light.  There is rich history of scientists postulating about the nature of color within this visible portion.  Color is only present in light. In the dark, there literally are no colors.  The color of an object is that which is reflected back and our retinas in our eyes can sense, with the others being absorbed.  We see only the colors that our retinas can detect. In other words, we do not see all that is in front of us, only what we are capable of perceiving.

Now at this point in your reading you are probably thinking “I thought this was a photography blog?” 

So let me pivot to what all this has to do with photography. Controlling, compensating, enhancing, and manipulation of light is one of the challenges of photography.  Also, photos represent a 2-dimension image of a 3-dimension objects, resulting is some distortion, including light.  There is “hard light” and “soft light” and contrasting “transmitted light” and “reflected light.” Is the light coming from above, the side, or below?  As stated before, color is a function of light so it has to be considered in photography.  An additional complication is that the camera cannot capture all the subtleties of light and color that your eye can. In other words, it can take work to make the picture look like what you see.  Now, many photographers are trying to enhance what they see, to make it more interesting, more dramatic, more anything than the object itself. Some consider that the fine art of photography.

Which brings me to my view of light and photography. One of my favorite aspects of photography is the pattern of light in nature.  But I am not shooting for is perfect “white balance.” I do not know how to use selective reflective light in outdoor settings to enhance a photography, or flash.   I did buy Lightroom and Photoshop but frankly I find them too complicated to use, although open to learning.  I bought a flash for my camera but have never used it, not sure if even know how to attach it.

Lacking technical skills, I concentrate on the natural light on the subject, how it is revealing God in this picture.  That is why I consider my work Christian wall art or faith-based wall art.  It is my intent.  This does involve study of my subject.  I can walk around a potential picture for 15 minutes or more from different directions, different heights, different distance from the object, and different angles. I know the holiness of nature, but I must work with the limitations of my human eyes and this mechanical digital device to realize it.  During this time, I usually talk aloud to myself, which has sometimes caused worry to people passing by.  I should probably put in a Bluetooth phone earbud in so that people will think I am talking to someone.  Often, I pull the picture up on my computer and it is not what I wanted to convey, to reveal.  It was there, I just could not properly represent it.  Then I go back there another day, and another.  Sometimes on the up to the 20th time going back to the same site, that I finally “see” it.  Also, I do not delete the picture that I am disappointed at because sometimes even with that it is the 7th or 15th time, I look at a picture that I truly see what I can do to the picture to fully reveal God’s presence.  Sometimes it is going in closer to a particular section, sometimes it is lightening or darkening the picture, trying a certain filter, changing it to a black and white image (I do use Windows 10 free included photo editing software for my pictures). These examples are like reading the Bible.  One often cannot derive the full meaning the first few times you read a passage.

It is the play of light and color that I am trying to capture.  I am not trying to just produce a great photograph; I am trying to reveal the something special about this particular entity which shows just a very small portion of God’s love.  Now back to some physics.  Even though the visible spectrum is only a small portion of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, it still contains great truths about the larger spectrum. The atom with its electrons orbiting the nucleus reflects the larger pattern of the Earth rotating around the sun.  The smallest and largest unit are telling us the same thing, worked by the same laws of physics designed by God.  Thus, even though my pictures are “only a small portion of the entire spectrum” of God revealed though nature, I strive to have my Christian artwork reveal His love for us.  Thus, my attention to the everyday, which is why my pictures on my website are almost all are from where I live, which is the St. Louis region. I am saying what you see on my website is available where you live, not just if you travel to St. Louis!!  That which we do not need to travel to experience God’s beauty. Because God is everywhere.

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