It’s all about the light; it always has been. Take last Saturday, for example: it was a gorgeous day; the temperature was delightful, half way between hot and chilly, almost no humidity. There was a gentle breeze across the cheek of the river and not a cloud in the sky or a care in the world. It was all too good to be true, and that’s when it hit me: it WAS too good to be true. Lovely as the day was, the light was flat. There was no contrast, no art, no texture to the light, no luminosity or glow, and boy-oh-boy, how I love glow!
Glow provides depth. Glow is a fleeting moment. Glow makes a memory. Glow is not fact; it is feeling, emotion, sensation. Glow radiates. Other qualities of light may play with our senses—shadows, for example—but glow makes its presence known gently. It doesn’t bang down the door; it taps us on the shoulder and whispers, “Look!”
Water sparkles. Stars twinkle. Candles flicker. Shoes might shine, but they never glow. Glow is ephemeral; it can be as tiny as the blink of a firefly’s tail light or as grand as a sunset. Glow is not a burning log on the fire; it is the ember in the grate. It’s an afterthought, a lingering reflection of glory.
Glow is a secret. It’s light within, radiating out. The masters of chiaroscuro knew how to render it, how to create luminosity in their works of art. They might use layers of transparent paint or glazes, or they would paint a hard edge around a face or an object to create a glowing effect, or they might even blur colors together to create an appearance of reflected light. The effect was stunning because it somehow captured all the light we could not see.
Glow is fire without flame. It is indirect, refracted light. The first time I saw Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” I was transfixed, not by the graceful interaction of the subjects, not by the table laden with fruit and wine, not even by the shaggy little dog on the lap of the woman who would later become Renoir’s wife. What caught my attention was the hand-rolled cigarette in the right hand of the man in the foreground; not the cigarette itself, but by the glowing ash at its tip. It was alive with light, warm to the touch, the very breath of life itself, the detail that made the painting come alive for me. It wasn’t more than a minuscule drop of paint from the artist’s finest brush, but, to me, it captured the holy glow of the entire universe.
Maybe we all live in the glow of details, a glow that captures something primeval in each of us and helps us remember how wonderful life can be. Cloudless, sunny days are truly gifts to treasure, and I am thankful for them. But the moments that truly stand out in my mind’s eye are the scenes that seem to glow, lit from within by some serene, divine light that surpasses all human understanding.
I think you know the ones I mean.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.