ON PHOTOGRAPHY: The Dance of Light and Shadow

“Both light and shadow are the dance of love…..”   –Rumi

Yes, there are images like those of a sunset or trees in fall; colors in an awesome display of blazing colors that will truly move you into tears with their ineffable beauty. But there are also nondescript images of leaves, flowers, trees or scenery that do not hit you hard. Why? For a photographer, what needs to be done? And what’s the role of freedom of the creative spirit in the pursuit of beauty and excellence?


“FREEDOM: Showcasing the creativity of free-spirited Filipino American photographers” is a group photo exhibit of ten Filipino American photographers–Nikki Arriola, Joanna Allas-Fojas, Robert Gamo, Rick Gavino, Vics Magsaysay, Phillip Ner, Randy Ordoñez, Rodolfo Samonte, Bienvenido Sibug and Benny Uy–slated this June 22nd at the Filipino Cultural Center, 1740 W. Temple Street in the Historic Filipinotown of Los Angeles. The exhibit runs up to August 31st. Presented by the Filipino American Press Club of California, Filipino American Community of Los Angeles (FACLA) and Pamana ng Lahi. Bernie Targa-Ganon will emcee the event.  Special guest performers: Genise Sarino, Mark “Bagyo” S. Villamac Ho, Mon Concepcion and Nikki Arriola, Robert Gamo, Rollie Javier, Imelda Bosing and George Ludeveca.  Sponsors: Fiesta Fastfoods, Mervin Luwee Villamac Ho, Margie del Rosario-Canlobo and Belle Gonzales.

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A camera is a camera. It is a tool that is used to capture images. The camera can only capture the physical attributes of anything–shapes, forms, colors, and textures. The captured image does not stop there if it has to win the hearts of viewers. For many photographs there is still a need for a creative and expressive void to be filled. For beauty to enter our hearts easily, it needs a vehicle–a vehicle that goes beyond the boundaries of the physical. What is not within the camera’s capturing power, the energy of the emotion, has to be added. And this is where the soul, the passion of the photographer, enters.

Well-known landscape photographer Ansel Adams was so passionate in his craft. He spent much time in the darkroom with his brand of dodging and burning, thus bringing about a metamorphosis of his captured image into a beautiful butterfly of natural beauty. The celebrated photographer infused his prints with the added value of his own passion during the darkroom process to bring out the iconic landscape photographs for which he was so well known. This, in turn, elicited the vehicle of emotion that strikes a resounding chord in one’s innermost feeling.

It is in pushing the envelope of an image’s emotional content that its physical nature is transcended.  And in so doing, a dance of sharpness and blurriness, of light and darkness, kindles the overall mood, thus transforming the form and design into something non-physical, into something that truly uplifts the human spirit.

In one of our Facebook exchanges, painter, essayist and versatile artist Alfredo Roces echoed and wrote this: “Vics, the camera lens does not arbitrarily distinguish sharp and soft. The most one can do with a camera is to use the lens opening to blur the background, or the slow shutter to blur movement; but otherwise, the camera gets everything as sharp as the lens can. The artist’s eye and mind, on the other hand, makes arbitrary decisions and you, with your “Photoshop blur”, have added the artist’s capability and given the image an “artistic” feel. This is why I cannot empathize with artists who insist on copying a photograph exactly, thus dispensing with the ability to use the artist’s sensibility regarding sharp and soft focus.”

For documentary purposes, I agree that a photograph has to be technically as sharp as possible—that is the purpose. But when it comes to fine-art photography, the interplay of light and dark, sharp and soft has to be dispensed with, much like an acupuncturist tonifying or sedating the acupuncture points of the patient to achieve the necessary balance of yin and yang to promote homeostasis or well-being.

And for a photographer–or any person–there is always this inherent freedom of the spirit to search for this relative stable equilibrium of life. For me, “homeostasis” in an image elicits a feeling of serenity, bringing a kind of solace into our frenzied phase of living. It is a time when the continuous chatter in our minds stops for a while. This is simply what meditation means—no mind.

Art is beauty. Beauty is art. They are interchangeable. And when we see beauty, our hearts are at peace; we are transported back to our essence.


Vics Magsaysay,Ph.D, is a fine-art nature photographer, painter, sculptor, writer, graphic designer, alternative healer and holds a doctorate degree in clinical hypnotherapy.

Copyright © 2019:  Vics Magsaysay