Photo journalists must look always for that elusive image, light and luck caught in the frozen click of a shutter before it vanishes like a shadow on a cloudy day. All the planning in the world may not bring about such a confluence of elements to form the image one seeks. It is something I have come to refer to as a “Quality of Light,” an elusive, fog-like quality sets some images apart.
On one January day in 2011, I meandered into just such an opportunity. Christiana Pegoraro, a world famous concert pianist, originally from Italy, was on the bill to perform an afternoon concert for several classes of middle school children, courtesy of the Tonto Community Concert Association.
I groaned inwardly as I approached the Payson High School Auditorium, a nightmare of shadow and light in all the wrong places.
Pegoraro introduced herself to the children, asked them musical questions and talked lightly about the history of the piano. Her thick Italian accent caused her to repeat many of her statements and questions.
I took some shots of her pointing to the audience as they attempted to answer her queries. In reality, I was gauging the light, checking exposures and color temperature.
I crept about the auditorium, taking overall shots of her and the audience, searching for an image that could capture the mood, the moment, that defining, magical, Quality of Light — music for the eye.
Music and photography echo one another in many ways, with their power defined as much by what isn’t there as by what is.
In music, stopping a musical progression abruptly can cause anticipation, mystery and anxiety, as the mind fills in the void. In photography, filling a space with black or white where one expects the rest of an image causes the mind to also fill this visual space.
Music can be written on a page with notes, but that doesn’t tell you what the sound will be; those are only symbols used to express the music when an instrument is played. A computer can play those notes, but that may not translate into an emotion as expressed by Jimi Hendrix or Christiana Pegoraro.
A computer can also take a picture with perfect exposures, but that doesn’t make it an Ansel Adams image or a Brett Weston landscape.
I walked to the back of the auditorium and listened to Pegoraro. My mind relaxed. Listening to her play released the stress of looking for what to shoot. So, naturally, I suddenly saw the picture. I searched for the right vantage point, the gift of the light so simple now I was surprised it hadn’t been seen right away.
Pegoraro in the glow of the spotlight, with the reflected image of the strings and striking hammers reflected in the highly polished lid. Everything else fades to black, removing any reason for your eyes to wander away from her playing.
These elements also created the image, with the enveloping darkness leaving the eye focused on the pool of light. Piano, lid, keyboard and person emerge in sharp contrast from the black of the background. All I had to do was find the correct composition to frame and focus the image.
Now, wait the moment, with hands, head, body and posture in just the right combination. A wave in the air with either arm could have thrown the whole image off. A turn of her head might place her face in shadow.
In the end, the image of Christiana Pegoraro is created mostly from the lack of image. The eye fills in the black spaces with the memory of a piano, of a woman’s shape. And when there is lack of image in the right places it becomes a Quality of Light image because the light is where it needs to be and nowhere else.
How do you find these moments?
By not looking for them — they find you.