Matthew Rolston's Inspirations

In the first of a new column by Matthew Rolston, the Hollywood photographer pays homage to light.

Matthew-Rolston-s-Inspirations
Matthew-Rolston-s-Inspirations

What's the stuff that dreams are made of? Well, in a photograph that would be light. Light is beauty. Beauty is light. The perception of beauty itself is a function of how we perceive light and shadow.

Is beauty real or just an illusion? Before there was science, before there was photography, there was perception and there was beauty.

It's really quite simple. It starts with light. Light strikes an object, it refracts through the lens of the eye (or of the camera) and creates vibrations in the soul.

But what is the essence of light? It is fire. Which means, above all, survival. Why? Because fire was the first form of light (and warmth) that man could control. Our first move to control nature, to make it serve us. That's why we are so compelled by light. It's a primitive urge. We are hardwired as humans to love light.

Light is home. Light is comfort. Light can create desire. Light changes everything.

Without light there is no perception of visual beauty (or anything else), just a void of black nothingness. Think of the light you have been drawn to: think of sunrise . . . think of winter light . . . a sunset . . . the stars at night . . . a candle's flame. Each one of them evokes a different emotion.
Anyone who has ever lit a candle has created beauty with light. Even if they didn't understand that literally, they felt it when they did it. The right light can make anyone or anything beautiful.

You don't need 43 lights to make a great picture. What you need is a point of view about light. Light is the most powerful tool for an imagemaker. Beyond mere illumination, light sculpts and shapes the form of the image. Even more important, it sets the mood and tone of the image.

We all know that certain Hollywood glamour spotlight. And we know that that feels very different from, say, morning light reflected off the sea. A Hollywood spotlight tells a certain story -- perhaps a story about illusion and perfection and desire. Alternatively, morning light reflected off water might tell another story, about health, or vitality, or maybe freedom. Imagemakers choose to narrate their dreams with light.

© Andre di Dienes
Andre di Dienes, another famed Hollywood photographer, shot a fresh-faced Marilyn Monroe romping on a Southern California beach in 1950. The message here is about freedom and vitality. The very different light in each photograph tells a very different story.
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