Asking a photographer how they approach light in their work is like asking a musician how they approach sound. It is hard to know where to start. Ansel Adams did a good job of splitting photography in half, by suggesting that ‘the negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.’ In the context of my own practice, this supports my feeling that the camera is the place where light is recorded — with precision and dutiful care — and the darkroom is where light is played, with a more intuitive and expressive approach.
The application of digital imaging doesn’t change this equation. While clearly more sophisticated, the tools of the digital darkroom mostly resemble those of its analogue predecessor — much of what I do in my work relies on the earliest photographic processes of dodging and burning (lightening and darkening) images.
It is helpful for me to consider light in the musical terms which masters, like Adams, have laid out. Alfred Stieglitz, before him, used the comparison to give photographs the capacity for abstraction — a quality at odds with the indexical nature of photography, but one which music embodies. In relation to my own practice, this means that my ‘performances’ in the darkroom can, in search of expression, stray further from the score.
View Sam Shmith’s work and see how other artists explore light in Light Works at NGV International open until 16 Sep 2012