I’m struggling this morning. My focus is all over the place. So! I’ll just pop out for a quick walk and wake up a bit. Please hold whilst I go for a long brood across the closest thing I have to a highland moor.
< walking... > < brooding... > < walking... > < returns... > < falls deep into an Elden Ring shaped hole... > < several days pass... > < slowly climbs out of hole... > < goes for another walk... >
Okay! Walk over. Phew! That sure was a long one.
What progress was made this week though? Well, as I was writing this new essay I was struggling with what the…uh…point of it all was.
I know this big essay is all about the FujiFilm X100V—a beautiful camera I picked up a month or so ago—but I sincerely, deeply, extremely do not want it to be just another review. The format, the style, really everything about those tech reviews are just…not the kind of thing I want to do. But I also don’t want to tread common ground, so I have to read and watch absolutely everything about it.
Another thing I realize before I begin writing this thing in earnest: talking about popular things—good, fantastic, brilliant things that everyone already knows about—is extremely tricky. So that’s what had me stumped: how do I write something new and fun and interesting about an obvious thing (paved over, well-trodden ground).
And why do I care so much about this dang camera?
< thinking... > < thinking... > < ah!... >
That’s when I remembered a book called In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. I stumbled over this book in my late teens and at the time it felt revolutionary to me, the premise being: the West doesn’t really understand shadows and we spend so much time brightening our rooms that we’ve forgotten how beautiful shadows can really be.
I’m not sure if this is true of the “West” generally since I’ve never been “East”—but—I knew that this was true of my hometown growing up. Bright overhead lights that washed away all the depth in a room. Classrooms, shops, malls, offices—you couldn’t find a good shadow anywhere.
And so after I read this book I couldn’t stop thinking about how carelessly we light our homes, too. It felt like one of those books where you’re reading it and then clunk you’re a different person now. Some tiny thought that was just sitting there in the back of your mind this whole time now has something to latch onto, something to gather around and take proper form.
Years later, when I had my own apartment on the fringe of Nottingham, I thought about this little book constantly—it was a guide for how to organize light in my home. I gathered as many small contraptions as I could to produce only beautiful shadows.
(I’m being the stereotypical white guy here. Ah yes, tell me all the ways that a Japanese book made you enlightened and better than the rest of us! Ah, very interesting! How profound! But—all of this feels true deep down in my bones.)
(We do not take care of the shadows.)
So returning to In Praise of Shadows more than a decade later, sure, parts of the book are less than stellar and it’s slow going in some places. But then…
Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into its forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence…
Wondrous. But then, a few pages later, and ugh. I had forgotten the uncomfortable way that Jun’ichiro writes about women and large portions of the book are kinda repetitive or lead to a dead end. Ultimately I feel sort of frustrated with the book because there’s so much potential here. But the book is kinda written clumsily, half-heartedly, un-focusedly.
What does this have to do with my essay though? Well, when I returned to this book and felt that frustration I realized that this is what my essay is really about. Sure, it’s a camera review. But really it’s about learning how to see the world from the perspective of shadows. To see them not as something that must be washed away or edited out, but instead it’s about seeing shadows as the main character, the protagonist.
This was what I needed! And so over the weekend I sat down and it all began to click. Here’s what might be the intro to this thing:
I want a photograph to be a quiet thing, like a soft and desaturated shhhh. And yet despite being so picky, I’ve always struggled getting my photographs looking just right. They’re too vibrant, over-saturated, lit up like a Christmas tree. Eurgh.
I want photographs to be something else instead; I want deep, beautiful shadows like a murky pond, I want desaturated colors, and the sorts of shadows that criss-cross a patch of light like a veil. And so for years I’ve struggled trying to take murky-pond-pictures like the ones I admire.
That is, until I picked up the FujiFilm X100V.
I’m not sure how much of this will survive into the final essay but it feels like I’m on the right track now? There is meat on these bones and now I just have to hack away at it until I get an outline down. I don’t know how much of the details I’ll get into, and I don’t really know where I’m going with it. Maybe this isn’t the introduction at all!
Maybe I’ve written the end instead, and I just don’t know it yet.
Until next week,