Woman and Child

This photograph is in Smithsonian American Art Museum. Quite likely you’ll never see it there. If you search the Museum’s online catalog you’ll find its call number, (Object Number 1988.73,) and also the message “Image not Available.” The image has been quietly censored. This photograph is yet another instance of collateral damage in America’s culture war.

I made this figure study in the 1980’s at a time when I was focused on mastering the smooth, creamy, long tonal scale gradation of B&W photography, particularly as it represented human skin.  Such photographs are almost always made in soft light. I love luscious, full-bodied greys.

My studio back then had a skylight admitting direct sunlight to travel across the floor where I photographed. The bright square was harsh. It destroyed the softness I sought. I was forced to move my camera throughout the day to avoid it. One day I saw that light differently. It wasn’t what I was looking for, yet it showed me something I had never seen before. And what I discovered allowed me to do something remarkable.

That skylight allowed me to crop forms within the edges of my composition. Crisp edges of hard light cut shapes deep inside my viewfinder’s boundaries. Moreover, skin tones could take on an entirely new quality. These discoveries opened my eyes to a new way of seeing.

This is a photograph of a mother and child. It is of my wife and our Brazilian-born daughter.  See what you will. But know that had I blocked off that skylight, had I censored the illumination, I might still be working in the dark.