The shifting nature of light
"For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at any moment." Claude Monet
Standing before Monet’s Waterlilies in l'Orangerie in Paris it is impossible not to be awed by the power light has to change the world. It is an epic series of eight paintings, placed in two stark white rooms which form the panels into a graceful, dreamy figure eight. They were gifted to the French government as a celebration of peace the day after the armistice in 1918, and truly embody the profound serenity of Monet’s garden in Giverney. In the series the artist’s perfectly sculpted corner of the world is captured, wrapping the viewer in a hushed, soft, contemplative world where nothing else obtrudes. It is a 360 degree celebration of serenity and light, portraying the gentle cycle of the day, the beauty Claude Monet saw in each moment and the light that framed it all.
Monet was an Impressionist; influential in a movement defined, in part, by a mutual interest in the fleeting moments of everyday life. For Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley in particular, nothing changed a place more than the light and its evolving moods. Monet experimented with multiple artworks of the same scenes at different times of the day. He pushed the boundaries of reality with colour and gesture. Pissarro's depiction of light changed depending on his emotional attachment. Sisley was content to observe more natural conditions of light, and reflected the love he found in the scenes his paintings depicted. All three had a drive to understand how life alters from one moment to the next depending on, amongst other things, the quality and direction of light, and our perception of it.
At Mont Saint-Michel after wandering the dark rooms of the abbey with a friend, each on our own solitary audio tour, I emerged into a secluded courtyard in the failing light of a stunning Spring evening. Upon seeing the dramatic display of the sun's rays on the wall of the abbey I understood suddenly why people believe in higher powers. For a few minutes, the courtyard was radiant and tinged with an otherworldly sublimity impossible to name. I, like Monet and the Impressionists, felt a need to capture and remember that light. It was a moment full of wonder and longing, and one I will not soon forget.
Having experienced a moment as perfectly timed and brilliantly fleeting as that, it's hard to believe life is just a random series of events. That is the power of light. It is in it’s shifting nature. Nature that can have you questioning everything you think you know.
There’s a time in the afternoon I love to take photos. It’s the magic hour when the world is golden and imbued with perhaps not dying light, but soon to be dying light. It’s like the last throes of life before the air starts to cool and the light turns a more wintery blue. The flash of brilliance before the world begins to pale. What can be captured in that time is magical. At Mont Saint-Michel this is the light I encountered.
In a strange way that moment brought me closer to seeing Monet’s work through his eyes, in a way even visiting Giverney couldn’t do. The beauty and fragility of life is played out through nature, describing mere moments but also much more. Light is powerful. A brilliant Impressionist knew that. Now I do too.
Photography by @ketcher_f