Shadow and Light

by | Mar 15, 2021

My dad is a professional portrait photographer, retired after almost 50 years of being in business. Working in a photography studio darkroom in high school he began his career and learned his trade in the days when he could take photos with his 35 mm camera, develop the film, and print the black and white photos all in the same day.  He embraced color photography when it debuted and retired before the arrival of digital photography. 

What has not changed over the years with portrait photography is the essential elements of both light and shadow. Outdoors he would wait for the time when the light casts gentle shadows to define the contours of a face while softening its features—early in the day when the sun is rising above the horizon or late afternoon just before sunset. Finding a tender balance of light and shadow, my dad has created thousands of portraits that communicate beauty, hope, love, and grace.

Like a professional photographer, Jungian psychologist, Robert Johnson, writes about the need to engage both the light and shadow. The shadow includes character traits, feelings, and desires we find unacceptable and therefore remain hidden outside of our awareness.  What we find difficult in another person often leads us to the shadow in ourselves. In describing how we can be healed, Johnson offers the image of the mandorla, an almond shape created by two overlapping circles representing the union of opposites, light and shadow. 

Our spiritual journey invites us to bring our shadow into the light to compassionately explore the ways it unconsciously limits our freedom.  In the mandorla we encounter God’s love and grace healing our fragmented lives. As shadow and light overlap more and more, the mandorla widens until the two circles are united.  Christian iconography depicts this place of union in portraits of Christ and the Madonna with the Christ Child in mandorla-shaped frames.

The mandorla is a place of wholeness, where both light and shadow are included.  As with my dad’s striking portraits, we are most beautifully and clearly defined by both the light and the shadow. Framed in the mandorla we discover a portrait of ourselves, a portrait that communicates beauty, hope, love, and grace.