How Old is Your Light?

Light is never appreciated until you don’t have it. Well, that probably includes most everything, so maybe it says more about our ability to appreciate. 

I had occasion recently to advise a new photographer that taking a picture is “drawing with light”. I never tire to explain that this is the literal meaning of the word “photography”.

It certainly means that one must understand light in a greater way than peeking outside to see if the sun is up.

First thing, I would like to give Newton credit for his work with prisms and sunlight. It certainly explained rainbows, although I still see them as a gift from God. Newton did nothing to explain pots of gold at the end of rainbows so there is that. It does appear that Goethe is not far off in his different view of light. Particularly in our world of LCD screens. 

The thing that I’m currently grasping, but only barely, is just how old our light is. We have the phrase “fast as the speed of light”, well, apparently that is only valid for that living room lamp. Hit the switch and light is nearly instantaneous. Not so if you walk outside. 

The light that falls on your skin is at least 8 minutes old. 8 minutes and twenty seconds to be exact. We are constantly behind in our awareness.

I must admit that I have thoughts about a solar switch going off, and for eight minutes I’m acting as if everything is perfectly okay. I suppose knowing that we will have moonlight for approximately 1.3 seconds after it is dark on Earth should give me some comfort. It doesn’t. 

So we simply must adjust to our old light. If comfort can be found it would be in starlight. That’s some old light. The light from the closest star takes about four years to reach us, the star furthest away is the most challenging for light. It would take about 13.3 billion years to reach us. Real old light!!

Credit to Regina Spektor’s song, “Samson”.

“Beneath the stars came fallin’ on our heads

But they’re just old light, they’re just old light.”

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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