The Haute-Provence is Van Gogh country; immense blue skies, fierce mistral winds that blow constantly and a powerful sun that bakes colors into intensities that send artists running for their brushes. Van Gogh came here to try to paint the light; it is said by some that he went mad in the attempt. I understand that. It is all about the light here. Light takes the colors of our dreams and imaginations and magnifies them, wrapping them around the flowers, the olive trees, or anything in its path, transforming them with illusive patterns of light and shadow.
I’ve come to understand that it’s not really the churches we photograph. We really try to photograph the light. It’s the light that creates the spaces as it plays across the surface of the stone. Light gives dimension, power, beauty and, of course, color. If you stay in a church long enough you will experience the ephemeral nature of light as it changes moment to moment with the movement of the sun, the clouds, the addition of a candle, the illumination of a stained glass window, or the sudden flash of a tourist’s camera.
My experience of the church is profoundly connected to the light. I chase it around the church, shooting slow and long exposures to capture every molecule. The builders of these churches struggled to bring light to into these spaces. It was not easy to create windows in these walls, inserting bits of light or colored glass into that crushing weight. But they knew what Van Gogh knew, that light gives meaning. It is the source our perception. If you can harness the light as an artist you can control the very experience of your art. We associate life with light. Darkness is sinister, somber, sometimes the place of death. In these places, light is the architect of understanding.