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Transitions I

John Nelson

"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be."

——Ralph Waldo Emerson

In November 2019, I opened The Actinic* Studio to make photographic art on a regular basis and to have a place where I could begin experimenting with light and shadow. Only one month later the COVID pandemic would begin its rampage that continues today. Photographic sessions became sporadic in 2020 and dried up in 2021. But I had time and a space, and I learned much about using light effectively and moved from being a window light–only shooter (unless someone else was taking care of the strobes) to a photographer learning to incorporate manufactured light. Without distractions and, more importantly, without self-generated pressure, I proceeded at a slow pace, but the pace was well-suited for me. If I have learned anything about myself, it is this: I am not a quick study. I have to read and then to see and then to do, and then do again and do some more until it becomes familiar.

When the studio closed, I knew I’d reopen but I didn’t know where or when. Meanwhile, my photography went on life-support and I worked sporadically to produce anything artful from a lens. I continued to think about what I wanted from a studio space and what I wanted from photography. I began to try to address the question of “what is it I want to say?” The short answer is that I am still working on that answer. At this time, I enjoy too much using different camera formats, different lenses, and different media (film or pixels). The experimentation continues until I can pick up the thread that connects the utility of individual tools and approaches into a coherent art-language, and later, art-story.

Many months later, over a cup of coffee with fellow photographer Joe Williams, we lamented the lack of a studio in town—the last one we knew of, that we had shot in, had closed a few years before. We talked about what we’d want in a studio, what we’d like to accomplish there. what we'd offer to fellow photographers. At the end of the coffee and conversation, we walked away separately but not one minute later, Joe sent me a photo of a sandwich-board ad for a space for rent. Several months later with addition of our other partner Domenic Cicala and with much sweat equity behind us, we signed a lease for the space and in November of 2021 opened UmbraLux Studio.

Emerson’s quotation is decidedly a young person’s counsel, especially leaned on during commencement addresses. But Emerson had enough experience and years to know that the process of becoming into being isn’t simply a young person’s pursuit.

To be continued....

* “Actinic” refers to the participation of ultraviolet light in the process of photochemical reactions.

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