The golden hour


Before I created this virtual space for my musings, I would still pen them in moments of solitude, though the moments were less regular and the jottings were scattered between real paper and digital ink.

It has become a tradition for me to send some of these musings to family and friends at the close of December, usually with Onion-style news stories about the year’s events and then a more serious personal note to contextualize the report.

When I opened my draft of last year’s letter to see what I had written, I marveled at how much my thoughts on creative practice dovetailed with what I’ve posted here since. On this winter solstice — the start of the season of introspection, reflection, and rejuvenation through rest — I’m including an excerpt below to remind myself of the constant that creativity is for me, no matter what else changes.

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I’m writing these words as the sun fades on the last day before the winter solstice.

In the Pacific Northwest, this means that starting around 3 p.m., there’s an hour when everything is suffused with warmth and fire that also happens to coincide with the beginning of nap time. (Cue Hallelujah chorus.)

For photographers, this is the golden hour of light, whether children are sleeping or not. It is the ideal time to capture those magical portraits or landscapes, the world at its best. For me, it is also the moment I can settle into the practice of listening for creative guidance and seeing what waits to be put into words.

It has not been an easy year. I won’t count how many stories could have been written on that subject. But that is why I go through the process of giving our news the Onion treatment at each holiday —  partly to laugh wryly at life, lest it grind us down, and, especially this year, to reframe how we will look back on it someday.

I met the photographer Sam Abell years ago when I was a summer intern at the National Geographic Society. He was giving a talk at an intern lunch that led to an invitation to dinner and a long, lovely conversation about how we make, not take, photographs. The image is absolutely in the eye of the beholder as much as the camera also allows us to capture the “truth” of a moment (it happened; here’s the proof).

After so many years, I still return to Sam’s work, a study not in golden moments but more often in the deeply saturated tones that only emerge after light fades. This year, it feels like an apt metaphor to be looking for those luminous (and in my case, humorous) word-images not just in a fiery afternoon glow but also as twilight settles. It’s not as easy to discern what’s there, but after some time, the eyes adjust. And so does the truth.

Sam writes in his book, The Life of a Photograph, that a photo “often begins imperfectly. Life rarely presents fully finished photographs” — they evolve. And sometimes, he goes on, there is more than one finished shot, other ways of seeing the same moment. May this year’s report fulfill the role of making light where it may not at first be visible.



What elements of your creative practice have been especially supportive for you this year? What has your work revealed to you when you have looked at it from a different perspective? What will you carry forward for your practice in the New Year? Share your thoughts with me by clicking the button below.