Coffee creamers, Olympic torches and photogenic shadows

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 3, 2013

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Many see shadows as something negative. I see shadows as invitations to imagination and beauty, launching pads for flights to otherness – especially through photography.

The other day, for example, I was having my usual 9 a.m. coffee with friends at the Cochrane A&W. A beam of sunlight was reaching through the window and across the table right toward me.

Retired farmer Peter Geeraert was seated next to me. In front of him, as often happens, were a pair of empty creamers. But this time there was something special about one of those creamers: it was casting a long shadow in my direction, almost as if it were pleading: “Here I am! Take my picture!”

The shadow must have known I had my ever-handy iPhone 5 in my vest pocket, and that cell phone has one amazing camera.

And so it was that I took the iPhone out of my pocket, held it up close and at an angle that allowed me to fill the whole frame with the creamers and shadow, and took a shot – all in less than a minute.

There was no particular reason for the photo, other than that it was something briefly beautiful, but it just deserved to be memorialized in an image.

In this instance, that’s as far as my own imagination carried me with that shadow. But when I emailed a copy of the photo to Mike Bigland, A&W’s genial proprietor, his imagination took over and shed fresh light on the subject.

“Pretty cool,” he responded. “The shadow looks like an Olympic torch!”

I looked at the photo again, turned it upside down, and sure enough, it did indeed look like an Olympic torch.

I went to my computer, brought up Photoshop, that powerful imagination-enhancing program, flipped the image of the shadow, cropped it tight and colourized it. And voila, it was indeed an Olympic torch, as can be seen in the accompanying photo! (Thanks, Mike, for the inspiration.)

Well, that little iPhone camera sees lots of interesting shadows at coffee and meal times.

Take Easter dinner at our home, for instance.

While preparations were under way, my grandson Thomas held a crystal goblet in such a way that the sun’s rays were refracting through it into its shadow on the kitchen island. Another photo op!

The result? Decide for yourself, but it looks to me like the sun and shadow were collaborating to create a fleur de lis cameo.

Then while we were seated at the dinner table, shadows appeared on the wall behind my son Reg. Actually, there were five gray-on-white shadows arranged in layers, cast by the bunched fabric of Reg’s shirt in the lights of the chandelier overhead.

My imagination understood those shadows to be an impressionist interpretation of layered hills in the haze. Another iPhone 5 moment! After I cropped and colourized that image, those shadows resembled even more – to me, at least – a beautiful foothills sunset vista as seen looking west toward the mountains at the close of a lazy, hazy day of summer.

So, folks, have your cameras seen any interesting shadows lately?

© 2013 Warren Harbeck

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