Hiking on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska a few weeks ago, I was trying to capture the iridescent blue/green light coming through the ice below my feet with my Canon Digital SLR. I took a few shots, with different apertures, from different P.O.V.s, but knew when I put them on the computer the picture would flatten. The spectacular translucence would be lost—look like a blue/green patch on dirty white ice.
At a photography store in Anchorage a few days later, I asked the guy behind the counter how one could pick up that exquisite depth of field of the light coming through the glacial ice on camera. Can’t, he said. But you can create it in Photoshop. Layering the image multiple times should bring back some of the depth the camera can’t pick up.
It was like a light bulb went on in my head. He was right, of course. The camera can’t pick up the photons moving through ice, only the ones reflecting off the surface. But the word LAYERING reverberated in my head, as I’d been thinking about layering for quite some time.
When I’m not writing fiction [or blogs], I’m developing and designing marketing and advertising campaigns. I recently created an illustration of sound waves using an image off Google. Simply adding filters to the image made it brighter, or weirder, but still left it rather…flat. I lifted another image of radio waves, and layered it over the sound wave, filtering it to 50% opacity so the base image showed through. Then I went back to Google Images and got another light wave, and another, and layered them with effects too. As I built out the image, layer upon layer, the picture became richer, deeper, more 3D, almost in motion.
Layering made the image alive.
A while back my father took a painting class where students replicated a favorite work of a Great Master. Dad picked Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. It took him five months to paint, which upon completion looked virtually identical to the real one.
How did you do that? I inquired upon seeing his work. Did you know you could paint like that? My dad had been a weekend painter most of his adult life. This class, a first since college, was his attempt in retirement to reinvent himself as an artist.
No! He practically giggled with delight. Honestly, this teacher was fantastic. She taught us all about Layering, from when the Romans began using it, to the Masters, to the Impressionists. I’ve been painting for 40 plus years layering two, maybe three colors or tones. But in some areas on this canvas I must have used fifty. He proudly showed me highlights on the girl’s face that nearly glowed, bringing her right off the canvas, as in Vermeer’s original. It’s all in the layering, my dear, he’d said back then with a grin.
Layering… hmm… As I considered it, the more I could see how integral layering is to being alive.
I’ve always been scared of old age. The prospect of getting old is so terrifying, at times not getting there seems the better option— hasten the end instead of dragging it out with modern medicine. Watching my mother die of cancer and my father age hasn’t been pretty. It’s pretty scary. And I’m right behind them. Other than senior discounts, the upside of aging seems rather illusive.
Driving my daughter and her teammates to soccer last Friday, they chatted in the back seat about science class. They were amazed by the video of Neil Armstrong on the moon, each trying to quote his words upon stepping on the lunar surface, required for their test on Monday. They didn’t know we all heard him grammatically wrong—that he said, “One small step for [a] man,” not man in general. They hadn’t been there to see the grainy black and white image turn upside down on TV. They hadn’t held their breaths, or felt the collective sigh of a nation, and of the world, when our astronauts returned safely home. They hadn’t experienced the layers of that moment, that day, all the days of the moon mission, or the ones leading up to it, or since, for the most part.
Mankind’s first steps on anything but our home planet is a mere footnote to the 5th graders in the back seat of my car. The video image they watched in Science was a flat view of a definitive leap in human history. I’ve learned an undeniable gift of adulthood is understanding the significance of a given moment because of the layers of experience proceeding it. At 10, kids images are still just forming, their depth of field still limited to what reflects them, like the photons on the glacial ice.
Experiencing the moon landing as it was happening created a page, a layer, a memorable slice of my time. Aging’s saving grace may be the collection of these moments of living, layered upon each other, giving, if not wisdom, at least a broader range of awareness, and experience, for a rich, vibrant life picture.