Heavenly light

Heavenly light

The weather was horrible yesterday — wet and miserable for much of the day. And yet when I was driving home the light was magical — sunlight filtered through clouds — the perfect photographic lighting. I grew up in this kind of light: it rains a lot in Ireland, but the weather is also very changeable, so one gets a lot of filtered sunlight.

As I took the picture I was reminded of the moment when I first discovered that photography could be a serious and absorbing passion. It was sometime in the 1950s, and I was walking with my parents in the grounds of Muckross House, a beautiful Victorian mansion in Killarney. We came on a solitary English lady, aged somewhere between 35 and 45 and my parents fell into conversation with her.

Was she a visitor? Yes. Was she enjoying herself? Very much. What did she like about Ireland (expecting a reply about the friendliness of the inhabitants, the hospitality, etc.). “Oh”, she said, “the light”. My parents looked puzzled. “I’m a photographer”, she said, as if that explained everything.

At this point, I became intrigued.

“Why do you have yellow glass on your lens?” I asked.
“That’s a yellow filter”, she said, “it makes the blue of the sky deeper and makes the clouds stand out better”.
“Why do you have two cameras?”
“One for colour film, and one for black and white”.
“Where do your cameras come from?”
“From Germany. They’re made by a company called Ernst Leitz”.

And then she handed me a Leica. I nearly dropped it — it was so astonishingly, unexpectedly heavy. I had never handled such a thing before. It was a beautifully engineered precision instrument — quite different from the Box Brownies which were the only cameras I had handled up to then. I was instantly hooked. I vowed to take up photography. And hoped that one day I might have such a beautiful camera. I did — and I have.