Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sunlight Is Blue

Yes - it's true.  The sun appears yellow, or yellow orange, but sunlight is blue.  On a scale of halogen lamps (daylight aka blue) to tungsten (interior light aka yellow/orange), you can see this pretty clearly.  (Fluorescent light tends to be green - boo - unflattering to all!  Some of the newer fluorescents are color-corrected, but they still feel antiseptic to me.)

Is the sky blue because the sun's light is blue?  Maybe.  Is it refraction or reflection?  I think the jury's still out.

I like light.  When I took Andrew Sarris' History of Cinema class at Columbia, the first question he asked was, "What's the one thing you need to make a movie?"  I knew the answer, but as a freshman in a class full of grad students, I was super shy.  None of them got it.  The answer:  light.  You can't make movies without light.

In photographs and movies, the past is often sepia-toned - yellow/brown.  It's a cliche to show things that are old.  One of the things I really didn't like about Deadwood was that the "Old West" was shown just like we saw it in pictures - all sepia.

And all of this comes up because I read this intriguing article in the New York Times today about what happens when the eye ages.  According to this research, we lose our ability to let in blue light and the world becomes more yellow.  While this has vast implications in relation to Circadian rhythms, what caught me was something else:

As we get older, our world literally fades to sepia.

Not only does the color of our world change as we get older, but it changes exactly in the way we've collectively chosen to envision the past.  Aesthetic choice, based on historical accuracy, which has become short-hand cliche, and therefore a metaphor for the past, actually mirrors the physical aging process of individuals.  (Wow.) As we get older, as we have more behind us than in front of us, everything gets viewed through a nostalgic lens.

There's a picture of my grandfather when he was about 17 and dressed the dandy in a brown suit, with a brown hat and a brown cane...at least -- I think they were brown.  Thing is, that picture would be almost a century old now, and black and white photographs weren't really black and white then.  Though I didn't meet him til he was much, much older, this picture is as much him to me as the real grandfather, in full color.  He clearly had to go to some photo studio to get photographed, and got all dressed up - he may never have really looked like that, but I have a story in my mind of this tall, thin, elegant, fashionable-conscious man going around New York with a walking stick!  Images do that - they tell us stories, and we, in turn, tell stories back at them and about them.

What's past is prologue, through a filter, paused in shutter-speed increments, selected for posterity.

It feels dangerous to me that the way the eye ages filters out part of our world and life experience.  We need the full spectrum to process reality.  Especially at the pace we live it now.

Maybe Prince was right - you gotta turn on the blue light to keep it fresh.

No comments: