Where the light shines through: Reflections of 2017

On the face of it 2017 has been a year filled full of darkness. But wherever darkness falls we must search hard to find the light. This is the tale of this year’s darkness and the ongoing battle to find the light.

This is where the light shines though.

This year I get to celebrate Christmas still surrounded by all of my family. A simple thing I had always taken for granted in previous years. With a cancer diagnosis for my dad earlier in the year, this is something that looked as if it might not happen again and shattered the naive child like illusion that your parents are invincible . The darkness of the situation has been with us as a family all year long and rips at all the core emotions you have, sadness, anger, despair and hurt. However with treatment going well we enter in to 2018 with a more positive outlook for my Dad than when we started the year. More importantly right now we get to sit together and share another Christmas day as a family.

Family, is where the light shines through.

2017 was the year that pop culture made us truly believe in superheroes. Dominating box office records with mega movie franchises, adorning books and magazine covers and populating the entire cultural landscape from all angles. It is ingrained in us all that in our moments of crisis a hero will emerge to save the day. These people have characteristics that embody strength and power, carrying incredible skills and knowledge. They turn up out of nowhere, often wearing a uniform, driving custom vehicles and when the job is done they disappear swiftly in to the night to continue to save lives the next day.

Pop culture sadly dictates that that these people don’t exist. Those superheroes are in fact a work of pure fiction and nothing more than superfluous entertainment. I'd like to state a case that superheroes are indeed real, they are amongst us everyday and we very rarely realised it. For this year though I met some superheroes….the very much underappreciated staff of the NHS. Go back and read that last paragraph above and I hope you'll agree with me that these special people really do fit the definition of superhero.

To the nurses, doctors, surgeons, paramedics and porters, you have no idea what you have done for us this year. A signature in a card, a box of chocolates and a line or two in this blog can’t come close to any form of repayment for what you have done for my family. Until I find a way to repay you this will have to suffice, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

To the true superheroes and warriors who continue to fight the cancer battle…

You are where the light shines through.

As a photographer I am able to control all possible outcomes of the things I produce. I spend hours in the planning stages crafting the concept, working hard on the shoot itself deciding how much light to give the camera, how fast too shoot and what effect I want to create. I sculpt the lighting, the power intensity, direction and mood. Then once the shots are complete I spend vast amounts of time in photoshop, finessing every element to achieve the perfect desired outcome. Stood at the hospital bed side with my Dad receiving treatment for cancer I realised I am armed with all the wrong skills to help. I had no control of anything. The feeling of being powerless has been overwhelming. At that stage all we can do is hold on as the darkness grips at the edges of our bodies and minds and try and keep it all together.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that photography itself might not be able to save my Dad but it would be able to save me. It would allow me to escape the creeping shadows that sat deep in my thoughts and that threatened to send me spiralling further downwards. By putting a camera in my hand forced me towards the light.

There at the height of the solar eclipse, where the moons darkness and the suns daylight collide for a brief few moments I stood on Perranporth beach doing a fashion photoshoot in the setting sun. My head started to clear, creativity sparked, feeling returned to the numb areas, warmth filtered back and exploded in an outpouring of light. To anyone else these photos might just be of someone on a beach at sunset, but they are so much more than that to me.

This is the exact moment where the light shines though.

Elsewhere darkness touched Manchester this year, the city that has become somewhere I call home. I might be a Cheshire boy living in the countryside but Manchester will forever be the place I travel to for work, social events and has been a large part my life for 7 or 8 years now. To see it torn apart in the wake of a horrific terrorist attack this year is almost unbelievable.

Where the darkness fell however it was confronted sharply with an outpouring of love and light in such a public display of northern affection. Personally we sat at a city centre bar several days after the attack for a colleagues leaving drinks, unafraid and having a great time. Looking around the room, we weren’t alone, people flocking to the streets and bars as normal, defiant that this is their city and no-one would take the light away from them, no matter how dark the times are.

Northern Spirit is where the light shines through.

Rounding out the year my final photoshoot would be one over at Salford Quays a couple of weeks ago. A portrait session conducted in mostly darkness, illuminated with only fairly lights. It reconnected me with people I’d not seen in years and provided so much laughter and was such a fun shoot to do. Simply put it was a shoot all about light conquering the darkness in every sense of the word.

Confronting any form of darkness with friendship is where the light shines through

I finish my year at a works Christmas party, several beers in, singing Bon Jovi Living on a prayer at the top of my voice and dancing in the darkness of the dance floor. Surrounding me on all sides are some of the most incredible people I have ever met, my work colleagues all dancing too. This year they have been amazing, keeping me going, inspiring me to be better and challenging me to work harder, each providing light over problems and issues we face together. These people are from all walks of life, all ages and nationalities providing one of the most diverse, friendliest and progressive companies I have ever had the fortune to work for. Thank you for all of your help.

Working with passionate creative people is where the light shines through.

To my friends and family who have been there this year, you are where the light has always shone through for me. I might not have been around as much as I’d like, spoken the right words to you or done the right things I should have done but your continued presence in my life is one of constant light that never dims no matter how far apart we might be. For that I will always be thankful for.

The New Year brings a much more positive outlook with it on all fronts and one I can’t wait for. Constantly fighting back the darkness has proved draining the last 365 days but also provided new strength, new ambition and new drive. Out of negatives positives have shone through and personal growth has been enormous as a result. 2018 will be the year the light shines through for us all, opening doors to new things and challenging us to be better.

What lies on the other side is where the light shines through

Finally as ever photography has been at the heart of it all this year. The humble camera, a tool that needs light to work but also needs work to provide the light.

It’s not always easy to see the light in the darkest of times. However no matter what happens we must always look for where the light shines through.

Best wishes for the New Year.


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Andrew James - Cheshire & Manchester based Commercial Product, Fashion and Wedding Photographer

© 2020 by Andrew James Hargraves.