La Luz Mágica – Magic Light

essay and photography by Hisao Suzuki

JA+U : "La Luz Mágica – Magic Light" photographer essay by Hisao Suzuki ©Hisao Suzuki

Gaspar House, designed by Alberto Campo Baeza. Vejer, Spain

Before the sun rises, while the creatures of the earth have woken but are still sharing a moment of stillness, light from the still-hidden sun is reflected from the heavens and seeps down to fill every corner.

At the end of the day, after the sun has disappeared behind the horizon, its remaining light descends again from the heavens like a silk veil, inviting those who are waiting for their time of rest into a world of solitude. From stillness to motion, and then the light that fills the silence between motion and stillness.

I feel that sunlight places an obligation on the various objects in the world to express themselves. When touched by light, all things wake up and life becomes words and starts to speak.

Among all the times of daily life, I love the moment of silence just before sunrise and the moment of silence just before slipping into nighttime sleep.

JA+U : "La Luz Mágica – Magic Light" photographer essay by Hisao Suzuki ©Hisao Suzuki

Casa Rural, designed by RCR Aranda Pigem Vilalta Arquitectes. Girona, Spain

The air in Europe, and particularly in Spain, is dry. Because there is less moisture floating in the air, the light is direct and contrasts between light and dark are starker. In humid environments like Japan, moisture in the air acts like a filter that softens light and lessens the numerical difference between light and dark. The same is true of changes during the day, for example in the changes in humidity that follow changes in the temperature. And it is common knowledge that the quality of light changes with the seasons. The above are my opinions based on experience shooting in many different situations. I cannot prove them scientifically, but having seen the results of developing a great deal of films I am fairly certain that they are correct.

JA+U : "La Luz Mágica – Magic Light" photographer essay by Hisao Suzuki ©Hisao Suzuki


De Blas House, designed by Alberto Campo Baeza. Madrid, Spain

In the early period after I began to photograph architecture professionally, I struggled with the problem of capturing entire buildings. Buildings typically have raised and recessed sections distributed freely across their facades. I found it very difficult to capture an entire facade without losing details in pure black shadows or pure white highlights where the rays of the sun strike the raised sections directly.
What kind of light is best for photography? The difference between recessed shadows and raised highlights disappears if you wait until the entire facade is shaded from direct sunlight, but then the overall balance of the image is destroyed by direct light striking areas outside the shooting subject, and the amount of noise increases. It becomes a displeasing depiction that seemed far from desirable. That is when I began to consciously search for a soft light that would be sufficiently bright without creating shadows. And I made the great discovery that this universal light can be found every day for about 20 minutes before dawn and after sunset. Of course, embarrassingly enough, it was not my discovery but the phenomenon known to photographers as “La Luz Mágica (magic light in English)”. With my experience limited to the narrow field of studio photography, it had simply taken me longer than others to discover that this “magic light” is the key. Since I dislike clear, uniform skies, it had the further advantage of introducing me to the marvelous expressions of the sky during these times of the day. Even after sunset, when the sun is hidden behind the horizon, there is still enough light reflected in the sky to illuminate the ground. Contrasts begin to soften rapidly – for example, between the deep shadows under the eaves of a building and the white walls of the west side of the building, recently gleaming under the rays of the setting sun – as if both sides had decided to stop competing and come together. But walls on the west side still receive slightly more illumination than walls on the other sides, so that there is no loss of volume, compared to front-lit buildings. At this time, the parts of the sky closer to the horizon are brighter, with the brightness decreasing with increasing elevation, intensifying the blue hue of higher elevations. As the luminosity balance of the sky breaks down, it becomes deeper and more transparent, and the entire building is enveloped in a soft, restful light.

JA+U : "La Luz Mágica – Magic Light" photographer essay by Hisao Suzuki ©Hisao Suzuki

Ibere Camargo Foundation, designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira. Porto Alegre, Brazil

The length of time for photography varies with the ambient environment, altitude, and season, but the light I love the most never lasts much longer than 20 minutes. While waiting for these few minutes, I plan the order of the shots and adjust the shooting angles. Earlier I described my own thoughts on this “magic light”, but in fact they were reflections on the atmosphere I sense while walking my dog. During shooting sessions I have no leisure to notice the atmosphere. Regardless of advance preparations, there are always fine adjustments to make, and it is growing darker by the minute, so that adjusting the exposure takes top priority. Normally I work alone using a large-format camera that requires numerous steps before pressing the shutter, so that I am always dashing from here to there. Naturally I run to the next shooting point. If the architect is there to observe, it often comes down to “This way! And could you bring the film case?” I rush around so furiously that it seems bystanders cannot help but want to lend a hand, and the guardsman watching from the sidelines breaks out laughing..., “magic light” is not only seductive for me but at times mirth-inspiring and good exercise.

Living in Barcelona under various kinds of light, I have met people, met buildings, and met cities. Choosing photography as my work and trusting the camera, I have come step by step for 30 years up to today. Truly I feel very fortunate to be able to introduce some of my favorites photos in this way. Someday when film and developing are no more, I will probably come to terms with digital imaging systems in my own way and continue taking “photographs” while searching for my “magic light”.

JA+U : "La Luz Mágica – Magic Light" photographer essay by Hisao Suzuki ©Hisao Suzuki

Hisao Suzuki. Portrait courtesy of the photographer