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Cape Light_A Classic Photography Book

In 1987, during my second year of formal study, I purchased a photography book that has been a significantly influence my own photography ever since. I was reminded of the book, and a folio that I was producing at the time, when I re-discovered it during the clean up following the recent flooding of my living room. Thank goodness the book was not damaged.

Titled ‘Cape Light’ the book showcases a major personal project undertaken by New York based commercial photographer, Joel Meyerowitz. The title of the project refers to the extraordinary quality of light that apparently exists on Cap Cod, on the US eastern seashore, where Meyerowitz and his family spent summer holidays.

With a background in black-and-white street photography this book was a major departure for Meyerowitz. All images in the book were made with an 8”x10” large format camera on Kodak Vericolor Professional (VPL) film. This film was designed for long exposures under tungsten light, as would have been the case with a lot of studio-based product photography back in the days before studio flash. As tungsten (incandescent) light emits a yellow-red color VPL film was manufactured with a higher sensitivity to blue to produce a neutral result when used under tungsten lighting. However, when using a tungsten-based film outdoors, a deep amber (85B) filter was required to prevent the deep blue bias of the film producing an unnatural (blue) result under the more neutral daylight.

But Meyerowitz embraced the long exposure characteristics of the film and chose, rather than employing the 85B filter on camera, to adjust the light emitted from his color enlarger to best portray the conditions under which he shot and his response to the scene in question.

Landscapes, buildings and portraits fill the pages of this classic publication, which illustrates the artist’s time on the Cape; his love for the intricacies of light and color, throughout the day and with the vagaries of weather; and a formal, artistic approach to the subject matter at hand.

Originally published in 1979 my copy is from the fourth printing in 1985. While  the book was reprinted as recently as  2002, it appears that, despite an extended interview, poor print quality and design this latest version may be less than desirable. But for folks keen on fine photography publications you might want to keep an eye out for one of the earlier print runs on the second hand market or in larger libraries. Be aware that the colors and contrast in the book may look a little flat by contemporary standards, but that is more about the technology associated with film and printing processes of the day and the current age of the book. That aside, it remains a classic publication that inspired a generation of photographers and is one of several seminal titles that heralded a new way of seeing the world around us. I do hope you’ll at least get to see it one day.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved

Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography

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