Winter holidays to warmer climates appeal. They shorten the winter at home, a winter that in the worst years can stretch from November to April, though those are the exceptions. Nor, because of the Gulf Stream, do we normally get as much snow as our neighbours in Scandinavia or Canada. Though we can enjoy cold, crisp days of blue skies and glittering frosts, we can also have depressing periods of grey skies and rain, as if we were immobile under a gushing waterfall. So the draw of warm sunlight with additional hours of daylight in which to enjoy it is hard to resist.
From this you’ll gather I’m no lover of winter sports or anything that involves snow. Spending the weeks before Christmas in Madeira was a joy. I revelled in wandering around Funchal, and strolling along the new promenade. The atmosphere was one of large friendly gathering with people sitting at cafes enjoying coffees and drinks, families out for a saunter after present buying, tourists from cruise ships snapping as many photographs for the albums as possible, arms entwined couples lost in their own space, kiosks cooking Madeiran dishes and delicacies with the smell drifting through the air, stalls selling hot chestnuts, traders and those with handicrafts touting jewellery and other goods laid out on low walls.
The locals wear boots and almost winter clothes — this is after all their cold season — while tourists sport short-sleeved t-shirts and sandals, perhaps with the addition of cardigan or light jacket. Music plays quietly from occasional speakers amongst the branches of trees that bloom with white lights like cherry blossom in spring. In years past, the Christmas lights in Madeira were said to be spectacular but this year, whether due to the stated supplier problem or the ubiquitous cutbacks, few lights materialised. For me, that didn’t matter, as I enjoyed those strung through the trees. Magical light when night fell.
Light, and the play of it on objects, the drama it gives to scenes, the way it changes, enhances and enlivens colours are all reasons for taking photographs, though I tend to focus, frame, click, snap because something appeals to me, sometimes without fully appreciating that what appeals is the quality of the light.
So when I look through my photographs I can enjoy that light again and it raises my spirits. Light is an important factor in our lives, but we often forget that. The fire festivals held at the solstices and around Christmas are reminders of how important light, as well as fire, was to our ancestors. When, a number of years ago at midsummer, we drove up through Sweden to Jokkmokk in Lapland, beyond the Arctic Circle, we visited an art exhibition and spoke to a woman there. She told us how she loved the winter in Lapland, the beauty of the snow, the primary colours that sing in knitwear, braids, furnishings and handicrafts, and the cosiness indoors in front of blazing fires.
But the lack of daylight for months on end means depression can set in. If this happens, the person is bundled onto the next plane to spend a few weeks amongst the bright city lights and attractions of Stockholm. Light affects our moods, how we view the world, even those closest to us. Light.
So I’ve picked out a few of my Madeira photographs where light is an important player, bringing objects and scenes to life and adding additional interest. Light creates more light in reflective surfaces, whether marble floors, the sea, areas of glass and even in sequins and shiny materials. Nice to know we all reflect light, and in doing so each one of us makes the world a lighter, brighter, more colourful place. Well done all of us.