Who's Afraid of the Dark?

- Ben Evans We tend to think of the Sahara desert as a single destination; but its vast terrains are discovered by degree. As you travel deeper, so the stars emerge from empty skies.

This is common enough. Even childhood country holidays had the charm of starry nights. But stop to think about travelling the other ay. !arvelling at the gala"ies visible from a Berber camp prompted my nomad guide to recount his e"perience of venturing into a city for the first time. To his horror, he said, the stars had vanished into a reddish ha#e. When as the last time you ere in the dark$ %robably &uite some time ago. 'arkness is unpleasant to us because it conceals. Even the phrase has developed a negative feel of not having all the facts; (What don(t ) kno $( The nights aren(t dark anymore. !aybe they never ere. The Bortle 'ark Sky scale gives us neat steps from inner city brightness to remote rural skies. But real darkness is the total absence of light. )t blinds us, robs us of our main conduit to the and can even terrify us. 'imness isn(t darkness. Even the omb isn(t totally dark. orld

!y first conscious e"perience of the dark as at an aunt(s house in *"ford. +er thick curtains ere like blackout blinds from the Blit#, leaving my room completely black hen the lights ere out. ) vividly remember the e"perience of climbing half,a ake into complete darkness, a are her bitey black cat as hidden in the dark. Eventually after stumbling about, ) found a handle. The door only opened to further blackness, and as ) blundered through something clutched and enveloped me. Terrified, it didn(t da n on me for some moments that )(d bumbled into a cupboard.et there be light; and there as, every here. *n your screen, inside your fridge, along empty roads and shining from mobile phones in desert camps. We have chased a ay the darkness. /ASA(s recent photographs sho s ho our light reaches into the unimaginable distances of space.

Light Comfort The history of humankind didn(t often hold an abundance of food. /o that it does, there is a tendency to eat more than is necessary. The nights used to be darker. They ere lit later by flickering fires; and no e light everything, even closed shops and empty offices.

A light-seller on a dark beach Besides the aste of resources, this constant light has changed the ay e live our lives. While hugely useful, e can(t help feeling nostalgic hen rare po ercuts prompt tealights and candles and remind us of torch,lit nights spent huddled together. .ight has its antithesis in darkness. )n the *fficer Training 0orps e did a lot of night marches, and the ma1ority of pretend (attacks( ere 1ust before da n. The idea as to overcome the instinctual fear of the dark and use it against the enemy. 'iminished visibility is only one aspect of terror. 'arkness is obscurity; there is something sublime about it. The Tate !odern once e"hibited an enormous bo" into hich one alked. Stepping into that cavern(s mouth four buses high, the e"perience as one of venturing into the unkno n. We hesitate at the entrance to a blackened cave. What is it about darkness that e shy a ay from$ )s it simply the instinctual fear of the unkno n$ And does this relate to a predator(s loss of control$ *r a more vulnerable prey response$ 'o your thoughts match your body(s feelings about the darkness$ 2ounger, ) used to alk the dog, an inconveniently black .abrador, in the starlit oods. )n summer hen the foliage as thick it as necessary to reverse my ay of seeing. )nstead of light creating my orld, degrees of darkness did. A silhouette of a tree stood out blacker even than the darkness of a moonless sky. So began a comfort ith the dark.

Photography is Darkness and Light %hotography opened up the orld of light and darkness. /othing taught me to appreciate the beauty of the orld(s light like photography. )t(s been a remarkable and une"pected gift. 'arkness used to play a larger part in photography. Before photographers had %hotoshop on 3etina screens, e(d stand alone in the dark, breathing chemicals like alchemists. 4or many film photographers, the 'arkroom as something of a rite of passage. There is nothing like seeing an image, other ise lost in time, appear in the developer. The uninitiated think of the darkroom as red,lit like a submarine. )t is, but only hen creating prints, hich aren(t affected by the dim red light. 4ilm is sensitive to the hole visible spectrum, so must be developed in total darkness. And it is this darkness that(s important not only for the development of the film, but of the photographer. %hotography is literally riting ith light, so total blackness is a blank canvas. )t isn(t something most people are accustomed to. 'id you kno that e get about eighty percent of our information about the orld through our eyes$ That(s a tremendous amount of sensory impressions flooding in. *ur reticular activating system focusses on hat(s useful and removes the clutter. Even so, this can be something of an information overload. )n certain military (detainment camps( constant hite noise or repetitive music drives inmates to distraction; an e"treme version of the dripping tap that irritates us. We(re a are that e need &uiet; but e also need visual silence once in a hile.

Blue Light Blues

How We ee Light *ur eyes have t o main types of light,sensitive cells on the retina. 0one cells are clustered in a tiny area at the centre called the fovea. 3od cells surround them and e"tend to the periphery. The cone cells in our eyes see colour and fine detail; the rods see in black and re&uire a lot of light, hile the rods can make do ith a single candle. hite. The cones

Leaving Dover at Dusk )t takes about half an hour for our eyes to get their night vision; and 1ust a flash of bright light ill destroy it. 3od cells are not sensitive to red light hich can be used hile still preserving night, vision. *ften places that seem completely black ill yield enough light to see once the rod cells have had time to regain their sensitivity. Time makes the difference; if you kno ho to reduce the time it takes to refresh night,vision, please comment belo )f some here is totally black, then no amount of aiting ill allo us to see. *ur eyes need light; if there(s none available, they can(t ork. )ndeed, they are so used to seeing that they ill soon create their o n phantom images if no light is available. .ight is energy. 'arkness is therefore a lo er energy environment. We have evolved to be able to make some sense of a small fraction of it. )nfra,red radiation from the sun is light too; e can feel it arming our skin, but e can(t see it. *ur eyes are 1ust one of the ays that our body absorbs light.

We are affected by the different avelengths of light in different ays. .onger avelength red light increases heart rate and metabolism and stimulates the appetite. Shorter avelength blue light is culturally calm; but actually akes us up. )ntriguingly, blind people have been sho n to react physiologically to different coloured lights.

Behind the Fairground Therefore it isn(t enough to ear a blindfold to get the benefits of being in the dark. 4inding a totally dark room used to be &uite simple; a lot of photographers had them. ) once spent ten consecutive hours in one developing films; an interesting e"perience that made me more a are of light. 'arkroom(s aren(t practical compared to digital technology. %rocessing images is done on the computer no ; often ith Adobe(s (.ightroom(- And hile professional orkstations are dimly lit so as to not s ay the photographer(s perception of colour or brightness, there is never any darkness. Light Effe!ts 5Blue6 light affects our 0ircadian rhythms, aking us up. And yet our children have night,lights and e have illuminated clock radios and thin curtains. 4e bedrooms are ever truly dark. )n the same ay that birds singing by sodium streetlights are confused, so your body, thinking that it(s perpetually daytime, doesn(t kno hen to get a proper rest. )t is orth sleeping in a totally darkened room. )t ill be infuriatingly challenging to actually block out the light. Even a gap under the door ill make a difference. But it ill motivate you to hear that the pineal gland in your brain ill only start creating melatonin hen it(s dark; and melatonin has been sho n to reduce the risk of cancer gro th. )t(s counter,intuitive that continuous e"posure to light can shorten our lifespan. ) as unconvinced until ) read the medical literature. *ne si#e doesn(t fit all. !edicine is moving a ay from the standard approach to ards tailored prescriptions, not least because genetic testing kits are increasingly affordable. )(d suggest that you do your o n research too if you(re interested.

)t is strange to think of light having such an effect upon us; but it does, and often positively. The amusingly acronymed Seasonal Affective 'isorder prescribes e"posure to full,spectrum light 5the hole rainbo 6 as a treatment; and our skin doesn(t activate essential 7itamin ' unless e"posed to the sun. !odern science is fascinating. )t attracts many great minds ho, as ell as validating some traditional practices, create surprising conclusions. 4uturistic farms, already being built in the /etherlands, use specific avelengths of light to optimise crop gro th and even increase the number of harvests per year. 0arefully measured ater and nutrient inputs and high,rise buildings mean the return on energy investment is marvellous. Where ammonium nitrate fertilisers multiplied food yields before, no research into light promises further advances. Science trickles do n. 4irst the ealthy have access to the latest technology, and 5often much6 later it reaches the ma1ority. America has an incredible medical system if you can afford it; most can(t, so the average life e"pectancy isn(t orld,beating. +o ever it(s easy for people ith internet access to inform themselves. 2ou might &uestion hite processed sugars and flours, ater fluoridation and !S8s. And yes, think about ho the light in your environment affects you.

)(m not an e"pert on health; ) teach photography. But ) am curious, and have made a fe changes to my lifestyle. Sleeping in a totally dark room has been a hassle, but noticeably orth hile after a month(s trial. %eople often close their eyes hen they meditate; they may benefit from meditating in total darkness instead. ) do nloaded a program called 4..u" hich alters the colour balance of your screen, reducing blue light output at night; normal screens may keep you a ake. E"posure to the blue sky in the morning seems as effective as a coffee. Ten minutes sunbathing a day 5 ithout sunglasses6 boosts the immune system. 'ingy rooms ith lo light levels can induce depression. %ink light saps energy. *range light can make you more creative.

These are 1ust a fe of the ays ) use light to optimise my health and imagination. To s itch off from the noise of daily life, )(ve tried midnight sho ers in complete blackness. Even after half an hour, )(m unable to see my hands in front of my face. What happens$ The noise of the ater shrouds any other sounds and after fifteen minutes of sensory deprivation, my mind starts to clear itself. The thinking mind calms do n and ) become more self, a are. )t is then that my best ideas arise, almost effortlessly. The darkness gives them a space to be. %erhaps they are al ays there, but the noise of thoughts, sights and sounds obscures them. !aybe this is hy religious hermits hide a ay from the noise of the orld; to better hear hat e all kno . !ore practically, it gives an e"perience of blindness. ) had al ays imagined that it as claustrophobic, closely intimate like a dreamt scene from a favourite book. )nstead it seems open, probably because )(m a are ) can banish it instantly ith a light,s itch. Some aren(t so fortunate. !y grandfather, ho built a film enlarger ith a biscuit tin, ent blind and kept his mind; a horrible combination.

Total darkness nourishes us, giving us a place to rest and reflect. But it is a reprieve and never a desirable destination. E"perience and familiarity ith the darkness is important. )t reminds us of the beauty of light and our ability to See and en1oy the orld around us. 9ust as the e"perience of having nothing gives you the deepest appreciation of possession, so the poverty of darkness deepens the treasures of the light. Ben Evans is an English %hotographer in Barcelona : .English%hotographer.com. 2ou can get his book, (%hotography; The 4e Things 2ou /eed To <no ( no at .8reatBigBear.com Ben coaches +olistic %hotography and ho to See internationally : .+olistic%hotography.com

A Thousand Sunsets in a Wet Rock