By the Light of the Moon
As winter solstice nears, marking the year’s shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere – and thus the longest night – we present a gallery of photographs illuminated by the moon
Deriving its name from two Latin words “sol’, meaning sun, and “sistere”, meaning to stand still, the winter solstice happens when the sun appears at its most southerly position, making the day on which it occurs the shortest day of the year, and in turn creating the longest night for the Northern Hemisphere. The winter solstice falls annually on a day between December 20 and December 23 and is known by a number of names, including Yule, Midwinter, The Longest Night and Solstice Night.
It is an event that is observed by people all over the world through various practices unique to specific countries and religions. In England, thousands of people congregate at the ancient landmark of Stonehenge. The Neolithic monument in Wiltshire appears to have been designed in acute alignment with the movements of the sun, and it is a focal point through which the Winter Solstice is viewed and celebrated by attendees marking the date, which has long-been significant in the pagan calendar. In Japan, the holiday is known as Touji. In Japanese tradition, taking a hot bath with the citrus fruit yuzu on the winter solstice is believed to help ward off colds.
The darker hours, illuminated by the glow of moonlight or artificial bulbs, bring a new perspective to landscapes. “Just about anyone who ever picks up a camera quickly points it at the moon,” says Alec Soth. “And more often than not he or she is disappointed. We bring so much cultural baggage to the moon that it usually looks different on our cameras than it does in real life. So when I photograph the moon, I try to balance it visually with other elements. This can be tricky in total darkness. So I like to work at dusk. I like mixing the blue-hour with incandescent light and the small white light of the moon.”
"Just about anyone who ever picks up a camera quickly points it at the moon"
- Alec Soth
Photographing in this unique and low light also requires a finely tuned skills. When he captured a Soyuz rocket fuel tank in Kazakhstan, Jonas Bendiksen had to take an usual approach. “This image was actually made as I was hiding inside a truck,” he explains. I was with this gang of scrap metal dealers who were spending several days out on the steppe collecting rocket debris. Then one evening someone from the authorities showed up, and since I didn’t have any specific permission to be there we thought it was best if I keep a low profile inside the truck for the hours they were around. But the moon got up and lit the whole scene – and I couldn’t help myself. So I sat my camera up on some improvised stand and shot the rocket piece with a slow shutter.”
“This was back in the film days, so you really had no idea if the exposures were right – not like today when you can quickly check. So I got sort of lucky on this one.”
The above slideshow is a pit-stop journey though vistas made magical by the light of the moon.