Listening to Light
“The world is innately beautiful without manipulation
and that’s what I’m trying to capture.”
Photographer Lennell Allen is fascinated by light. After 35 years as a microscope photographer at UCSF, Lennell began taking workshops in beginning photography in 2010. Her first class assignment was to produce 20 related images. Two days before the assignment was due, still unclear on her subject, Lennell noticed a shaft of bright sunlight coming through the window of her Ocean Beach home. There was a white shelf; a blue bottle. She began snapping shots.
“There were all kind of things going on with that bottle and the light. Six years later, I’m still taking pictures of bottles. I saw these repeating patterns, refractions of the light through the bottle. I asked a physicist friend from work what the patterns were. He said he could write me the mathematical equation describing them. I just found them beautiful,” says Lennell with an easy laugh.
“I don’t want to take tourist pictures, lots of people already do that really, really well. I want to view things in an unexpected way; I want it to tell me something different.” Ironically, Lennell has three pieces in the September show “Abstractions ,” at the San Francisco Women Artists Gallery - all three are of the Bay Bridge.
“It never interested me to photograph the bridge,” says Lennell. “We were on a ferry coming back from Oakland and I didn’t even have a good camera with me. At the last minute I thought, ‘Wait, we’re going under the Bay Bridge’ and I started taking pictures. I had a little pocket camera and no tripod. I love a challenge. I came home with 600 pictures. I’m excited by the unpredictable. I like getting home and not knowing what I have. I’m fascinated by light and motion. I was a piano player. I can hear my photos; the rhythm, the colors, visual music – light on a bridge.”
This excitement with her work is evident as we look at her photos together. Some of Lennell’s pictures even look like colorful musical scales, the play of the bridge lights on the black sky, drawn out by the drag of the ferry boat, linear, yet alive with movement and shots of color dancing.
Lennell has a self-imposed container for her photography; only an eye and a lens.
“No photoshop, no filters, I even crop with the camera most of the time.” Lennell quietly declares.”I want to capture natural light in the digital age; no manipulation – ever. If it couldn’t be done in a darkroom with a film camera, I won’t do it,” states Lennell. “I don’t know why I give myself this container, but I do.”
Perhaps it is her years of training as a scientific photographer. Photographic manipulation, the norm in modern photography, is illegal in the world of science. Lennell’s husband, Wendell Shinn is a photographer known for his digital manipulation, photomontage and composites. In contrast, Lennell is a purist and a self proclaimed perfectionist, traits that served her well in the lab. Three times her work was on the cover of natural science journals. Years of work on the microscopic scale developed her love of color and form.
“I’d prepare three proteins and a lipid on a slide and it looked like Picasso to me,” says Lennell, again with her bright smile, brushing back her thick silver hair with her hand. "Now I can photograph things unconstrained by science. The world is innately beautiful without manipulation and that’s what I’m trying to capture.”
Written by Renee McKenna
Lennell's bio and link to her website