How Can One Write With Light?

Published January 16th, 2022 - 05:22 GMT
Writing with light
Light is the essence of writing (twitter)

Can one write with light? Yes, easily! One can hold a camera in his hands, click the little button and voila, he will be writing with light, i.e. “photographing”! 

Before digging further into this fascinating phenomenon of writing with light, few questions come in order: Is photography, in its classical form, still standing on its feet today? Has technology stretched its hand too far and tampered with the art of photography? Do millions of snapshots and “selfies” taken every day, today, by millions of people, using their mobiles, fall under the category of photography? What happened to the legions who loved clicking their cameras while peeping through their lens at a certain face or object?

And should we lament the disappearance of romantic moments when family members sit together, browsing their hardcover albums, collaged with black and white photos, so each one can point to his or her favorite image? Finally, has the moment of bidding adios, to the passion of making iconic black and white photos, arrived?

From a linguistic perspective, it all started with the ancient Greek language, the mother of all ancient southern European languages. There and then, the Greeks employed, in a mutually exclusive fashion, the word “photo” to mean light, and the word “graph” which meant write or paint. Despite their many other valuable contributions to world’s civilization, whether in philosophy or mathematics or theater or medicine or other fields, ancient Greeks were humble enough not to pretend, that they could, simultaneously, write or paint with light per se!

Take Aristotle the great philosopher, for example, who could put down some of his thoughts on a piece of cloth or leather using a feather of an eagle and some sort of ink! He could also have ordered one of his disciples to kindle a candle or turn it off, when he decided to go to bed! And so could all other Greeks do, to carry on with their own daily businesses!

It took humans, literally, thousands of years to actually become able to write and paint with light. It was not until the first half of the 19th century, and precisely in 1836, when the term “photography” was coined by an English scientist with the name of Sir John Herschel. In a genius way, he combined the two old Greek words together to describe the action of taking a photo. From that day on, this imagination-provoking idiom, “photography”, started creeping into spoken English and printed materials, at a time when only simple tools, equipment, ingredients and other technical know-how techniques, for making photos were available.   

Few years earlier and in 1829, a French man called Joesph Nicephore Niepce in collaboration with his compatriot Louis-Jacques–Mande Daguerre, managed to develop certain techniques for making a picture or a photo. Their method was applicable in laboratories and workshops by specialists and professionals only. Gradually, the ability of trained people to take pictures, even in broad day time, became possible. The photographer needed a kind of friendly explosion of artificial light overhead his veiled camera-stand that in turn was zoomed in on a certain object or a person.

Prior to the époque of making pictures, indoor and outdoor, people used to write and paint things, scenes and faces on canvases or walls. One sample at a time, since the idea of copying was still hiding in the unknown.

Then came the year 1889 that ushered in the regular camera, when the American entrepreneur George Eastman invented the Kodak No.1 camera that enabled average people to take pictures by themselves, anywhere, anytime they wanted. It took successive researchers and engineers almost an additional three quarters of a century to invent the first digital camera, when an electrical engineer with the name of Steve Sasson, working for the same Kodak Company made one in 1935.


Today, however, we casually still use many words that end with the suffix “graph” such as autograph, biography, zincograph, geography, topography, graffiti and stenograph etc., etc. with little attention paid to its original meaning.

So, if light was one of the many God-gifts to the world, writing and painting then was one of the most important inventions made by mankind. An invention that proved to be one of the most effective forms of communication, documentation and transfer of ideas and knowledge, throughout the centuries, between peoples and from generation to generation.

Finally comes a teasing question: How many of us out there who would dare challenge the famous line of photography enthusiasts which says that a single photo is worth more than 1000 words? Before answering, one further point must be clarified: Without the introduction of the art of photography in our life, we humans, willy-nilly, could not have ended up showcasing one of the most important and creative endeavours ever known!

It certainly will take many more thousands of years, if not a miracle, to efface or replace, the art of ‘writing with light” that made millions of people around the world happier, simply because someone told them that they had photogenic faces!

Saleem Ayoub Quna, a Jordanian writer, contributed this article to         

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