The Shadow
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The Shadow

A Shadow’s Nudge Softens the Shock

A La Catrina sculpture dog and it’s shadow symbolizes dark and light.
I took this photo in March of 2020: a La Catrina Day-of-the-Dead sculpture of a dog on a leash out for a walk. His shadow on the wall with alternating bars of dark and light became symbolic of my feelings at the beginning of the pandemic. © Ann Newman, 2020

Looking back on the beginning days of the pandemic is like watching a television show about some character that is not quite me, though we have a lot in common. I can best describe my memories of 2020 as binge-watching a show that you wished you’d never turned on. And praying for a fast-forward or off button, but forced to finish the entire series. While the Covid-19 story hasn’t concluded, I’ve grown to appreciate the many lessons it presented.

The first few mornings of the “stay at home” order drained me of all initiative. I sat in bed, nursed a cup of coffee. When my cup emptied, I drank another, pulling the comforter up tighter to me. I felt numb. Staring at the wall, I noticed a shadow behind my Day of the Dead sculpture that sits on the dresser.

I fell in love with that art piece about two years before, as it reminded me of my Beagle that had passed away. La Catrina is a tall woman, hands on her hips, vibrantly-dressed in her finest, walking a little skeleton dog on a ribbon leash. When I see the two of them, memories my dog and I shared come to life.

A close-up photo of a La Catrina Day of the Dead sculpture’s face.
A close-up of a La Catrina sculpture based on the skeleton symbol from the cartoonist, Jose Posada, in the 1900s. © Ann Newman, 2018

The skeleton dog stood out in front of La Catrina with some slack in the ribbon leash, and the shadow on the wall reflected only the dog’s shadow. As I watched, the dog shadow inched forward in millimeter steps, sliding across the drywall towards the bathroom door with the sun’s rise. I turned to my boyfriend and announced, “I need to get my camera, do you mind?” Since he is also a photographer, he understood. Artists, writers, and creatives of all types know to grab that moment of inspiration. I’ve learned the hard way that light changes, the words slip away, and the opportunity is gone. I didn’t have anything specific in mind to capture, but something was drawing me into this image.

A shadow of a dog on the wall with no color.
On one of the first days of the stay-at-home order, I started photographing a shadow on the wall of the La Catrina sculpture. © Ann Newman, 2020

For about two and a half weeks, we slept with a tripod at the end of the dresser, and my camera mounted, ready for the next morning’s shoot. I notated the time each day that the shadows started appearing. With spring, the sun lingered a little longer every day but arrived earlier. I calculated my start time for the next day. It had taken a few days, but now I found that I wanted to wake up and begin the day despite the pandemic.

When that time came the next day, I popped out of bed, I pulled the sculpture forward, I moved the dresser, and I shot. But the sun moves fast during springtime, and whatever mistakes I’d made waited for testing the next day.

Shadow of a La Catrina Day-of-the-Dead dog sculpture on the wall without color.
I grew frustrated with how hard it was to get a good focus on the shadow and also how to time the moving light so that the dog was in between the bars. © Ann Newman, 2020

Several days into this project, I wasn’t getting an image that spoke to me. I was still intrigued by the shadow, but I found lots of issues. I didn’t like how the drywall texture looked, so I found a poster board and taped that up on the wall. Quite by accident, I discovered that if I opened the sliding door, then moved the screen door, an almost cathedral-like window appeared in shadow form. I shot just that for a day or two. But those images lacked something. I shot vertical shots, then horizontal shots. And I kept going. There wasn’t anywhere else to be, so this didn’t feel like I was wasting time, more like I was filling time.

A shadow on the wall of a Day-of-the-Dead La Catrina dog sculpture in black and white.
By this time, I had poster board up on the wall to take the texture from the drywall away. Plus I had gotten used to moving the sliding door around. However, now I have a new line that was introduced in the image I didn’t want. Sigh. © Ann Newman, 2020

Finally, with a total of 151 images taken, I landed on a composition. Today, I see so much more in this “Stay at Home Command” photo than I did when I was snapping the shutter on my camera. Each realization of the symbols hidden in this image gives me goosebumps.

Today I see that the dark shadow bars and alternating light spaces hinted at confinement, as though prison cell bars surrounded the shadow dog. My mood went from dark to light and back as I consumed news, allowed fear to spiral, and subsequently talked myself off the ledge. The stay-at-home order was like solitary confinement. I was lucky to have a companion to steady me.

A La Catrina sculpture dog and it’s shadow symbolizes dark and light.
The final composition has a depth of symbolism: black and white but with a touch of color; a leash and the lack of one like apparent freedom; bars closing in the shadow. © Ann Newman, 2020

Once I started looking more closely at the image, I saw that the leash is visible on the shadow dog but not on the sculpture dog. To me, this portrays the claustrophobic feeling of being under another’s control. When fear would rise, I became a victim. In moments of strength, I recognized that I was in control. It all boiled down to monitoring my thoughts.

Towards the end of those 151 shots, I finally moved the sculpture dog into the scene as though my subconscious self was trying to tell me not everything about this scene was darkness. The colorful dog has a playful expression and is curious about his shadow self. He faces his darker thoughts, but he is in the light, arising out of the monochrome mood surrounding him. I wasn’t conscious of all this symbolism at the time, but now it is pretty apparent. And because I was engaged in a creative act, I was feeling joy and calm. I also questioned those feelings, wondering if I should feel guilty for actually enjoying myself during this time.

Later on, I noticed that the sculpture dog’s paws reflect on the dresser top. In dream symbolism, bare feet are a metaphor for exploring a direction forward that better reflects who you are. Life halted. We all had to face ourselves. Many had to change how they did business, how they made a living, or face who they lived with and whether that made sense any longer. The word “pivot” became a viral word.

The sculpture of La Catrina Day-of-the-Dead sculpture and a skeleton dog symbolizes how death doesn’t distinguish, it touches us all. © Ann Newman, 2018

The most crucial element in this image is La Catrina. In the 1900s, Mexican cartoon artist Jose Posada created her as a satire on people trying to be something they were not. His cartoon is of a woman, well-dressed with a feathered-hat like an aristocrat wore. Yet her form was a skeleton. His message was that death was democratic. Covid-19 hit the entire globe like an insidious vapor, and although I tried, none of us could escape it.

I decided to share this image on social media. As a courtesy, I tried reaching out to the artist that sculpted this La Catrina to see if I could tag her as the creator. I found an obituary. She passed away in early July. I may never know for sure how she died. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Like Catrina, she symbolizes all the losses: all the deaths from Covid-19, all the suicides, all the people frightened by the virus that put off trips to the doctor only later to find out another disease was out of control. My heart still feels heavy about her. She was a talent.

A year later, I return to this photo, and the flood of memories rushes in from the pandemic’s early stages. I didn’t get ill from going to the grocery store or touching the gas nozzle filling up the car. I worried about that initially. I didn’t starve, though now I have many odd shelf-stable foods taking up space in the cupboard I wish I hadn’t purchased in a panic. They will probably end up donated to a food drive at some point. I’ve stopped sanitizing Amazon boxes as they arrive. I’ve lowered my intake of all media. I love the yoga mat, yoga blocks, and bolster I bought before we came to know that there’d be shortages of everything. I bought a lot of lotion to counteract the sanitizer peeling the skin away from my hands. I feel beyond stupid for buying a pulse oximeter, and if you need one, let me know.

This past summer, we joined the home improvement frenzy and contracted to have our house windows replaced. The utility savings are significant. But now that we are on the anniversary of last March, I realize that the energy-efficient windows changed the light coming into the room. The shadows are much more muted, as though softening the mood.

I’m relieved that I took advantage of that moment last year at the beginning of lockdown. The light hits that window to cast a shadow on the bedroom wall only once a year. The opportunity to capture that or a similar shot is gone. I do feel some sadness about that. However, the dog shadow was my muse. My unconscious stirred up a lesson for me. I’m thankful that I took that call to explore in the moment. I found a focal point to hold onto in the chaos with this shadow’s nudge.

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Ann Newman

Ann Newman

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Annstracts is a blur between the name “Ann,” and the art form, “abstracts.” For a deeper appreciation of the little moments, visit annstracts.com.