December at The Herald

December 23, 2015

Composing supervisor Nancy Cassidy paints Christmas scenes on the windows of the Herald offices. (Herald File / Bob Eddy)

For as long as anyone here at The Herald can remember, each December, Nancy Cassidy has taken out her paint box to decorate the office’s large front windows for the season.

Nancy is head of composition and layout at The Herald. While most of her work is accomplished with computers today, she honed her craft in the paste-up era. Her deft hand and eye finished each page every Wednesday before it was shot on the stat camera and plated for the presses on Weston Street.

Painting our windows each year for the holidays, Nancy Cassidy works free hand. While we’re certain she’s carefully composed the scenes at home, it seems the fanciful images flow with spontaneous ease onto the glass! Christmas trees and presents; Santa climbing into a chimney or opening his sack; elves at work and at play; Rudolph, hitched-up and ready to fly; children, wide-eyed with excitement of the season: all these and more have filled our windows with cheer.

Season of Light

On a Thursday in December over 20 years ago, I photographed Nancy working on one of her seasonal creations.

Here is a portrait of the artist at work. Special circumstances of the painting provided unique lighting for my photograph. As Nancy is working on glass, illumination is provided by natural light coming through the window behind her. Back-lighting can be used to great photographic effect. It also presents exposure difficulties for the uninitiated.

George Eastman’s counsel for correct exposures with his first Kodak cameras was to take the photograph with the sun at your back, falling upon the subject in front of you. This simple rule was still in use when, as a boy in the 1950s, I used my first camera, a Kodak Brownie 127.

Eastman’s advice made perfect sense for the beginning photographer with a point and shoot camera. In reality, however, many photographs must be taken, as in this instance, with the camera aimed toward the light source. What are the problems raised, and how can they be surmounted?

In a backlit situation, if you are determining your exposure with a through-the-lens meter, the camera will likely specify an exposure one to two stops darker than what is needed. The meter is, in a sense, misled by the lighting and gives a false reading. In this photograph, the result would be a very darkened silhouette of our subject.

The rule of thumb is to open your lens two stops to compensate, providing more light in that part of the image where it’s needed most—the subject.

The Complete Frame

We have three elements in this photograph, and only three. First, we see the artist painting. It helps the photograph greatly that Nancy is both beautiful and simply dressed in a pink sweater. Her features, her hand and brush are all in sharp focus. The diffused backlight falling all about her, adds luster and softness to her hair, upturned face, and the sweater. Everything in her form leads our eye to her hand holding the brush, articulating her vision.

That vision, becoming a painting on glass is our second element. We see elves: Nancy is surrounded by four of them as she works. There is music in the air; notes merrily dance across the top of the photograph. We sense rather than see the glass, for there is no edge to this window. The musical notes provide the only frame.

The third and final element is background; out-of-focus brick and snow and lights on Pleasant Street on a cold grey December day many years ago.

With this simple scene from Christmas past, we wish for you and all those you love, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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