The Language of Light

I met writer Doug Cooper Spencer via Facebook and asked him to consider writing a piece. A few days later he sent me his essay, ‘The Language of Light’,  a meditation on the power of photo literacy and stories buried behind the images. Below Doug shares some of his photos from his hometown Lincoln Heights, Ohio with Digital Diaspora Family Reunion. Enjoy and feel free to thank Doug, leave comments and check out his work through his website!” – Thomas Allen Harris.

Light has a way of telling stories. Through light and the language it speaks, it not only illuminates what we see, it also creates mood and inspire stories within us.

For example, as a writer, I use small black towns as starting points for my characters’ journeys. I tend to use these settings because I grew up in an all-black town— a “colored town” back then, in which all of the citizens were black as were the entirety of its government, businesses and education system. It’s a time and place that most likely doesn’t exist anymore in America. However I have photos to tell the story of that place and time as well. I look at photos of family and friends and members of Lincoln Heights, Ohio and I’m reminded of people like Nikki Giovanni, The Isley Brothers, Hari Rhodes and others who grew up in that town and I’m told the story.

As I look at the photographs I see the way light wrote expressions, the way it wrote bodies and the surroundings and I get the story. And inside of me, not only are the images vibrant once again, but so are the sounds of Dinah Washington and Sam Cook coming from radios, of blues guitars being played in the town’s parades; and of the aroma of my mother’s perfume, of Afro-Sheen and leather coats in the schoolyard on chilly mornings and of roast beef and collard greens. All of that comes to me because of the light from those photographs. It happens to anyone who looks at a photograph. Light etches its story into our minds just as I write stories through words.

That place and time in my life are physically gone now, but I can still recall them through the language of light.

Image of Doug Spencer

Doug Cooper Spencer is a novelist, short fiction writer, and essayist living in New York City.

Doug worked in administration and lectured part-time in the areas of creative writing, race, and LGBTQA culture and development at The University of Cincinnati. He also served on the university’s LGBTQA faculty and staff advisory board.

Doug has served as in-house lecturer at the Cincinnati branch of The National Urban League’s “Leadership Training Forum” and also aided in the production of, and appears in the award winning 1996 documentary “All God’s Children”. He co-produced “The Eyes Open Festival” and was president of “The Eyes Open Festival Organization”.

Doug was named by “Clik Magazine” as one of their ‘elite 25 writers’, and in 2016 Doug’s novel ‘Ella Pruitt’ was named as ‘one of the best works of fiction for 2016’ by The Phillis Wheatley Book Awards.

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