Season of Illumination
Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography by Michael Wilson
As the Arizona air is finally becoming a bit chillier, we are surrounded by colorful lights that signify the holidays are officially upon us.
Believe it or not, the use of lights during the Christmas season actually predates the celebration of the holiday itself. Scandinavian and Germanic cultures and other northern European societies used fire as part of their winter solstice traditions.
As people prepared for shorter days and longer nights, Yule logs, bonfires and candles were significant rituals during midwinter festivals. These traditions were seen to symbolize the rebirth of the sun, turning night into day and the dawn of the New Year.
These typically pagan rituals were later incorporated into established Christian traditions quite naturally because fires and candles were necessary during the winter for heat and light. Christianity redefined these practical lights by connecting them to other symbols, such as the Star of Bethlehem.
Early Christmas trees were lit with candles to perpetuate these symbols. Needless to say, this was a common cause of fires at one point in history.
The invention of electricity further solidified the use of lights at Christmas, with Edward H. Johnson—an executive at Thomas Edison’s company—having revolutionized the tradition when he strung lights on a tree that he displayed in his New York City home during the holiday season of 1882.
Others emulated him, but early electrical lights were also relatively unsafe. By the beginning of the 20th century though, safer bulbs were made available at more affordable prices, and the tradition of decorating with lights during the holidays spread.
Photographer Michael Wilson appreciates this time of year, when the many communities that make up Arizona are suddenly transformed into magical, festive wonderlands in celebration of the holiday season. The lights that adorn our trees, cacti, buildings and other structures imbue us with feelings of happiness and hope.
Images Arizona hopes that Wilson’s gorgeous photographs of the many colorful lights that illuminate our state cause that happiness and hope to wash over you, while also inspiring you as enjoy the decorating traditions that you have with your family and friends.
Whether you choose to light up your neighborhood like Clark Griswold or prefer to light a simple candle in your window, may all of your days this season be merry and bright.
Finding Order Among Chaos
Michael Wilson acknowledges that Mother Nature tends to be fairly messy. That is why the photographer is constantly on the lookout for subjects that have some sort of composition to them.
“Trying to find something that actually makes sense when everything can be random is one of my favorite aspects of photography,” Wilson says. “The real fun part for me is trying to find some sort of order in the random chaos out there in the field.”
Wilson believes that being a photographer has encouraged him to see the beautiful details in nature.
“I really tend to notice the details and what might make a good image,” he says. “I am always looking around and searching for things that capture my eye—the ice in a pond, the flowers on a path, the leaves on the ground, the textures on a rock, how the weeds are backlit by the light.
“Before being into photography, I used to just walk by these things without even thinking about them.”
About the Photographer
Having grown up in Prescott, Michael Wilson quickly learned to appreciate the area’s divine beauty. That is why, after graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in civil engineering, he moved back to the city and continues to make his life there.
“I love to explore new locations throughout Arizona,” Wilson says. “There is a lot to see here, and I am a sucker for a beautiful landscape.”
Although Wilson’s official full-time job is in soils engineering, he discovered a passion for photography about 10 years ago—affording him an avenue to share those beautiful landscapes with the world.
“I think it was my geeky side that drew me to the technical aspects of photography, composition and post-processing,” Wilson explains. “However, it is the creative and artistic side of photography that has made it a real passion for me. When creating an image, my goal is to not only photograph the scene but to capture the way it made me feel.”
Wilson is mostly self-taught, using the internet to guide himself through all he needed to know about what makes a good image. By scouring pictures on social media by other photographers and studying what makes them interesting, he discovered his personal preferences as an artist.
“There is definitely a lot to learn on the internet,” Wilson explains. “I am constantly looking at photos and getting ideas by seeing what other people are doing. I think, along the way, that has trained me to see like a camera sees.”