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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Seventeen: Memories in Metal and Stone: How monuments, sculpture, and tombs express ideas. > Face in the fountain, Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal, 2004
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Face in the fountain, Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal, 2004

Face in the fountain, Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal, 2004

The Rossio Square is to Lisbon what Trafalgar Square is to London. It is the nerve center of the city. The square is home to the Rossio Rail Station, the National Theatre, two huge fountains with multiple sculptures, and a towering column topped by a figure of Dom Pedro IV, the fist emperor of independent Brazil. There are far too many monuments for ten pictures, let alone one. I chose one small statue to sum up the grandeur of the place – an angelic water nymph in one of the squares massive fountains. This image is intimate, rather than all encompassing. Her eyes are lifelike, and gaze intense. Yet this image is also incongruous. Instead of flesh, we see calcium stained metal on her face and chest, at odds with the smooth classical beauty of her features. I position the hands and arm of the sculpture in the lower right hand corner, tilting the camera so that the head flows into the upper left hand corner, creating diagonal tension and energy. My goal is to express the beauty and flamboyance of another time, because that is exactly what Lisbon’s Rossio Square is all about. By choosing part of just one monument to represent all of them, I make use of abstraction to best tell this story.

Canon PowerShot G5
1/320s f/4.0 at 28.8mm full exif

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bruce berrien05-Oct-2004 22:07
Gallery Eighteen: Conveying a Sense of Place? :)
Phil Douglis26-Sep-2004 21:16
Good point, Bruce, about this picture not giving you a "sense of place." I think you may define a"sense of place" more narrowly here than I would define it. To me, giving my viewers a "sense of place" means not so much what that place actually looks like, but rather, how it feels, what it represents or once represented, and what it might mean to us.

I saw this statue as summing up the grandeur that once was Lisbon's Rossio Square. The square is no longer as grand as it was in the 19th century. It is a relic of a gentler time. By choosing this calcium-streaked neoclassic angel-faced statue as a symbol for that time, and abstracting it down to just the face and the shell it clutches in its hand (the empty horn of plenty?) I tried to express what Rossio Square once was, and what it has since become. You see this picture largely as a beautiful rendition of a fountain statue. And I saw it as a symbol for a larger meaning -- a vanished age, harder times, an empty horn. That, too me anyway, offers a "sense of place" to Rossio Square. I hope you will think of this concept now in broader terms, and maybe even come to see the meaning that I have tried to imply here.

As for the Guggenheim, it does presently represent Bilbao to the world, and in that respect, my images of it can offer a sense of place. No single image can sum up everything that goes into making a place a place, Bruce. We must find subjects that we can use to symbolically represent the essence of that place as we see it. There is no single subject or image that can do this -- each photographer will do it in their own way, and for their own purpose. Yet this concept of a sense of place is at the very core of expressive travel photography and deserves much thought. Hey, you've just given me a good idea for a future gallery, Bruce! I am forever in your debt.

bruce berrien26-Sep-2004 15:51
And a good riposte, Phil. I did indeed enjoy your images of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim, so credit all around! You asked me if this photo gives me a sense of place - and I have to honestly say no. It gives me a sense of the object - the statue - and is wonderfully executed - much better than many "fountain/statue in the square" photos I've seen. I think your composition is dynamic, and helps me to see the beauty of this piece, and as a larger collection, as this is, it helps me to develop an overall sense of place.

Buildings... I guess I see a building as a place in addition to being an object. Buildings like Gehry's Guggenheim, that are so out of context with their surroundings, are special places in and of themselves. But I doubt the Guggenheim could be said to encapsulate the city of Bilbao as a place!
Phil Douglis26-Sep-2004 02:09
Good question, Bruce. This is very similar situation to what I faced when shooting Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao , , and ) In these cases do we credit the architect or the photographer? I think we must consider it a draw. Without the genius of this sculptor, or in the case of the Guggenheim, architect Frank Gehry, I would not have had the basis for an evocative image. On the other hand, what are seeing here are my photographic interpretations of existing works of art and architecture. Here I stress certain aspects of this sculpture -- particularly its compelling life-like face, incongruously streaked with calcium deposits, in order to symbolize the neo-classic grandeur that is Lisbon's Rossio Square. You liked the composition, but does it give you a sense of place? That was my intention here.
bruce berrien25-Sep-2004 20:22
It's a beautiful statue. To the extent that a viewer is moved by this image, do we credit the sculptor or the photographer? I do like you composition here.
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