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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Seventeen: Memories in Metal and Stone: How monuments, sculpture, and tombs express ideas. > Abbey Church, Mont St. Michel, France, 2004
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Abbey Church, Mont St. Michel, France, 2004
30-AUG-2004

Abbey Church, Mont St. Michel, France, 2004

Crowned by its medieval abbey, Mont St. Michel rises from a small, quasi-island, separated by one kilometer of waves from the mainland at high tide. A village, established in the Middle Ages, grew up below its fortified walls. Its ramparts and location repelled all assaults and the Mount became a symbol of French national identity. Mont St. Michel is now the second most popular tourist draw in France, topped only by Paris. Most visitors prefer photographs showing Mont. St. Michel as it seems to rise from the sea at high tide. That kind of photograph may capture its unique appearance, but it doesnít tell you what it feels like to actually be there. My photographic goal was to give my viewers a medieval experience by capturing itís feeling instead of its appearance. This image is my solution. I focused on a splash of dappled sunlight as it skimmed over the thousand year old stones in the interior of the Abbeyís Church. This interior is vast, dark, cold, and spartan -- very much as it must have looked and felt during the middle ages. I focused my spot meter on the brightest part of the light as it played across those stones, and the room went virtually black, with only the play of the brightest sunlight on a few of the churchís stones still visible to the camera. I know that I am taking a chance with this picture. Many people would probably prefer to actually see what the inside of that church actually looks like. But description is not my purpose. Expression is. I chose to interpret the church as an experience honed down to a highly abstracted glow of light representing a thousand years of spirituality. Some have told me that if they squint their eyes, they can even see the shape of a cross within this glowing area. That was not intentional. If people want to see such symbols, they can, and they will. I had simply hoped to characterize the essence the Mont. St. Michel experience by showing less and saying more. I hope this picture, as well as entire gallery, has helped you appreciate how to express more meaning through your own travel images of monuments, statues, tombs, and historical sites. If Iíve been able to help you do this with the examples in this gallery, Iíd welcome your posted comments and questions. And if I havenít, be sure to post a critique, with any suggestions you may be able to offer for improvement. Either way, Iíd enjoy hearing from you. Iíd be delighted to respond.

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Phil Douglis14-Nov-2006 01:27
The goose bumps arise because so much is left to your imagination, Theodore.
Theodore13-Nov-2006 12:40
Goose bumps. I really, really love this one.
Phil Douglis28-Apr-2006 19:54
Thanks, Niall. Most would call this image "mystical." You use the word "mythical" which adds still another layer of expressiveness to this picture. A myth is the opposite of reality. It is fiction, an idealization, often supernatural. I use, as you point out, minimalism to reduce what "is," to what "may have been." So yes, this image does express myth as well as mysticism.
Niall O'Shea28-Apr-2006 16:06
Extremely beautiful and mythical. Would be wonderful in a minimalism gallery.
Phil Douglis19-Jul-2005 19:43
I remember seeing it, Michael, but did not photograph it. Sorry.
Michael 19-Jul-2005 17:49
I have recently visited Mont st Michel and couldnt help but be captivated by it. While i was there i remember seeing a symbol in the Abbey, it was a stylised M in a circle, at the far, alter end. If any one could provide a picture of it for me that would be brilliant. Thank you.
Phil Douglis17-May-2005 06:59
What a remarkable interpretation, Ana! If you look hard at the blacks in this image, instead of the golds, it becomes an entirely different image. You have shifted your "form-field relationship" to focus on the interplay between the light and shadow. Your exploration of darkness vs. light here intensifies the tactile quality of the stone, and you allow your own imagination to take over this image and make of it whatever you wish. This is one of the most simple images I have ever made, Ana, yet is it is also one of the most expressive because it leaves so much to the imagination. Thank you for pointing these important things out.
Ana Carloto O'Shea17-May-2005 01:42
When darkness embraces the light in such a beautiful manner, it is bound to stir our imagination.
Which one is more powerful? The small spash of light that brings the stone into our eyes, or the immense darkness that covers most of the image and apparently reveals nothing?? Light and darkness as equals is what I see in your photo and how rare such a thing is... The light grabs our eyes, shows us the beautiful textures of the stone and says: "now explore..." and then it's our imagination that takes over and suddenly it feels like it's our hand touching the stone and we trace it slowly, discovering all that the darkness is hidding from us. A "tactile" image that I find very sensuous, unpredictable and exciting, a true invitation to discovery & a pleasure to the senses.
A very beautiful and moving photo. I don't know how long I have been here looking at it... but it could be hours that I would not get tired!
Phil Douglis08-Dec-2004 03:11
Thank you, Likyin, for this thoughtful and heartfelt comment. I know very well the image you are referring to -- it was among the very first of your images that I remarked upon just over one year ago. It's at:http://www.pbase.com/likyin/image/23577747 . And yes, I do see the similarities. Both images abstract light within a field of blackness, and both lights glow magically upon historical walls. Because the light in my image is more focused and covers a smaller area, I can see how you could feel that it is becoming smaller and smaller, and how powerless we are to stop the coming of darkness.

Your black and white image speaks to me of the timeless beauty that is Rome. I intended this color photograph to express the feeling of medieval times.

Ironically, I feel that I am doing here exactly what you recently criticized my Forbidden City picture for -- evoking an aspect of the past. It is particularly satisfying for me to make an image that stimulates your imagination, Likyin, because I consider you to be among my toughest critics. To read the beauty of your words telling me that I have created an image expressing a tactile sensation through light, instead of touch, was all the more rewarding to me. I thank you for this idea -- I find it fascinating. And your words are as poignant in their way, as this image is in its way.
Likyin Yeung07-Dec-2004 12:32
I felt hard to make comment on this image although I like it very much, because it's somehow very similar to one of mine, you know which one I mentioned.
But, just now, after keep staring at it for 3 minutes (after dinner), I had a strong feeling of the very basic idea of this world:

It's light that let us feel the materials and details without touching.

And then, the darkness approaching from the left seems to slowly extend, the beautiful patch of light becomes smaller, and smaller. Can you imagine, maybe a second later, this precious light will finally vanish, leaving nothing else but entirely empty blackness. The feeling is too bad while during all the process, we can just look at it but could do nothing to stop it. There's something we can only try to memorize, but can not hold.
Phil Douglis09-Nov-2004 04:36
I knew you would feel strongly about this one, Yanan. Particularly after seeing an image where you did a very similar form of abstraction. Unyielding? Yes --I would think so. This wall has been standing for at least a thousand years, and it will probably be standing strong a thousand years from now. Hope? Yes, the glow on the wall contrasts strongly to the gloom of the darkness around it. Passion? Absolutely. This place has excited the passions of France since the Middle Ages, and all who visit it cannot help but be deeply moved. Vivid? Nothing is more vivid than absolutes, Yanan. And this contrast in this image is about as absolute as you can get. Thank you for those four words. They sum up all that I was trying to express in this shot.
YNW09-Nov-2004 03:55
emmmm, very vivid!!!!Hope, passion and unyieldingness!!!!
Phil Douglis26-Sep-2004 01:50
I am delighted you like this image, Bruce. As I said in the explanation, I fully expect that it will disappoint a lot of people who would rather see what the inside of this famous abbey looks like. To me, it looked like just another old empty church turned into a museum. It was the feeling of the place that grabbed me, and that is what this abstraction is meant to express. As you say, I leave most of the work up to my viewers. Glad you signed on.
Phil
bruce berrien25-Sep-2004 20:18
Fantastic - just enough detail (the texture of the masonry, the shape of the window suggested by the light) to give us an idea of where we are or might be, and then you leave the rest to our imaginations. The darkness becomes an invitation. Is the viewer willing? A very evocative image. Makes me want to explore!
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