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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery One: Travel Abstractions -- Unlimited Thought > In Buddha’s Image, The Essence of Burma, Yangon, 2005
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In Buddha’s Image, The Essence of Burma, Yangon, 2005

In Buddha’s Image, The Essence of Burma, Yangon, 2005

Eighty percent of the Burmese people are Buddhists. If there were to be a universal symbol for this country, it would be the mystical Buddha image. This one is at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. I do not photograph it to describe its appearance. Rather, I have made this abstract photograph to involve the imagination the viewer and at the same time convey a sublime feeling. It is an image of silence, thought, and reverence. And all of this comes because I choose to show less and say more by using underexposure, a very close vantage point, and selective framing.


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Phil Douglis19-Jan-2009 03:08
Abstraction is handmaiden to mystery, Claudia. Your image is mysterious. So is this one. You use frame to isolate the huge head in space, while I use both frame and shadow. But the end result is the same -- the imagination of the viewer is stimulated.
Phil Douglis13-Sep-2006 22:06
Your words, Jenene, not only define the meaning of this image, but also demonstrate the purpose of abstraction. Thank you.
JSWaters13-Sep-2006 19:07
I love what Alister said, 'This isn't less is more, this is, virtually nothing is everything'. By abstracting the Buddha to this degree, your conveying the absolute preminence Buddha has in the believer's life. It is at once intimate and almost global in it's feel. The serene, upturned lips offer succor and acceptance. The emerging light offers a view of the journey into the next world.
Jenene
Phil Douglis11-Aug-2006 22:28
Thanks, Jude, for analyzing the role of light and shadow in this picture. As you must have grasped, I usually look for the light first -- the subject itself is secondary to me. It was late afternoon at the Shwedagon Pagoda, and I had photographed many Buddha images in that amazing place. But none were as animated by the interplay of light and shadow as this one -- a study in serenity. I made several pictures, and this was the most severely cropped version of them all. I took the less is more concept to the virtual limit here, and it obviously strikes a chord with many viewers, including yourself. I hope that you will learn as much from it, as I did when making it.
Jude Marion11-Aug-2006 21:48
This is certainly a case where less says lots more. There is no doubt that this is a Buddha representation. It is a classic type (as in 'typology') that is universally known and understood. So by abstracting this portion of the face, and highlighting just the corners of the mouth (smile), you remove it from being a mere image of a Buddhist sculpture to one that expresses and invokes an inner peace, a serenity. It's lovely that the side of the nose and entire mouth are suggested subtley by the reflected light giving us further clues that this is a Buddha. The way in which the neck and chin are highlighted lead us right to that smile.
Phil Douglis19-Jul-2006 06:38
Shadows often calm, Annie. Like sleep, they encourage dreams. The lips are soft, and as you say serene. Self confident as well. Thanks for coming to this image.
Annie Jump19-Jul-2006 06:20
I think the lighting helps portray a calming image Phil. I too get a feminine feel from the face. The lips look serene and happy.
Phil Douglis11-Nov-2005 04:25
And I love your comment, Dudong. I agree. Abstraction is part and parcel of communication.
dodong 25-Oct-2005 03:08
By looking in this picture, it touch me. It seems there is a communication between me and the picture. It leads me to contemplate on happiness, it induced silence. I would imagine when you saw this part of the statue it strike you. I think your philosophy in abstraction of picture is basically communication. I love this picture
Phil Douglis08-Oct-2005 00:06
No, Ed, you are not "seeing things" here -- the image has done what I wanted it to do for you -- stimulated your imagination. That's what expressive photography is --a trigger to wonder, thought, and emotion.
Guest 05-Oct-2005 02:59
For some reason, the mysterious image exudes some sort of feminine qualities when I look at the smiling lips ... I also thought the visible earlobe is part of the sculpted hair ...

I'm seeing things :)
Phil Douglis23-Aug-2005 18:14
I thank you, Ramma, for this comment. What strike me is the universality of this image. It is a Buddhist image, but because of how I have chosen to interpret it, it has had a powerful effect on people from all cultures and backgrounds. People from Belgium, Thailand, Malaysia, USA, China, and now India have come to feel the spirit of this image, each in their own way. Photography is truly a universal language.
Ramma 23-Aug-2005 16:50
A very beautiful image, has such a calming effect. It also seems to denote that Buddha will take you from Darkness to Light with a Smile ! Its a stunningly peaceful image.
wingjet 02-Aug-2005 10:57
Thanks, Phil. Thanks for the explanation about the contrast which makes the part in shadow more mysterious. I think that I begin to understand the way you used to express the spirit of Buddha.
Phil Douglis01-Aug-2005 17:21
Wingjet -- your question is a good one. I draw your eye to the light part of the image, which includes the corner of the mouth, along with the neck and earlobe. The eye goes to the subtle, gentle smile quite naturally. Most of the mouth is in shadow, which makes the smile even more sublime and mysterious. I hope this helps.
wingjet 01-Aug-2005 12:27
Phil, it's an excellent image, which emphasizes the serenity and wisdom of Buddha. However, my sight is usually drawn to the earlobe and neck of the sculpture when I am gazing the smiling lips, for it's the lightest part of the photo. I wonder whether this part is a disturbance or what you said incongruity?

PS: I am a new reader of your cyberbook. Your concept of expressive photography really impressed me. And your patience and friendly reply to amost every comment encourages me to write my first question here.
Phil Douglis18-Jul-2005 21:06
Thank you for your eloquence, Barbara. Well said. Particularly your observation regarding intimacy. The camera can take us where we normally could never go. In this case, almost cheek to cheek. Your comment on the sense of spirituality this image provokes is very welcome. It was exactly what I was trying to express by abstracting the Buddha figure in light and shadow in this way.
Guest 15-Jul-2005 05:35
The shadow pulls me in with a sense of intimacy that comes when we know another being well enough to stand this close. The counterpoint of light is a reminder that we are still in this world, the mouth serenity. The whole inspires spirtuality in the same way as a canopy of stars in a desert sky.
Phil Douglis24-Jun-2005 19:56
Tony, it works as intended for you. Thanks.
Guest 20-Jun-2005 05:38
Phil, I like this picture not only because of shadows and abstraction that lead me into deep imagination, but also the soft and warm light that creates a calm and peaceful atmosphere.

Thanks,

Tony Yong
Phil Douglis27-Apr-2005 20:20
Thanks, Stan. Perfection is really impossible, but since we are dealing with theology here, it's worth a shot.
Stan Schutze27-Apr-2005 05:58
It's perfect
Phil Douglis07-Apr-2005 20:07
Thanks, Alister, for sharing your pleasure in this image with me. It is working for you just as I intended. Virtually nothing has become everything here. Such is the power of abstraction to imply meaning and activate the imagination of the viewer. As for it competition, I never measure the value of my own images against my other images or anyone else's for that matter. Each photo is created to express its own meaning in its own way. That is why I believe that photo "contests" are essentially meaningless. Every photo is really an apple and all others are oranges.
alibenn07-Apr-2005 06:38
Oh Phil!! One of your best and against some tough competition. This says more to me about the power and significance of faith, not just Bhudism, but any iconic image. This isn't less is more, this is, virtually nothing is everything.
The soft, warm tone, the implied serenity, the light in the darkness, what an amazing metaphor.

Simply amazing!!
Phil Douglis08-Mar-2005 22:52
Good to have you own wisdom back in my galleries again, Clara. Thanks for this observation.
Guest 08-Mar-2005 16:14
Beautiful image, Phil. I like very much the use of shadows and not showing the eyes of the Buddha. The closed mouth and the Buddha's attitude express silence and wisdom.
Tim May04-Mar-2005 19:44
I, or course respond to the light, which symbolizes for me the light that Buddhism seems to bring to the cultures we visited. But, I also think that the soft focus here adds to the sense of serenity and calm. As one who thinks too much and maybe doesn't "feel" often enough. It is a good reminder to relax and let go of the "sharpness" of my thinking.
Phil Douglis04-Mar-2005 03:38
It's always gratifying when you let me know get what I am expressing here, Nut. And now I really know why you will always remember Buddha's smile. Brian tells me it's because he has achieved Nirvana. I am glad you feel what I want you to feel here. If both Buddhists and non-Buddhists can appreciate its meaning, this image is doing its job.
Phil Douglis04-Mar-2005 02:25
I am not a Buddhist, Brian, but I had seen enough Buddha images by the time I reached Yangon to understand the importance of the smile as symbol. I sensed the essence of Buddhism in that smile, even though I might not have known the reason for it, as you explain so well here. As you can see from my explanation to Nut, who is Buddhist, I equated the closed lip smile to thought and reverence. Now you tell me it is the smile from one who has achieved Nirvana, which means attaining enlightenment, and freeing the spirit from worldly things. All of which simply adds to the meaning of this image for me.

I welcome your comments anytime. I am glad you have been following my cyberbook on expressive photography as it grows. I hope that photographers at many levels of experience will find ideas of value in it.
nut 03-Mar-2005 17:06
Yes, I got what you want to express here. I saw the light at the cheek and the nose. But because of I am a Buddhist. Whenever I see the Buddha's image, I always remember his smile. And I feel what you want me to feel here. I have to say that I got it.
Guest 03-Mar-2005 05:22
Tthe slightly smiling lips of this Buddha statue is the most universal symbol on probably every major Buddha statue/carving/painting anyone can find. It is the smile from one that has achieved Nirvana. Maybe it was subconcious thing - but by focusing on the beatific smile only, the photographer has essentially caught the essence of Buddhism itself.

Btw Phil, this is my first time commenting on your photos, but I've been following and studying them for quite sometime now - they have been a boon for people like me who have just started photography as a past time.
Phil Douglis03-Mar-2005 00:23
Hi, Nut,

I did not choose to emphasize only the lips of the Buddha image here, Nut. If you look very closely you will also see the same light flowing over the cheek and revealing the nose in deep the shadows as well. This gives a partial view of the head itself, coming out of the dark shadows. My reason for emphasizing the lower half of the face of the Buddha image here is to symbolize silence, thought and reverence --which to me represented Burma's faith, the essence of its society. Closed lips make a good symbol for both silence and thought, don't they? The lips, as you said earlier, almost seem to be smiling as well. A smile can bring, as you also said in your previous comment, a feeling of kindness.

As for expressing the essence of something without any background or knowledge, the photo is an abstraction. It symbolizes a religious faith that stands at the heart of this society. You do not need a lot of background or knowledge to sense this, Nut. As for the viewers of this picture, I hope this image will stimulate their imaginations enough so that they, too, will feel a sense of reverence. A single photograph can't explain theology. But it can make us think in a deeply spiritual way, and that is what I hope this image will do. As you said yourself, it provokes both thought and release.

As for what is the mystical Buddha image, to me it is a symbol of spiritual significance or power, an icon representing divine meaning. It is meant to inspire worshippers to meditation, prayer, and thought.

I hope this helps you understand why I made this image, what my comments imply, and what this image might mean. Because you are a Buddhist, I expect you will see it one way. Those who are not Buddhists may see it in other ways. And that, Nut, is the great power of expressive imagery. Because of the degree of abstraction I use here, I feel this powerful symbol of Burma's faith is a good way to express the essence of this intensely Buddhist country. Abstraction does not describe. It implies. It leaves room for the viewer's imagination to work. That's what I wanted this image to do.

Thank you, as always, Nut, for asking such thought provoking questions.
nut 02-Mar-2005 18:20
Why you choose his lips to abstract the essence of Burma? You have the reason to take this photo when you saw the light reflecting on his lips, right? Why? For the mystical of Buddha image or more than that? How can we express the essence of something without any background or knowledge? Can we express our feelings or the essence of our thought about something into the photo? What is the mystical Buddha image? I will come back to see more.
Phil Douglis01-Mar-2005 22:01
I made this image with you in mind, Nut. It is one of my favorites from Burma. I knew you would feel these qualities in this image. You are a Buddhist, afterall. As well as a very sensitive and perceptive person, who can read and feel the meaning of pictures. All of the things you mention below are indeed here. I am not a Buddhist, yet I could see it and feel it and I abstracted the image with frame and light in this way to stress those feeling.
nutkurt 01-Mar-2005 19:01
Buddha's face is in the shadow, but his smiling is the light. Thought, release, kindness, safety and his purity are here.
Phil Douglis27-Feb-2005 20:20
Thanks, Mo. This is a good example of "less can be more" abstraction. Mystery is usually a matter of implication. This image is as sublime and mysterious as I could make it. You can see Buddha barely, but certainly feel his presence.
monique jansen27-Feb-2005 08:44
What a wonderful abstraction Phil! It manages to convey the mystery of a place many people have not been to, and yet everybody immediately will know this is a statue of a buddha. By your abstraction you manage to convey the message.
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