Doorknob, Victorian Hotel, Bridgeport, California, 2004
The swirls on the ancient brass doorknob at the entrance to Bridgeport’s haunted Victorian Hotel echo the swirl on the ornamental door trim behind it. Many hands have grasped this shiny knob over the years – perhaps even a few ghostly ones. I moved in very close to focus on the knob, placing both the doorplate and trim out of focus. My off center placement and side angle makes the knob protrude into space, inviting us to grab and twist.
Baroque detail, National Coach Museum, Belem, Portugal, 2004
Belem stands at the mouth of the Tagus River, about four miles outside of Lisbon itself. One of its most popular attractions is the National Coach Museum, containing perhaps the finest collection of royal coaches in Europe. Among the most lavish are the huge coaches, including this one, made in Rome for the Portuguese ambassador to the Vatican. I did not want to photograph the entire coach, between then I would minimize the fantastic details that decorate it. Those details are what make this coach worth visiting, studying, and thinking about. It was very dark inside the museum, and neither flash nor tripods are allowed. (I never use either in my travel photography.) I was able to make this remarkable study of the incredible Baroque detail by handholding my camera set at ISO 200, using a very slow shutter speed of 1/6th of a second. Using my camera’s continuous shooting mode, I only had to press the shutter button once, and just held it down. The first shot was blurred, but the following shots were amazingly sharp, because there was no “shutter squeeze” needed to make them. When looking at this image on my LCD screen, I could see details that I simply could not see with my own eyes in that dark museum. Such is the power of digital imaging.
St. George’s Arcade, Falmouth, England, 2004
St. George slays the dragon over the entrance to a colorful shopping mall bearing his name in downtown Falmouth. The detail in this picture tells a number of stories. St. George is the Patron Saint of England, and he is embraced with lavish live floral displays both fore and aft. The details speak of the history of this building as well. In the pediment at top, we can learn that this building was built in 1912. Wording on the pediment indicates that the building was originally known as St. George’s Hall – so we learn that that place has not always been a shopping mall. A fascinating embellishment is just over the arch – featuring the head of a cupid and the initials, no doubt, of the individual who built the place. Details are the building blocks of meaning, and I have included here just enough to tell the story, but not enough to confuse the eye.
La Vieille Auberge, Mont St. Michel, France, 2004
The tiny village at the base of Mont St. Michel, an ancient abbey built into the top of a rock in the English Channel, has fed and housed thousands of pilgrims beginning in the middle ages. Today it hosts thousands of tourists who eat, sleep and shop in its ancient buildings. Mont St. Michel is the second biggest tourist attraction in France, trailing only Paris itself. This old Inn’s café is a popular luncheon spot. I was able to integrate six outdoor tables of diners into the weathered façade of the three story Inn. I made this shot to contrast the details of yesterday to today. The old stone façade, its ancient grillwork and windows, lanterns and dormers, are juxtaposed with a contemporary sign promoting the Inn’s services, the umbrella-shaded tables, and numerous dinners in various stages of lunch, drink, and conversation. They seem oblivious to the history around them. One gets the feeling that they are only temporary, but the building isn’t.
Underground army of terracotta warriors, Xian, China, 2004
The vast terracotta armies guarding the underground tomb of China’s first emperor occupy several "pits." Pit number one is the largest excavation so far, and sprawls across 16,000 square meters. The soldiers in the front have been restored and placed in their original positions. If you look carefully at the detail within this photograph, you can see that there are piles of broken figures behind them, awaiting eventual reconstruction. And you’ll find much more, as well. And that’s why I find this image so fascinating. The closer you study this detail, the more you will discover. There is always great pleasure and satisfaction in studying images depending largely upon detail to work, and this is one of those photographs. I used a wideangle lens to grasp the entire scene, and let my viewers explore it for meaning.
Private shrine, Lhasa, Tibet, 2004
This Buddhist shrine is filled with not only ceremonial objects, but also monetary offerings and a photograph of the late Panchen Lama and his family. I photographed this shrine in the bedroom of a family we visited in Lhasa because of its wealth of detail, which contains incongruous juxtapositions both ironic and tragic. To see this former Panchen Lama – the second most important figure in Tibetan culture after the Dalai Lama -- and Mao appear within the same image in the context of private worship, is astounding. Mao was responsible for triggering mass persecution of the Tibetan Buddhists during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, and this Panchen Lama spent ten years in solitary confinement. He died in 1989. Yet here they both are, appearing together as small details within a shrine offering devotion to the very religion that Mao’s government so ruthlessly persecuted.
Jade Deity, Beijing, China, 2004
A lavish and no doubt very expensive jade sculpture stands in the doorway of Beijing restaurant. it represents, appropriately, an ancient god of wealth and good fortune. It is also a treasure of detail. Particularly note the strings of coins in the upper left hand corner, and the variety of foods, flowers, and dragons that make up the sculpture. This photograph, which represents wealth, acquires its own value through the sum total of its detail.
Detail, Balboa Park Botanical Garden, San Diego, California, 2004
I tried to make a photograph that captured the era in which the graceful building housing Balboa Park’s amazing botanical specimens was built. To do this, I picked out a distinctive section of wall near the building’s entrance, lined with rectangles and spheres. Using the bold, deep shadows cast by the mid-day sun, I photographed them from an angle that brought them together as a series of rhythmic patterns embodying the design of the 1930s. These details are only a tiny part of the vast structure, but to me, they best represented the building’s design origins.
Detail, Yucca, Cabrillo National Park, San Diego, California, 2004
A close vantage point reveals the teeth on the edges of these Yucca leaves that give this exotic desert plant a weapon of self-defense. The morning light gives a three-dimensional look to these leaves, as well as underscoring a smooth surface that contrasts strongly to the spiked edges. From a distance, these plants might appear to be just another plant species. But when such details as these are stressed, they become tenacious defenders.
El Morro, Arica, Chile, 2003
Soaring 328 feet higher over the Northern Chilean city of Arica is a rocky hill known as El Morro. At its summit a Chilean flag flies in commemoration of its capture by Chilean troops in a war against Peru and Bolivia in 1880. Most visitors to Arica are taken to the top of this rock to gaze out over the city. I stood at the bottom and used a wideangle converter lens to photograph the top portion of the rock outlined against the cotton-like clouds fanning out overhead. The key to this shot rests on one small detail – the flag. Half of it is red, the most vibrant color of them all. While small in size, this detail becomes the focal point of this picture.
Street Market, Lima, Peru, 2003
As our tour bus rolled through the colorful streets of the Peruvian capital, I saw the colors in this scene, pressed the lens to the window, and took this picture. As I reviewed it, I was struck by the wealth of story telling details. The table is full of food for sale – we are looking at all or part of a local street market. The walls and old door are covered with the remains of posters. One of them carries the name of the city, and gives this picture an instant sense of place. But these details merely confirm the setting. The real meaning is in other details. A woman holds a child on her lap as he drinks from a bottle. Another woman sits behind the market table, holding her head in her hand. Are they related? The woman with the child wears bright red. Is she a customer? Or does she help run the enterprise? I would like to be able to say that I was conscious of all of these details before I took the picture. But I wasn’t. I sensed that the situation was worth shooting, and made the picture before I had time to think about why I was doing it. It was purely a matter of intuition. The details came later.
Abandoned Car, Atacama Desert, Chile, 2003
The National Geographic Magazine has called the Atacama “the driest place on earth…where the dead live forever and where hope never dies.” I spent a number of memorable days visiting this desert – a place where it never rains and nothing rots. Artifacts such as this old car are everywhere. I did not choose to shoot the whole car. Instead, I got down on my knees in the dust to make this picture because of its detail – a wheel, coated in dusty brown rust, a tire embraced by the sand, and a twig without a hint of life. But the details that struck me most were the thorns on that twig. They are as nasty and unforgiving as the Atacama. If we came back in 100 years, it will all still be here.