Unnoticed prayers, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2008
She drew back the heavy glass door, broom in hand, and stared out into the busy street. The early morning light warms the scene, barely illuminating the carved Khmer goddess that stands behind glass in the doorway next to her. This shopkeeper is so used to the presence of the goddess that she does not appear to notice her praying next to her. But we do, and therein lies the incongruity of this image. Both figures look out into the street. The shopkeeper shows a bit of concern, while the goddess meditates in peace. I made this image from across a busy commercial street with my long telephoto lens. Neither the shopkeeper nor the goddess takes note of my presence.
High sill, Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2007
Buddhist temples have doors set in very large frames, which almost always means a big step up when getting in or out of them. I spent about ten minutes watching tourists navigating this obstacle and made some fairly amusing images in the process. But none gave me more pleasure than this shot of a very small child struggling mightily to haul herself over the high doorsill. Everything works together here – the worn red door of this temple is hundreds of years old, while the young child has barely learned to walk. Her task is impossible, and her expression is intent. The determined eyes and open mouth say it all. And all the colors complement each other perfectly – pink is a variant of red, and the child wears pink right up to the tie on her hair. All of which tells us to hang around doors if we can – we never know what might come through them.
Doors of time, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico, 2007
There are more than 30 ancient structures, built by long vanished peoples around 1,000 years ago, at Chaco. They hold hundreds of empty rooms, each of them connected by doors going in and out. Looking through them felt like looking back into time itself. These rooms are all open to the sky – there are no roofs. Yet because of the angle of the light, the play of light and shadow varies from space to space. We are looking through the doors of four connecting rooms here, and the colors change as we move through time and space. The wall of the brightest room, bathed in direct sunlight, is at the very back of image – drawing us towards it with its golden warmth.
Prayers, Ji Ming Temple, Nanjing, China, 2007
I used the temple doorway as context for this image of a Buddhist nun at prayer.
There is a spiritual inscription on the door panel, and the dimly illuminated banners hanging in the darkness over the nun’s head echo its vertical flow.
Waitress, Feng Jing, China, 2007
This young waitress works in a small restaurant or food shop just outside the gate to this ancient city about an hour outside of Shanghai. She waits to greet customers -- this day, they are far and few between. The glass panels add context – the Chinese words most likely proclaim the taste treats that await diners. When I began photographing her, she was self-consciously smiling, but after I had made about ten images of her, she relaxed and appears to be lost in her own thoughts here.
The walk home, Pingyao, China, 2007
This man lives behind massive wooden doors that could be hundreds of years old. Everything echoes the color of the brown dust that blankets this remote city, except for the red and gold banners that welcome him home. I spent more than fifteen minutes photographing residents walking up and down this alleyway and in and out of that door, which probably leads to a communal living compound. By photographing this man from behind, I abstract him, and put the viewer in his place. The distant doorway becomes our goal as well.
Tourists on the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, 2007
This steep trail carries hikers from the South Rim to the floor of the Grand Canyon. Built in the 1890s to provide access to mining claims, the trail begins by tunneling through a rock wall. I photographed these tourists from above with a long telephoto lens. Some of them have already passed through the doorway carved out of the thick rock, while another tentatively lingers on the other side, delaying her entry as long as possible. They are all trying to decide how far to go – the nine mile long trail descends 4,500 feet, and takes two days to complete a round trip. I have a hunch these young tourists are just out for a short walk and will hardly scratch the surface of the strenuous Bright Angel descent before returning to the rim. This image tells the story of people about to make some decisions, and this sun-splashed doorway – the portal to the trail itself -- is a perfect spot for such deliberations.
Ark, Jewish synagogue, Essaouira, Morocco, 2006
Essaoira’s Jewish community prospered in the 18th and 19th centuries. Persecution and emigration have long since obliterated it, but a tiny synagogue still exists in what is still known as Essaouira’s Mellah, or Jewish Quarter. The most symbolic subject in that synagogue is a blue wooden cabinet, called an Ark, holding scrolls containing the Five Books of Moses. It dates back to the 1800’s. A caretaker opened the outer doors of the Ark for us, allowing a glimpse of another door with a curved top, holding the holy scrolls within it. I used this inner door as an abstracting device – allowing the scrolls, known as a Torah, to recede into the darkness. Only a portion of the golden Hebrew letters on the velvet Torah cover can be seen, floating in the curved frame of this door within a door. By showing only part of the Torah, I symbolize the disappearance of the Jewish community from Essaouira.
Autographed door, Badi Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco, 2006
Some like to add their own mark to a piece of history. Such is the case here. This is but one of the many doors in the ruins of the historic Badi Palace that bears the scrawled names of visiting tourists. The huge palace was built in the 14th Century for receptions and audiences. It only lasted 100 years. In 1683, the infamous Sultan Moulay Ismail demolished it and salvaged the lavish materials to embellish his own imperial city of Meknes. The door can be seen as a symbolic barrier. It is locked. But those who can never enter it have still made themselves heard. Their names extend beyond door as well, faintly etched faintly on the wall of the crumbling palace.
Blue door, Essaouira, Morocco, 2006
Without this blue door, this image could not have expressed the point at hand. A frail man looks away from us, towards a door rich in symbolism. It is as if he is longing to enter, yet he makes no move to do so. The sun throws an oval glow on the door, a shape that echoes the curves of both his cane and cap. The glow invites him in, yet he remains still. The door is battered, symbolizing the hard knocks of life. Perhaps this is the ultimate message here – we can’t always get we want.
Old door, Ouarzazate, Morocco, 2006
I found this old door lying on its side on the front porch of a metal working factory.
It is, no doubt, an antique. Its days of function have ended. From its heavy construction and decoration, we might assume that it once hung in a palace or fortress – one of Morocco’s many kasbahs, perhaps. The more we look at it, resplendent in color and resting near a patch of green grass, the more we might imagine who passed through it, who it allowed in and who it kept out. It is the kind of image that asks many questions, and gives few answers. I leave those answers to the viewer’s imaginations.
Facade, Jemaashin, Morocco, 2006
The shape of this doorway is elegant and traditional. It could be an entry to a mosque or Kasbah. Yet its sides are scarred and covered with dirt and it gives entrée to piles of used tires. The image is full of incongruities and facades – another door, ornate and massive lies open just to the right of the tires. The man who stands in the doorway is also incongruous. His white shirt is spotless, yet it hangs over his trousers. He stares at us with incomprehension – he probably can’t image why we would want to photograph a battered doorway and a pile of old tires. The doorway is the key to the image. As a symbol it is meant to promise much, but the realities show it is nothing more than a façade.