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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Fourteen: Expressing the meaning of buildings and structures > Great Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian, China, 2004
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Great Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian, China, 2004

Great Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian, China, 2004

This historic pagoda was built during the Tang Dynasty in 652 as part of a Buddhist temple complex. It was among the tallest structures in Xian, at the time the largest city in the world. To move beyond a postcard view, I walked through the surrounding neighborhood until I found these life-sized Tang Dynasty wrestlers made of bronze. They bring the dynamic flavor of the time to the scene, while the tower itself acts as context. Using the wideangle end of my zoom lens, I moved in on the figures until they dominated the frame, and filled in with the pagoda and is surrounding structures as background. Without the incongruity of those 1300-year-old wrestlers at work, this picture would be only a literal description of a building.

Canon PowerShot S400
1/200s f/7.1 at 7.4mm full exif

other sizes: small medium large original
Phil Douglis24-Sep-2005 02:55
You are welcome, Sonia. As someone who studies architecture, I am sure you are well aware of the role that context plays in the life of a building.
Guest 31-Aug-2005 19:40
Thanks Phil and Jen, "use it as the context of your picture instead of the subject", indeed!
Phil Douglis27-Dec-2004 22:49
Glad you find this concept useful, Jen. Actually, you have already used this concept in your own building imagery back in March -- several months before you and I started working together. Look at:

You do not show the entire building. You only suggest it by abstracting its structure as a reflection. That building's reflection becomes the context for the subject matter - which is a crowd of people communicating with crowd of fish.

Jennifer Zhou27-Dec-2004 07:47
You teach us with many shots in this gallery that how to make a building as the context of the picture. This is very fresh and useful idea and I will keep that in mind. I can see you put a lot of thoughts and works in this picture and all parts and details work very well. I wish I can make a building picture like this someday!

Phil Douglis22-Dec-2004 19:15

Nobody else had left a comment here because they had not seen the value of this image as you have been able to see it. You are looking at one of the very best ways to express the meaning of a building -- use it as the context of your picture instead of the subject! The pagoda is very old, but seen by itself it does not say "old." So I photographed these "old" wrestlers in the foreground as my subjects -- they look old because of what they wear. The pagoda, which becomes the context for these wrestlers, now looks "older" as well, and the picture expresses so much more to us. I'm glad you enjoy it, Jen. Our hotel was only a block away, so i had my choice of light, too. I chose early morning when the light was soft, to give this image a warm and nostalgic glow.

As for the composition, I built this image on three layers of meaning. I composed the image from the bottom up, repeating the diagonal thrusts of the wrestlers legs in the first layer with the diagonal flow of the rooftops just beyond the fence in the second layer. The third layer -- the old pagoda itself -- repeats the posture of the referee with the flag, and the horizontal lines of the rooftops. I made about ten versions of this shot, each time moving the camera ever so slightly. Since digital "film" is free for life, no extra expense was involved. Only a little more time. Since it was early in the morning, there were few other people around, so I did not have to worry about clutter or distractions in the background.

It is always an honor for me to receive such heartfelt compliments as this from a photographer who understands expressive photography as well as you do. Thanks, Jen, for being the first to note this image. I'm glad it was you.
Jennifer Zhou22-Dec-2004 08:11
I wonder why nobody leave comment on this picture, this one certainly is one of my favorites!
This picture is a great example on how to make a building picture more expressive and more interesting! It works beautifully on aesthetic point of view, also two subjects help defining each other and complementing each other, they work together making the most out of this picture. The soft light is gorgeous, the composition is perfect. Oh, everything is perfect here, I just so love it!

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