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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Seventeen: Memories in Metal and Stone: How monuments, sculpture, and tombs express ideas. > Art Nouveau Monument, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
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Art Nouveau Monument, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
27-AUG-2004

Art Nouveau Monument, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland, 2004

When I visit a city or place, I search for small things that can mean a lot. Dublin is full of monuments, particularly those honoring its famous authors and poets such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats. Yet in an obscure corner of the city’s beautiful St. Stephen’s Green, I found this modest Art Nouveau memorial sculpture almost hidden from view by a cluster of bushes. In style and form, the nostalgic Art Nouveau movement flourished at the end of the 19th century – a time when all of the above Irish authors and poets were enlightening the world. Using the lens on my Leica Digilux 2 to record maximum image quality and stress the subtle detail in both metal and stone, I worked with soft, indirect light to bring out the beauty and meaning of that time and relate it to this place. Softly dappled sunlight was barely sifting through the surrounding trees, but it produced a sublime, understated glow, softly illuminating this memorial sculpture, and expressing, at least to me, the essence of what Dublin once had been, just over 100 years ago. Do you agree? If so, or if not, please leave your comments, questions, or criticisms below. I’ll respond, and we’ll all benefit from the discussion. Thanks.

Leica Digilux 2
1/250s f/4.8 at 19.6mm iso100 full exif

other sizes: small medium large original
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Phil Douglis08-May-2005 21:03
Thanks, Anna. I am thrilled that you see the vitality in the splash of light on stone, and what that sense of life can bring to the sculpture itself.
Anna Yu08-May-2005 18:55
The most striking thing in this image in my eyes is the splatter of sunlight on the stone, as if it could bring life to it.
Phil Douglis22-Oct-2004 01:56
That's why I've appointed you as my critic in residence, Celia. You always raise tough questions, and by raising them, you raise the quality of these discussions that ultimately can lead to as much learning as my pictures themselves.
Thank you, my friend, for your questions, your comments, and your no-holds bared critiques. They are always welcome.
Cecilia Lim 19-Oct-2004 14:30
Hah! That Phil, is quite an excellent retort! I am glad you fervently responded to my comments here because I am sure you agree with me, at least on this point, that those were important questions that needed to be raised. I did mercilessly assault you with questions and challenge your ideas, and I felt you counter-attacked very well, addressing and explaining your stand and value of
- criticism and
- the written descriptions or comments as context for studying and evaluating the meaning of images
I intentionally "put the knife to your throat" to threaten your ideas in the most extreme ways, so that you could retaliate with as much fire as I used to provoke you with. And your replies came flying back at me convincingly clear and lucid, partially because they are such contrast to the opposing, possibly even absurd ideas I challenged you with. And that is an excellent example of the necessity of the bad to see the good. And that, I believe and understand completely, is why you need me as your Critic-In-Residence - to be your gadfly, the arch villain, the devils' advocate. And those are the shoes I am unusually glad to fill with great pride if it provokes greater understanding and learning in your cyberbook.
Phil Douglis09-Oct-2004 03:15
Good to have you weigh in here again, Celia.

I think we disagree so strongly here because we have differing views of what expressive photography is and is not. I feel that expressive images convey many meanings. I also said that expressive photos do indeed need to find some common ground with their viewers in order to function. And I do believe that if people can't understand an expressive picture because of a lack of context, communication will suffer.

You argue that if an image does not communicate any meaning to a viewer, it is not a "good image." You also say that an image can't be "good" if we must resort to context to understand it -- such as as the explanations of meaning other people might express in writing, as on this very page.

I disagree with your logic, and I feel that you are jumping to a false conclusion here, Celia. Say, for example, that you attend an exhibition of Ansel Adams' work in a major museum. As you enter, you are given a brochure that provides context for each image. You read critic's summaries of Adams' work. You also see placards on the walls of each gallery defining, in great detail, why and how the images on display function as art. This kind of written context is not only common but essential to an appreciation of a particular artist or work. Do you really mean to tell me here that because you "resort to written explanations about these works to create meaning" that Ansel Adams' photographs in this museum are "not good images at all?"

Now come back to the picture above. You were the first to comment on it. You had come to it cold, given only the context I had orginally provided, with no clues as to the deeper meanings I see in this image. You struggled to find your own meaning, and concluded that this image failed to express any idea to you. I responded, offering you additional context. Then others responded, and added additional context of their own. And Jen came along and eventually found meaning in this image because of that context. And you call that "cheating?' Are the museums that display Ansel Adams' images and pass out educational context materials on them, cheating? Are they putting, as you say, "ideas and thoughts into people's heads, so that they may be steered closer to finding meaning in the images?"

I don't think so. Effective context does not tell people WHAT to think. It helps them to understand the nature of the art, so that they can come to their OWN conclusions. I think it is very important that viewers come to an image with an open mind, not with blinders on. I also think that viewers should not demand that a picture conform to their own preconceptions or expectations. Viewers should take any context, including the conclusions of others, into consideration, but in the end, they must be encouraged to think for themselves.

I also fault the logic leading you to conclude that having a written language to support art is counterproductive. Nothing functions in a vacuum, Celia. All art exists in a supporting world of verbal explanation, education, criticism, research, discussion, and evaluation. We must use verbal language to define art. Expressive images can speak eloquently on their own, but we need words to analyze, discuss, and criticize them. And we also need words to help each other explore various meanings and get the most out of them. That, in essence, is how I teach here in these very galleries.

You go on to question the very validity of art as a form of expression between artist and viewer. You conclude that such expression is null and void. "If the artist likes it, that's all that matters." you say. You are entitled to that opinion of course, Celia, but I disagree with you. I think the core of our disagreement rests on how we each define "expression." I see an expressive photograph as a potential catalyst to thought. If people get different meanings from it, all the better.

This image is not expressive to you. It is to Marek, Likyin, and Jen. If some of those reasons had to do with the "coaching" they received from the context provided by other comments, that is fine with me. My galleries are teaching galleries. Celia. My images exist to teach others how to express ideas with their own images. I want people to come to my images without rigid preconceived ideas of what they "should" say or "should" look like. Because preconceptions and rigid thinking make it harder to learn. An open mind learns best, and I hope that this discussions we are having here will encourage open minded thinking. If Jen should change her mind because of what she reads here, and sees my image anew, in a fresh context, and then responds to it accordingly, hers is not a closed mind. It is an open mind in action, willing to consider the ideas of others, add them to her own ideas, and come to her own conclusions. This is far from "cheating, or coaching." It is, in my view, teaching!

While you and I have widely divergent views on both this image and obviously on the nature of expressive photography itself, I do agree with you on three of your final points. There are no black and white answers to questions involving the subjective nature of art itself. There are no rights and no wrongs. And I certainly agree that different people can get different things out of a work of art.

But then your argument takes a turn for the worse. Do you really believe that there is no way to define expressive art, because there "can be no success or failure, no criteria for improvement, no way to judge our own work, and no meaningful criticism?" If you really do, I might as well put away my cameras and shut down these educational galleries. Your logic seems to imply that all of my efforts as a educator in photographic expression and communication over the last 30 years is essentially a fool's errand!

As far as I am concerned, I believe that some photographs can express meaning and others do not. I think that a literal post card, for example, is not expressive, because it is not based on the three most important principles of expressive imagery: abstraction, incongruity, and human values. And I think you can have expression that is not "black and white" in terms of meaning, open to individual interpretation, and can mean different thing to different people. For some, who have the context of previous experience with the fine arts, that meaning might come instantly. To others, it might take additional context, such as has happened right here on this page. In the end, I feel that my picture has stimulated thoughts and ideas in those who look at it, and because of that, I feel fulfilled as an artist, a communicator and an educator.

That, Celia, is good enough for me. And so is the excellent discussion your comment has triggered here.

Phil
Cecilia Lim 08-Oct-2004 12:55
Phil, you said, "To me, a great image is one that can covey many meanings ... If a photograph shares common ground with its viewer, it communicates. But if the viewer does not have context for that photograph and does not understand it, it can't communicate as effectively... "

Then I would have to conclude that, if an image does not communicate any meaning to a viewer, then it is not a good image at all. And certainly does not qualify as one if it had to resort to other"context" ie: written explanations about it to help create meaning! Jen for example began to find meaning in your image after reading Marek's and your descriptions about what the image meant to the both of you. That is cheating isn't it? Putting ideas and thoughts into people's heads so that they may be steered closer to finding meaning in the image? Like you said so yourself, "My goal here was to activate the imaginations of my viewer, but the viewer must first come to the image without preconceptions or expectations of their own" . The effectiveness of your image should be based on the initial reactions of your viewers, and not after they have been "coached" into seeing into an image a certain way. Because then it is not the image itself that activates the viewer's imaginations, but the words! Jen on the second time round came with preconceptions and expectations after reading your comments, which then caused her to read the image differently. After all, photography is a totally different language from the written language. In its purest form, it is an art that relies on the form of visual imagery to "speak". Having a written language to support its meaning, functioning like a "back up" incase the visual imagery fails, does not hold the image up to the true test of its effectiveness, does it? You asked if we agree if this image expresses "the essence of what Dublin once had been". No is my answer. Therefore your image is a failure.

Or is it really? Well, there are others who think it isn't. This leads me further to questions about effective, expressive imagery. An image is not expressive if it is not effective, as in your own words, in "activate(ing) the imaginations of my viewer" . So in my case, the image was not expressive to me, because I completely missed the point of your image. But to others like Marek and Likyin, it is a piece of expressive photography. So how can you define if an image a photographer made is expressive or not? Is there a black & white answer to this question at all? After all, art, such as photography, is such a subjective form. Everyone gets different things out of it. It appears that there is no right or wrong. Hence, no success or failure. But if a photographer feels he made an expressive image though no one else thinks so, does anyone's opinions matter anyway, since photography is so subjective? Then, what would be the criteria that a photographer should use to let him/herself know how good he/she is in this art? I think this is a question that any serious photographer who wants to improve in his art would ask at some point. How do you judge your own work? What criteria would you use? Surely not other people's personal interpretation of your work, which in itself is so subjective?

What would any criticism or review matter to you or any photographer? At the end of the day, if you are happy with an image, even if it is just purely descriptive and meaningless to some, if it's expressive to you and nobody else, isn't that all that should matter? An image is expressive photography if you think it is?! Anyone - feel free to jump in on this!
Phil Douglis02-Oct-2004 17:45
Thank you, Jen. This "place" has come to life for me as well. Out of such differing opinions as these comes learning, and out of learning comes knowledge. We can then use this knowledge to put more of ourselves into our own images and into the photographs of others, as well. Celia started the learning process with her very strong criticism of this photograph, and then Marek, Likyin, and yourself all brought your own positive impressions of this image to the discussion that followed. I responded by explaining how I felt about each of your contributions. In your case, this learning dialogue has given you enough knowledge so that you can now read meaning into this picture that you could not do before you had this knowledge.

Even better, this new knowledge has not only filled your mind, but it has also motivated you to put your heart into reading this photograph. You came back again and again to this photograph with an open mind, and gradually found yourself able to put more and more of yourself into this image. And look at what you have gained from the experience! You gave it so much, and you got back even more from it.

It is very satisfying to me that all of this has happened by responding to this particular photograph. Of all the images I carried home from Europe with me, this is the one that most fully engaged my own mind and my heart. To learn that you and Marek and Likyin were able to give so much to it and get so much out of it, gives me great pride and motivation as an artist. Thank you, Jen, for this thoughtful comment. Your words show me how much you have come to learn about the power and meaning of expressive photography.
Jennifer Zhou02-Oct-2004 16:25
I just so love this place Phil...
Everybody jumped in here to share their own views on the pictures, and as more question marks have been putting on, this discussion goes more futher and deeper..I really really admire Celia, M, Likyin and of course teacher Phil, I can learn so much from all of you!! Thanks!

Phil, you answer to my question is really helpful, I know understand that a great photograph is not depending on the popularity, but on if it can evoke ideas to make viewers think and imagine..That is expressive photography really about..right?

And you also share a very important point regarding to Likyin's comment.. Is how we should read a photograph, this is so remarkable and I will remember it for my whole life: "As a creative viewer, you must be able to give, before you can get." I am asking if I gave myself to this image? I have to say partly, because first it is a really hard one to read and I decided to give up searching the meaning for myself, but as I found it from Phil and M's comments, I really put my heart into this photo and then amazingly I see more and more from it..
Thanks, Phil!! I will learn to give myself to every photos I will read from now on...

Jen
Phil Douglis02-Oct-2004 06:23
Likyin, I read this comment three times and each time I see something else in it. Your lovely, thoughtful words are as artful as this image intends to be. What you seem to be evoking here is the power of the human imagination to soar beyond the rigid, predictable constraints of the literal world, and instead read its own desires into things so strongly that they can become, if but for a moment, just as real as the real.

My goal here was to activate the imaginations of my viewer, but the viewer must first come to the image without preconceptions or expectations of their own that demand a more conventional presentation. You opened your mind and gave it to this image, Likyin -- even though you claim it was the image itself that stole your mind. As a creative viewer, you must be able to give, before you can get. And you certainly gave enough of yourself to this image to make it work so well for you.

This comment is even more meaningful to me, Likyin, because you have recently shown me that you can also be one of my toughest critics. To get such praise from you in this depth shows me that my image is fulfilling the hopes I've had for it. Adding your view of this photograph's meaning to Marek's and to my own, also tells me that this photograph most certainly has the ability to express different ideas to different people, which is another important function of expressive photography.

As I've said a number of times, effective expressive images can also mirror the nature of those who are able to give themselves to them. You obviously gave yourself to this photograph, Likyin, and it has, in turn, told you a lot about yourself. Thanks you for putting in the time and effort to understand and appreciate this photograph.
Phil
Likyin Yeung02-Oct-2004 02:42
The image is fetching, and it stole my mind everytime I came to it and couldn't help gazing, at her eye, the shadow below her eye, the outline of her nose, lips and jaw ... no need to know who she was, what she stands for, she is so beautiful but she's a stone, she's so beautiful but her eyes are empty, she is so beautiful but she just froze in a hole. What is life? She can't even think or doubt.

For how many times sculptors figured their ideal beauties by dead material, and for how many times did they kissed their lips and praying them to turn alive? What is art? To evoke human desire to the most beautiful perfect things but no matter how hard we try or pray or even kiss, it won't ever become realisitic? Time won't stand still on us as it does on her face, but, we are still alive, when would she?

All I saw, was the emptiness from her eye, all I heard, was a sad aria.
Could keep one's gazing at it, the image already succeeded, at least on me.
Phil Douglis30-Sep-2004 17:11
Thank you, Jen, for adding your thoughtful words to this dialogue. I agree with you -- this is one the hardest pictures to read in my galleries and it obviously must have mystified you as much as it appears to have mystified Celia. That is, until you read my explanation, and then Marek's -- I am thrilled that the picture has come to life for you.

This process of coming to understand a picture is based on the context you brought to this image. As you say, you may never think about death and life in your own life so you have no way to see its meaning. When I gave you the context for it, the picture changed in front of your eyes. Some pictures, Jen, will work for almost anyone. Others take more study, and more context, to understand. You say here that a truly great photograph should have the ability to speak to anyone, regardless of gender, age or education. Some great photos do. Others speak to a more limited audience, Jen. Greatness is never defined by popularity or broad appeal. Henri's image of that little boy carrying the wine is a great image, and it can speak to anyone. It is very popular and also very great, for the moment he has captured symbolizes a child becoming a man, which anyone can understand and appreciate. Diane Arbus, on the other hand made some of the greatest images of the 20th Century, yet many people look at them and shrug their shoulders because they simply can't understand what Arbus was trying to say about the abnormal and disturbed people she photographed. They simply do not have the context to appreciate what she is trying to say to them. Arbus makes images that simultaneously repel and fascinate. They hold a mirror up to all of us, and make us question what normality really is. Her images are, by any measure, great photographs. But they are not universally popular, and are often utterly misunderstood, considered ugly, and often disliked for that reason.

So think again, Jen, about expressive photography and its purpose. Photography is not a popularity contest. It is a tool for expression, a way to convey ideas to people willing to think about them, and acquire the context needed to understand them. You can't set arbitrary aesthetic standards to measure them either. As you said here, Jen, it is not a matter of right or wrong or good or bad. Its all about communication, and communication means sharing knowledge and feeling and ideas upon a common ground. If a photograph shares common ground with its viewer, it communicates. But if the viewer does not have context for that photograph and does not understand it, it can't communicate as effectively.

Ultimately, as you and I have often discussed here, the photograph itself can be a trigger to thought. If it causes the viewer to think, to feel, to wonder, it is doing its job. It is what happens in the viewers mind that is most important. To me, a great image is one that can convey many meanings -- some of them quite profound -- to many people. It is this breadth and depth of meaning that gives expressive photography is greatest potential as an artistic force.
m30-Sep-2004 16:25
“For anybody, by me.”
Jennifer Zhou30-Sep-2004 15:08
Phil, I have to admit this is the hardest picture I have read so far in your galleries. But once you said your pionts, this picture really came to life to me..

But I something to say about two point Celia and you had made here:

Celia in her eaily comment said: "My conclusion is that it's taking me too much effort to read into it. There must be something that's not working well to express your ideas." I think it is not right or wrong for this picture or every one of us, it just the problem of communication. Photography is a special way to communicate, but what if some people just don't speak this language? By language I mean experiences which can provide basic information or understanding of a photograph.. I may never think about death and life in my life so I have no way to see its meanings here, but it just means this picture fails on me, as Phil once said to me. We can't say it is a bad pictures. can me?


You said Phil in your comment here is: "In my view, the more a photographer makes the viewer work to discern meaning, the more risk he or she will take." My view however is that a great photograph should have the ablilty to speak to anyone----no matter differences between gender, ago, education background..ect. For more or less may be to different people, the photograph always speaks.. Like one of the picture Henri made: a boy carrying bottles, everybody can see something from it and everybody likes it.. That's what makes a master piece..Do you think so Phil? And when we speak some languages that can't even make people understand, what more we can expect form them?


Jen
Phil Douglis29-Sep-2004 23:21
Thanks, Marek, for adding your own view of this image to the discussion. You echo my own thoughts, but also go far beyond them to view my image as a spiritual journey. My own intentions, which were not recognized by Celia, have been received with profound meaning by you. This is exactly what I mean when I call expressive photography a catalyst to thought. I have poured my own feelings about life and death into this image. But what my viewers will see is ultimately as much about who they are, and how they are willing to see this image, as it is about me, and my intentions. It is perfectly acceptable to me that Celia sees nothing here but stone, statue and bush, while you see the the light playing on both that wall and on the statue, juxtaposed in proper proportion to the living shrubbery next to it, as the physical and spiritual process of life itself. Celia, who has similarly gone beyond my own expectations in commenting upon many of my other images, simply can't make this photograph work for her. Yet she proves my point -- in taking the risks I took to make this image, I lost one viewer's attention, yet I gained another's. And so it goes --expressive photography is potentially a flexible, broad, and deep medium. It has the power to stimulate thinking, stir emotion, and spark the human imagination. It also can miss its mark entirely. I am delighted that Celia has helped me make this point, and I am humbled that this image has meant so much to you, Marek.
m29-Sep-2004 22:24
The proportions between the three parts of this image are exactly right, because each uses just the exact amount of space to tell its own part of the story. The photograph is about the mental residue of life, as represented by the statue. Light, the ultimate source of all life, is seen here dancing and shifting, and it requires this much canvas to demonstrate its power. On the opposite side we see the chlorophyll which is dependent on it for photosythesis. We don't need to see any more of the foliage to recognise it. This leaves our hero, the statue. The light plays on its face, inviting it back to life. Its setting is the green shrubbery as this was its natural habitat in life. Another, more pround way of interpreting this image is that maybe it represents our spiritual journey; from primitive lifeform, to human, and ultimately to free energy. It is believed by many that a human being is one part mortal vessel and one part spirit. After death the physical body returns to nature, whilst the spirit returns to its source. The photograph expresses this process quite succinctly.
Phil Douglis29-Sep-2004 19:43
We agree to disagree here. I feel this image offers a catalyst to thought. It works on at least two levels in doing so. You do not see any meaning here. And we both learn something about expressive photography in the process. Everyone does not come to an expressive photograph with the same context or expectations. And everyone does not read symbolic meaning in the same way either. There will always be differences of opinion. In my view, the more a photographer makes the viewer work to discern meaning, the more risk he or she will take. A lot of people might respond much as you have here. But others might be moved by the image to respond quite differently. I took a chance with this image, and I believe strongly in its expressive qualities. I hope that others might add their own views to this discussion we've started here -- we can all learn much from such discussion. Thanks, Celia, for stimulating this exploration into expressive photography with your criticism. That's why you are the "critic in residence" for this cyberbook of mine. I've asked you to do this to keep us thinking, and you have.

Phil
Cecilia Lim 29-Sep-2004 19:24
Sorry Phil. Took my blinkers off, and I still could not read any of the meanings that you wrote about. The reason I have been concerned with the form is that I saw no other meaning beyond that. This image to me is purely an exercise in light, and I was thinking that if it was better composed , it could go beyond describing the atmospheric fleeting light. When I told you to crop away the "purposeless head", I meant it sarcastically because the other elements of the lady and the bush did not have any bearing on the mood created by the softly lit stone wall. So it might as well have not been there. But I knew you were trying to say something with them. To me, they did not seem to express anything in their own right. They appeared so segregated, and definitely do not express anything meaningful together as a whole. Putting three objects side by side in a photo and declaring that each is symbolic of something does not, an expressive picture, make .
If these elements were key in expressing an overall idea, they will have to work together within the frame.

Expressing such abstract ideas of life and death with physical tangible objects that have no literal reference to them is one of the hardest things to do. I am finding it difficult to make the associations with the way you are expressing the memorial here. At the most, what I am experiencing this second time round is a mood of mystery, gentle stillness and eternity. And yes, the lady is beautiful. I still feel that there are discrepancies between your interpretation and the way the image is expressed. Take your image of the "Grave of Karl Marx" for example (seehttp://www.pbase.com/pnd1/image/22388446). It deals with 3 of the same essential elements as your image here - a monument, stone, and greenery. It is aesthetically beautiful, coherent, and yet damn expressive! Everything works together to express the ideas of life and death, the passage of time, the fragility of life, the idea that Karl Marx appears to defy the natural order of life by staring defiantly at all that has died (the crosses infront of him) and all that is still living around it. These two images here express slightly different stories, but I can tell that one is expressed infinitely much better than the other.

My conclusion is that it's taking me too much effort to read into it. There must be something that's not working well to express your ideas. I don't have any solutions. It's not my job to tell you how. But I've tried my best to explain how I feel about what I'm getting from it.

(I'm afraid any further discussion on this thread will have to wait till I get back in a few days' time. So I'll catch up with your response then!)
Phil Douglis29-Sep-2004 17:31
You strike again, my blunt and forceful critic in residence -- but this time you've asked for a fight. You have your own view of what this image should be, but exactly what, I'm not sure. You contradict yourself on that point -- first you ask me to limit the image to just that beautiful glowing wall by "cropping away the purposeless head next to it." Two paragraphs later, you tell me to "give the stone wall a sense of purpose by showing how it is an integral part of the whole monument." Once you make up your mind as to just which way you want to go on this, Celia, I will still disagree with you, because I wanted this image to go far beyond aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics and say something else. Out of such arguments as this come knowledge. (Hey, that's why I demand tough criticism like yours -- it can spark debate that leads to thinking that can lead us, in turn, to more expressive imagery.)

I intended the wall-head-bush relationship you hate to work on two distinct levels of photographic expression. On the surface, I wanted to evoke thoughts of the Art Nouveau era of Dublin's colorful history. On a deeper level, I use this image as a metaphor representing attitudes towards life and death itself. I did not say so in my explanation beneath the picture, because I always want to leave room for the imaginations of my viewers to come to come up with their own conclusions -- just as you did here. Only you seem here to be outraged over matters of form, while I am concentrating on content.

Obviously you missed both points of my picture, Celia, in your seeming quest for ideal form -- an aesthetically beautiful image. You would like this picture to be an aesthetically beautiful image of a wall, or else a coherent representation of this monument, with the wall as the unifying key to the picture. But either way, to what end? What is the point of your hypothetical image, Celia? That this is a lovely monument? You seem to be asking me here to make either a study of the light on that wall by itself, or else an attractive postcard of the whole monument, and neither is what I intend here.

You say you can't make sense out of how the wall, head, and bush relate to each other. That is because your mind seems to me to be closed to the symbolic meaning I am trying to express to you. You are thinking instead of conventional aesthetic standards, as they relate to a conventionally lovely image. If you would just come back to this image again and see it with new eyes. If you can regard each part of it as a distinct symbol for larger meaning, I think you might begin to see what I am trying to do here. The very things you fault -- the abrupt vertical lines slicing through the image, the three distinct segments, the lack of an overall view of the monument -- are the very things I use to make this image work as expression!

Here's why: the wall itself represents the rock of eternity. An attitude towards death. Inevitable, mysterious, final. Its textures are haunting -- you even admit that you feel the "mysterious mood" I've expressed here with the interplay of light and shadow on that stone. You've even called it "enchanting," citing its "gentle glow and indiscernible shadows." In other words, the softly illuminated stone is working as a trigger to thought even for you, Celia. For me, this glowing wall formed the basis of the picture, its springboard to meaning. It pulls you in and then abruptly is transformed into a female head, which to me symbolizes the human spirit in just about the most beautiful way art can. The head is a symbol, Celia, of not only a particular era in art history, but also of remembrance itself. When we think of death, we think of the dead. And she is the dead. Springing from the wall of eternity, she gazes straight ahead, without emotion, asking us to remember those who have gone into this wall, from which there is no return. And then there is the abrupt transition from the head to the bush, which to me represents life itself. Although just minor context here, that panel of bush is the only living thing in the picture. Its small presence symbolizes life's transitory nature. The span of life, compared to eternity, is very brief.

Sorry you couldn't make sense of what I am trying to say here, Celia. But at least you have the guts to come here and tell us why. You are not wrong, of course, in your views. You will see whatever your brain and heart and imagination see. Everyone comes to an image with different expectations and perceptions in mind. I offered this image to my viewers as an expression of my own thoughts, and organized it in my own way. As my critic in residence, you choose to bring an entirely different set of critical standards to the table, and measured by those, this image is "unfortunately forgettable." I failed to engage your imagination, stimulate your thinking and affect your emotions with this image. There is no other answer.

On the other hand, I make no excuses for this image. I feel that it can stand among the most thought provoking images I have ever produced. It is exactly what I had hoped it would be. I use abstraction, incongruity, and human values to bring stone to life in order to express attitudes towards death. I use it here as a teaching example -- showing those who want to express ideas with their cameras how they can approach an inert symbol of remembrance and make it into a catalyst to thought. That is what this gallery is all about, and that is why this shot comes first, and why I used it to represent this entire gallery.

I hope you my be willing to take off your blinders and look at this image in a new light, Celia. Perhaps you'll learn something valuable about reading the meaning in photographs. And knowing you, and how your brilliant mind works, I think you will.
Phil
Cecilia Lim 29-Sep-2004 12:15
The stone looks marvellous! I can almost feel the grainy texture of this gray stone, brought to life by the soft light dancing on it. There's a wonderfully enchanting and mysterious mood here, created by the gentle glow and the indiscernible shadows. If you could just crop away the purposeless head next to it, it would have been perfect!

What the **** are you doing Phil? Is this a triptych series - a three-part image of 1) a bush, 2) a head and 3) a wall? If it is, it is the worst I have ever seen! There's no cohesion in the three elements you have featured here. You've literally butchered this image into three very distinct pieces. You can give me a grand speech about context, how you needed the bush and the stone wall to create an overall sense of this quiet, modest memorabilia of the past, ya-di-da-di-da... , but I can barely make sense of how these elements relate to each other. This is clearly a case of severe overcropping, especially above and below the statue. Our eye wants to explore and flow around the image, but is always brought to an abrupt halt by the vertical lines cutting right through the image.

Shame! It is a potentially beautiful and evocative image, but it's just not quite there. I get the feeling that you wished the soft light was illuminating more of the statue, but since it was not, and you loved it so much and just had to capture it, you decided to show more of what else it illuminated - the wall. And everything else just lost its purpose. In order to give the stone wall a sense of purpose , you need to show how it is an integral part of the whole monument -- That it cradles the lovely lady in its chest and is all part of the one monument.

I am not surprised that no one else has commented on this image. Nice light, but unfortunately forgettable. This image is no more than an expression of a visual statistical graph that I could very well title " A crossection study of the main elements found in St Stephen's Green" - 60% stone, 30% statue, 10% bush!
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