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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Twenty Three: Stirring emotions through atmosphere and mood. > Perseverance, Bagan, Myanmar, 2005
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Perseverance, Bagan, Myanmar, 2005

Perseverance, Bagan, Myanmar, 2005

This was one of the last pictures I made in Bagan, and one of my favorites. The effect of sunset and dust makes these cattle almost seem to be walking home through a field of fire, passing a thousand year old temple ruin in the background. The mood and atmosphere created by this image is astonishing. Fiery dust evokes the ultimate in heat and effort, an ordeal that repeats itself every day for centuries. Archaeology and agriculture exist side by side in this ancient city of ruins. Its residents know what it means to go to extremes in their daily lives. Yet somehow, the rural Burmese of Old Bagan persevere. If ever Iíve expressed a mood of perseverance in an image, this is it!

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Phil Douglis20-Dec-2008 05:34
That's why I use this image as an "album cover, Xin. It was a magical moment, virtually dripping in atmosphere. It is ironic, of course, that you can see in this image the legendary prosperity of a venerable society, while at the same time, contemporary Myanmar is suffering both economically and politically.
Sheena Xin Liu19-Dec-2008 23:52
I am immediately drawn to this image by the album-cover thumbnail. It is breathtakingly beautiful, Phil. And it is otherworldly. I think golden radiance on the temple and cows exhibits some sort of sacredness as if beyond this scene, there is a 1000-year-old legend of a prosperous and peaceful fair-land.
Phil Douglis29-Jan-2008 20:33
Thanks for seeing this image from the point of view of the young herders in this picture. They are sometimes lost in the golden atmospheric glow here and it is good to know that some viewers see them and recognize their work, effort, and perhaps sacrifice.
Sofia Solomennikova29-Jan-2008 19:00
For me it means a lot of work during the day for these adolescents and even in the evening no fun, and just some time to rest before the new day. Splendid capture!
monique jansen20-Dec-2007 15:03
Revisited your Myanmar photos and the more I look at them, both here and on Worldisround, the more I want to go look at this country, despite its ugly regime.
Phil Douglis18-May-2006 06:15
I am grateful for your succinct and lucid reasoning, Jenene. You bring a special context to bear on this image. You lived in Southeast Asia and can understand its traditions and culture better than most who have commented here. You bring an educated context to bear on this picture that is very important. Thanks for bringing up the heavenly animal spirit here -- I think it makes a significant difference, because as you say, this image can serve to integrate man, beast and diety as one.
JSWaters18-May-2006 05:34
In response to some, I don't read hardship in this image - instead a traditional way of life, backlit by the energy renewing sun. In response to Tim's comment - I find there is no dominance of man here. In this part of the world, the animal spirit is revered alongside the 'heavenly' spirit. Your image shows the integration of man, beast and 'traditional' deity in this culture's daily routine.
Phil Douglis18-Feb-2006 00:15
Thanks for comparing this to a National Geographic photo, Antonio. I think the connection between my image and the work you saw might be in the use of fiery red colors. I often see Geographic photographers using them in their work, and I try to do so as well. I was fortunate to be able to find them here.
Guest 12-Feb-2006 18:35
yes, Phil this one is truly excellent. I recall in my mind a recent exhibition, by Michael Yamashita a famous National Geographic photographer, I seen in Naples regarding his famous trip on the routes to China of Marco Polo. The flavor of some photo is similar to this one.
Phil Douglis21-May-2005 00:59
Once again, Tim, you bring us a new way for us to look at the expressive elements in this image. I like your idea of the lower right hand corner as a lynchpin of meaning. Above those two figures struggling through the blood red dust, we see the timeless human spirit risking skyward. Meanwhile, the cattle, representing survival plod obediently before them across the bottom of the frame. The sun comes and goes, and symbolizes the eternal passage of time and the course of nature itself. Thanks for these thoughts.
Tim May20-May-2005 19:43
Perhaps its my mood today - and the viewers mood is a powerful element of the interplay between image and viewer - that is why is good to return to images - as one returns to poems because meaning is created and not static - but I am drawn to the conflicting dominance here. At the intersection of a strong right angle are two humans - above their heads a wat, built by people to honor the spirit and in front of them the animals that have been domesticated for food and milk. Its seems that man is dominant, yet the light, and dust give a sense that nature covers all, that people are small in their sense of dominance and that the sun continues to rise and set and nature will prevail.
Phil Douglis04-Apr-2005 22:20
Mood is indeed established by the nature of the light, and dust, which is creating an abstracts sense of fog here, Ray. I also think that color contributes much to it as well.
Guest 04-Apr-2005 19:56
The light, fog, & dust combined created such a magnificent mood for this shot. I love it!
Phil Douglis05-Mar-2005 03:25
That's the one I focus on as well. The ghostliest of them all. Thanks, Marek.
m05-Mar-2005 01:52
Yes, I mean the cow bringing up the rear.
Phil Douglis04-Mar-2005 19:21
Thank you for adding your always enlightening commentary to this image, in particular, Marek. Regarding your "invisible cow two-thirds across" question --are you referring to the cow that leads this herd out of the photo at the left edge of the picture? Or is the white cow obscured by dust, who brings up the rear, just to the left of the drivers? In either case, the cows at either end function as abstract symbols of the continuum of work. The flow of cattle never ends. They have passed through this same dust in this manner for centuries and will continue to so. The first and last cow in this line are both abstractions -- the first one plunges off the edge, leaving only his rump behind. The last one recedes into the dust, head invisible, there, but not really all there. This is a ghost herd, Marek, symbolizing the ebb and flow of life itself in this ancient place. In that context, yes, they are spirits. (As for the sacred cow reference, I'll leave the puns alone this time.)
m04-Mar-2005 16:51
Dust and light conspire to graphically define each element and create a a beautifully-layered semi-abstract effect. A wonderful capture, and I wonder if the image is about the 'invisible cow' two-thirds across... a spirit... is it sacred?
Phil Douglis04-Mar-2005 03:03
You've beautifully defined the meaning of this image and gone on to explain why it works so well. I am in your debt, again, Celia, for offering these insightful comments. I must also credit my Burmese guide Mu Mu Phyo, who took me to this spot and said "Just wait a few minutes. Here come those cows." I had told her I wanted to show the life of Bagan going on with a temple as a backdrop just as the sun went down. I had no idea that she would give me dust turned to fire, nor could I have known how eloquently the abstracted bodies of the cattle drivers would materialize within this swirl of implied flame.

I also appreciate your comments about the degree of abstraction, here, Celia. It is the backlight and dust that turn the cattle, the drivers, and the temple into the powerful symbols you mentioned. I agree that expressive travel photos must express a sense of place, use mood and atmosphere to stir the emotions, trigger the imagination, and use aesthetics to make it all happen. This image is just about as close as we can come to doing all of this within the same image. Thank you, Celia, for putting so much of yourself in to this photograph.
Cecilia Lim03-Mar-2005 16:26
Wow! This is a beautiful image! If you ever put up a "Red" Gallery, this would be an excellent candidate! This is such a graphic image - like an airbrush painting - yet not devoid of any emotion. Infact it oozes with so much mood and atmosphere. I think the red colours are the key ingredient in evoking the sensations of heat, energy, work and hardship. The dust here is another crucial element that adds to the idea of heat, because they do seem to create the illusion of flames.

I notice that although this image is similar in subject matter to your other image "Moving the Herd", this one projects more of an ideology about life in Myanmar, whereas the other presents more of a raw reality of the harsh day-to-day living in Myanmar. I think the reason for this could be that this image is more abstract. There is much less detail, the subjects are simplified to more basic iconic shapes, and the similarities in the colour of the subjects unify them as a symbolic expression. Now, the temple, the boys and their cattle appear more unified visually, and hence also the idea that their faith, culture, and their humble but difficult way of survival are all intertwined as part of the Myanmarese (Myanmarian?) way of life. There is no doubt though from the mood expressed by the colours here that hardship, and their perserverance in preserving their livelihood and way of life is what defines the Myanmar we see today.

I always believe that photography as an art, especially with travel photography, has to express a sense of the place, stir the veiwer's emotions and look absolutely fabulous. You've done all of the three in this image. It deserves to be everyone's favourite!
Phil Douglis02-Mar-2005 23:35
This image does all the things you say, Mo. But I try to stay away from comparisons. Each of these images I made that evening of this herd of cows makes a different point in a different way. I am glad this particular image is your personal favorite. I consider it to be among the most memorable images I made on this trip. it is the most abstract of the three, and the richest in coloration as well.
monique jansen02-Mar-2005 11:51
I compared all three photos, and I do think this is my favorite, it evokes a timeless atmosphere, and yet there is no mistake about it being set in Asia.
Phil Douglis28-Feb-2005 04:03
Dandan, you never have to measure one image against another in terms of which one you like the "best." Images say different things to us, and in different ways. Photographers have different goals and intentions. It is unfair to yourself and to the image to try to decide such questions, so don't ask them. Just enjoy the images for what they might have to say to you and offer you. I am delighted you like this image so much. It among the strongest images, emotionally, that I have ever had the good fortune to make. It is more abstract than "Moving the Herd," which, by the way are the same cows taken a half hour or so later from a hillside pasture outside Bagan. I also took the "tapestry" shot at from the same spot and of the same herd, but in the shade instead of the sun.
Dandan27-Feb-2005 15:32
Wow! Love it! Remain me this one:
I put them side by side, looked at them for a few minutes, I still don’t know which one I like better… This one, the warm lighting, the layers of mountains, temple, tree line, the foreground of cows and people in the cloud of dust, all make this image looks surreal! One the other hand, the “moving the Herd” is so real, it put you right in there… I love them both! :)
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