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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Twenty Nine: The Layered Image – accumulating meaning > Art Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005
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Art Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005

Art Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005

I saw these works of art stacked almost randomly at the back of a Santa Fe art gallery, a perfect example of layers in itself. An art dealer is attracting visitors not by displaying individual works of art, but simply by presenting a variety of Western art in abundance. These layers were already in place when I saw them through a window from well outside the gallery. I only had to recognize their significance and make the most coherent image I can of the scene. I was drawn to the incongruous juxtapositions created by each layer, as well as the contrasts and linkages of scale, color and shadow. The wrought iron sculpture of the horse in the foreground layer anchors the composition in darkness, a darkness that also explodes in the feathers of the final background layer. There are two middle layers between them – a portrait of an angel on a contrasting white background, and a painting of a group of Native Americans layered between them at lower right. Each layer offers a different flavor of coloration, scale, and subject. I chose a camera position to compose these layers along a diagonal line, linking the horse’s tail, the wing of the angel, the painted face of the Indian, and the feather that flows out of the picture at upper right. Four different artists have created works that an art dealer has placed together. I have isolated them as four layers within the boundaries of my frame to express the nature of this gallery here in the quintessential city of the old American West.

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Phil Douglis07-Feb-2007 20:28
I am thrilled that I have given you the wood to build your fires, Ceci. For the third time today, my images in this gallery have stirred you emotionally and intellectually. This image, as well as the Santa Fe Trail photo and the elephant sculpture image, has given you a chance to mirror your own outrage and passion over the fate of Native American culture. All of which is to be expected -- images that are expressive enough to stir the imagation can trigger emotional and intellectual responses will often allow a viewer to project his or her own strongly held beliefs into them. And that is what has happened today to you, Ceci -- thank you for bringing so much passion into this image. I am stunned and gratified by what you see within it in terms of metaphorical content. Thank you for articulating it so eloquently.
Guest 07-Feb-2007 07:35
A shocking, provocative, brilliant capture of layers, a canvas onto which so much can be projected! The human representations fascinate, the angel seems bent on protecting itself from predation, and the Indian's eyes in its decorated magnificent face radiate caution, and even fear. The two of them are joined in wariness, and we know how it went for the Native tribes of the western states, and how they were betrayed, over and over again, till they were nearly gone. To me, this angel depiction symbolizes the pogroms leveled at those who were here in the "new world" that was coveted for all sorts of reasons; this is a half grown child seeming to shield itself in its nakedness and vulnerability. The horse had been transformed into such a powerful tool by the Native Americans that to see it silhouetted before all this color and design seems perfect to me, and the dark wirey metallic stuff at the base of this picture is a metaphor: the Europeans who "conquered" North America came with their industrial skills, against which the Indians could not prevail. To me, the angel is the spirit of the aboriginal people who were rolled over like so much vermin, by a rapacious culture that fought so underhandedly that eventually, they got what they wanted: land, resources, water.
Phil Douglis12-Nov-2005 19:10
Thanks, Alister. Yes, I only shoot in jpeg. And I always keep my white balance set on "Cloudy" when shooting outside because I like warm images. This shot, however, was made on Auto, because the main light sources were inside of the gallery.
alibenn12-Nov-2005 10:14
In addition to the other comments, I would just like to go back to the Cloudy White Balance setting. I presume you shoot in jpeg rather than RAW yes? I ask because Cloudy was one of my favourites for quite a while and used it to warm up many bird images taken outside the periods of golden light. I stopped doing it because of the potential colour cast issues, but from an expressive image point of view I can see it would be a useful tool indeed. thanks for the reminder!!!
Phil Douglis25-Jul-2005 17:58
Thanks, Kal -- the light here is from the overhead spots in the art gallery. Art galleries usually use light to dramatically highlight the work they are selling. I was shooting from outside the gallery, through a window. My white balance was set for cloudy, as usual. My image had a warm golden glow to it because of the effect of the cloudy white balance setting on the tungsten light source. I liked that color, but then realized it was not what the eye saw, and to be fair to the art itself, I used Photoshop to replace the golden glow with this more natural look. You are right -- the light plays a big role here in defining the layers and giving the illusion of depth.
Kal Khogali25-Jul-2005 11:31
The light is a key factor in this image, it seems to flow in almost a brush stroke from the painting at the back on to the angel's image at the front. It connects the two, but also provides the ethereal spiritual effect of the angel. Is this the widow light? I think the image gains a 3-dimensionality becasue of it and tis serves to make the layers work even more.
Phil Douglis22-Jul-2005 21:00
What a marvelous summary of the expression in this image, Celia. You articulate things that I felt, but never really thought about as I was making this photograph. You are so right when you see all of these works of art as an expression of a desire for freedom. The wings of an angel, the feathers of a bird, the hooves of a horse, are all related to feeling free. The layering here makes them work together rather than separately -- the sum of the parts is greater than any single piece. This requires a seamless whole -- each layer has to be in the right place in relationship to the others. It was amazing how many different arrangements I was able to make out of these different elements just by shifting my vantage point slightly and zooming the lens in and out. I think I must have made ten or fifteen images before this one brought it all together in perfect harmony. It is called "working an image" and I really had to work this one to make it express its ideas as well as you say it has. Thanks again, Celia, for leaving such an eloquent comment.
Cecilia Lim22-Jul-2005 20:02
Wow! What caught my eye here is the explosion of energy that you've created here by drawing the vivid red & black colours together, and creating an upwards surge of movement with an increase in scale and diagonal lines that pull you in and up through the layers. Each of these paintings in the art gallery can stand on its own merit and tell its own story, but when you pull them and link them together here in one image, I can really see that you're accumulating meaning to build an even stronger and more expressive story -- This image is no longer about one Indian, or one angel, or one horse. But what I see as a whole is ultimately an image about the strong, natural desire for freedom and liberty that all forms of life, be it animal, man or "other" (angel) seek. The energy that radiates from this image plays an important role in fueling this sense of freedom too.

The theme of flight, which I equate with freedom, occurs throughout your image in the form of wings, feathers and the horse (which to me is another symbol of freedom, or free will). This desire for freedom is even more apparent when you bring to it the context of the Red Indians' struggle against oppression by the white man in the past. And then on another level, this image is also about freedom of expression and creativity for the artists in this gallery!

I've simply loved what you've done in this image Phil, playing with layers to bring about layers of meaning. It's amazing how thoughtful layering can add so much more meaning and depth to a photo. You're absolutely spot on when you explain this in terms of making a "delicious sandwich for the imagination – each level adding to the pleasure and substance of the whole. " This has been a delightful feast for my eyes and my mind as I work through it course by course!
Phil Douglis22-Jul-2005 04:16
Thanks, Jen, for being the first to comment on this image. You read it very, very well. As you know, everything I include in my images is there for an expressive reason. And that is certainly the case here. I am delighted you see the subjects as representing the three forms of life -- human, animal, and spiritual. That was really what drew me to this subject, but I did not want to come right out and say it in my caption. I wanted to see if anyone would pick up on it, and you did exactly that. Opposites and contradictions are at work here as well -- it is an image that probes the nature of art, of culture and of history. As for wishing that you could make such an image someday, Jen, you already have. You create layered images in your own work all the time, fusing context and content into expression.
Jennifer Zhou22-Jul-2005 03:51
This is the Art made of Art! Interesting combination that excites our imagination! Somewhat I feel everything in the picture is so right for my eyes and then I learned it is because you composed the layers along a diagonal line, it surely works well!

The face of the angel is innocent and shy, while the face of the Indian is totally opposite, the shocking comparision also makes the picture work so well. The angel hides behind the horse intensify her shyness, and the horse in silhouette alone with the feathers on the Indian's head balance the composition. Three kind of subjects----annimal, human and angel in their own art forms, were freezed in light, erasing all the space in between and making them in one! Just brilliant, Phil! I really wish I could make such picture someday! :)
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