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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Twenty Eight: Using symbols and metaphors to express meaning > Monsoon ablaze, Phoenix, Arizona, 2006
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Monsoon ablaze, Phoenix, Arizona, 2006
07-SEP-2006

Monsoon ablaze, Phoenix, Arizona, 2006

The oncoming rush of a powerful monsoon storm catches one’s attention. Particularly at day’s end, when the last rays of a setting sun illuminate the billowing storm clouds as if they were the coming of the Apocalypse. And that is what this image symbolizes --an apocalyptic vision, the end of the world as we know it. The abstracted house and that mound of branches represent our world, while the fiery sky is a metaphor for the inevitable day when the sun will consume it. I made this picture from my front door, shooting across the roof of a neighbor’s house. We can see the tops of some trees behind it, their branches rhythmically echoing the long curve of the oncoming storm clouds. The top of that house and the branches rising just above it provide my foreground layer, giving a sense of scale to the monumental billows of orange and gray clouds that loom overhead. The play of fiery light on these storm clouds lasted less than a minute. I had time to compose just three shots, and then it faded. Thunder, lightning and rain took its place.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
1/80s f/3.6 at 42.7mm iso100 full exif

other sizes: small medium large original
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Phil Douglis11-Sep-2006 16:19
Thanks, Ana, for commenting on the dimensionality of this image. That is what gives the oncoming storm much of its threat. We try to hide behind those trees, but the oncoming thrust of the storm overwhelms them. Thanks for throwing yourself into its path, Ana. I'm happy that you are as stunned by the coloration of the clouds as I was.
Ana Carloto O'Shea11-Sep-2006 02:22
Totally 3D. Those clouds seem to be coming out somewhere behind the building and they look so amazing with that light, that I feeling like jumping into the screen to unveil the secret behind this image...
It's interesting that those clouds might herald a storm, but if I was there I would surely be caught in it, because I would stand there like a fool, looking up at that amazing moment... Lucky me that you've captured it and I can see it here in the safety of my home :)
Phil Douglis09-Sep-2006 18:41
You are right, Kal. In this case, the wagon pulls the horse. The cloud dominates the sky, because it is what this image is all about. Thanks for the observation. And you are right -- the blue sky never had a chance!
Kal Khogali09-Sep-2006 11:37
Usually we see a sky with cloud, here we see cloud with sky...you have emphasised your idea by choosing your subject and composing to emphasise it...it feels like that blue will disappear very soon. K
Phil Douglis09-Sep-2006 02:54
So good to have you back in my galleries once again, Sonia. Thanks for sharing the Apocalypse with me -- I had the same feeling about this. Lots of tension going on here -- the warmth of the golden clouds playing against the wrath of nature wrapped inside of them.
Guest 09-Sep-2006 01:39
It looks like the coming of the Apocalypse will soon begin, with the engulfing clouds that leave us only a small void to escape.
Phil Douglis09-Sep-2006 01:11
Glad you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed making it, Tomasz.
Tomasz Dziubinski - Photography09-Sep-2006 00:59
Wonderful :)
Phil Douglis08-Sep-2006 18:10
I was thinking of your "Angel" as I made this image, Jenene. It is amazing how diverse our symbols can become. The subject is the same as yours -- golden clouds at sunset. Yet your clouds are open and free, and taking the form of a heavenly presence. Mine are overwhelmingly massive, and in the shape of an explosion. Same subjects, yet symbolizing wholly different meanings. Thanks for coming to this image and bringing your own point of view to bear upon it.
Phil Douglis08-Sep-2006 18:05
I grant you your optimistic view, Jude. The rebirth and refreshening that follow the cataclysmic storm. I guess it is like looking at glasses half empty or half full. Is this storm coming or going? The answer rests in our own imaginations. However since I made this picture, I can assure that this storm was moving in, not out.
Phil Douglis08-Sep-2006 17:50
I appreciate your kind words, Jeffrey. The top of that house and those trees are essential. They give scale to the clouds, a sense of depth to the image, and as you say, they act as a symbolic target for the fiery thunderheads. It was, as you say, very still as I made this picture, the oft-quoted "calm before the storm." As for processing, my images are pretty much as they look right out of the camera. I shoot jpeg, and the new Venus III processing engine in this camera does a remarkable job, offering an almost painterly quality to the image. I think the Leica lens on my camera also imprints its own character on the image. I also use "cloudy" white balance on virtually all of my shots. It acts the same as a warming filter -- adding a bit of red and yellow to the colors. I did strengthen color and contrast very slightly by using the Curves control in Photoshop. I intensify the shadows slightly, darkening the building in the foreground, and boost highlights by the same amount, brightening the clouds. I originally also saturated the color a bit, but pulled it back. I wanted the colors to be strong, but not overwhelming. I wanted it too look as natural as possible, just as I saw it with my own eyes. I did not use any filters. I use a spot meter on the brightest part of the image, which tends to deepen and enrich color, as well. Hope this helps, Jeffrey.
JSWaters08-Sep-2006 14:19
The evening light in Arizona and my own Southern California has been very kind to photographers this summer. My angel,http://www.pbase.com/jswaters/image/65543150, could have originated from your mass of fiery thunderheads. With Jude, I'm inclined to see these things as a prelude to regeneration - storms such as the one these clouds brought to you are cleansing, often teetering on inundating. But, just like your 60 second window of photographic opportunity, they pass. Congratulations on getting it.
Jenene
Jude Marion08-Sep-2006 12:21
What an amazing thunder head! But ever the eternal optimist, I see this more as a rebirth to follow the great eruption of rain and storm - the 'big bang theory'.

But yes, those clouds are threatening, the orange colouring is ominous, and the storm could potentially shake the world! The roof and tree look like they are about to be engulfed by the storm, dominated by Mother Nature. This is such a wonderful image.
Jeffrey Tomasi08-Sep-2006 12:06
This is a gorgeous and moving image. The composition with the house and trees just clinging to the bottom of the frame really creates a sense of the clouds reaching out to engulf everything. At the same time you really get a feeling of the eerie stillness that often preceeds a big storm like this. The lighting and color is of course superb-- I'm wondering how much processing you did on this shot or if you used any filters. I often find it's difficult to get the rich luminance I see with my eyes around sunrise/set straight out of the camera.
Phil Douglis08-Sep-2006 06:41
Thanks, Linda. I was checking your own clouds, and you must live in AZ as well. Since I made this image a few hours ago, we have had torrential downpours. Rare for the Valley of the Sun. Thanks for the kind words on this image. I travel all over the world, looking for the good light. Yet here it is at my front door.
Linda Willets08-Sep-2006 04:35
You have captured the monsoon.. we have some outstanding clouds during this time.
Phil Douglis08-Sep-2006 04:07
And thank you as well, Tony -- yes, life is very much celebrated in this image. The end will come someday, but life is lived in the present, and my image was made in that present. As for the sixty second window, this was the first of the three images I had time to make. I made another, according to my EXIF data, eighteen seconds later, and the last one 42 seconds after that. So the three shots were made within exactly 60 seconds.
Phil Douglis08-Sep-2006 03:59
Thanks, Jack, for noting the simplicity of this image. I've reduced it to essentially three elements: a geometrical abstraction at the bottom symbolizing the walls of man, the fragile branches rising above it representing life on earth, and the overwhelming apocalyptic mass of fiery clouds overhead, -- a metaphor for the eventual demise of the earth. A big subject and huge scale scene, reduced to just the essentials.
Macastat08-Sep-2006 03:58
And here, before the Armageddon, life. Brilliant art making in your sixty second window.
Guest 08-Sep-2006 03:13
Very powerful!! I like its simplicity.
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