Shadow play, Baisha, China, 2006
A farmer returns from an early morning stick harvest, followed by his shadow.
In this image, the layers move from bottom to top. The bottom layer of this stack is a wall forming a roadway for the farmer. The middle layer gives us farmer and the incongruous shadow. Because of the early morning light, the shadow incongruously lags far behind.
The top layer is decorative crown for the image. The man carries a load of sticks, and giant sticks mimic his pace from the top of the building. The curving roof embellishments seem to echo the forward thrust of the farmer’s leg, as well.
Wreath, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan, 2006
Modeled after the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, the CKS Memorial features an enormous seated statue of the Chinese Nationalist leader. I used the statue as a softly focused background layer. The foreground layer is my primary layer. It features a wreath left in his honor. I moved in for a close up of its ribbons and delicate flowers, leaving only a small space for the background layer to show through.
Waterfall, Lower Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, Utah, 2006
Most waterfall images show the waterfall itself. I wanted to add a sense of depth perspective to this waterfall, giving it a sense of scale. I also wanted to put something between the viewer and the waterfall to increase the sensation of “being there.” The solution is this layered image, which fills the foreground with a bare bush. I was fortunate to visit Zion in the winter, when much of its vegetation was sparse. We can see right through this wild, feathery bush, on to the waterfall itself. The waterfall is the subject layer of this image, but equally important is the context given to it by a third layer – the dappled cliff that dominates the background on the right. I liked the way it repeats the colors in the foreground layer. There is a fourth layer to this image that is just as important as any of the others. It is the additional background layer of darkness at upper left, which throws the narrow stream of water before it into prominence.
Freight Train, Barstow, California, 2006
The power lines provide a stage, the setting sun a backdrop, and the freight train is the principal player in this Barstow scene. Each offers a layer of meaning, which, when superimposed upon each other, combines subject and context into a coherent presentation.
Marigolds, Mercado de San Juan de Dios, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2005
Marigolds are used to honor the dead in Mexico. When she has finished her marketing, this woman is will probably carry her flowers to the cemetery, where she will observe the festival of The Day of the Dead by decorating a family gravesite. I’ve organized this image around a series of layers which move us ever more deeply into space. I shot the picture from over the shoulder of the man at lower right, thrusting the viewer first into the basket of bread that sits before him in the foreground layer. Other people create a framing device on both the left and right hand sides of the image in middle ground layer. The woman bearing the flowers is illuminated by backlighting that streams down on her in a series of dramatic rays from the top of the frame. A long and deep background layer lies before her, its tiny figures providing a sense of scale, telling us how far she has yet to go before reaching the main market below a distant awning.
Hull, Kotor Bay, Montenegro, 2005
While cruising through Kotor Bay, we passed a small shipyard, where freighters were being repaired and refurbished. I used my telephoto lens at its full 432mm length to abstract the hull of a distant ship, forming a three-layer image. The foreground layer is a shimmering reflection, which leads the eye to the ship. The middle ground layer is the dock at right, with its extending ladder at upper right and an array of colored ropes, each of them used for a specific repair function. The background layer holds the hull of the massive ship itself – its surface resembling a painter’s palette, with reflected light dancing gently along its keel, its name in bold lettering, and the shadows of the ropes and ladders attached to it adding their voices to the chorus. The variations in the play of light helps make this layered image function as expression.
Souvenir Shop, Athens, Greece, 2005
This image tells its story because of the layers used to build expression. The bush that makes up the foreground layer is in the sunlight, and surges with life and energy. The cluster of busts for sale in the window makes up the middle-ground layer, which contrasts strongly to the bush. The busts may absorb the reflection of the bush, but they seem gaze wistfully out the window. The background layer features a sculpture of a discuss thrower who goes about his work, unmindful of the gathering of heads blocking his view of the street and the bush. Together, the layers fuse to give the illusion of depth, and far away in world of their own – a darker, inanimate world of the past. Two of these busts seem to be staring at each other, while the other two – identical except in size – contemplate the bush. Together, these layers contrast reality to fantasy, life to art, new growth to old ideas.
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.
Early morning, Palace Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005
It is too early for the bumper-to-bumper traffic to converge on Santa Fe’s central plaza only a few feet from this intersection. The street is empty, save for a sole figure walking below one of the historic buildings that surround the plaza. The point of the image is the scale incongruity of the very small figure surrounded by an empty street and dwarfed by the building. I insert a foreground layer of overhead leaves to frame the image and point directly down at the man from the sky. Still another foreground layer is the crosswalk, leading the eye directly to the man as well. The leaves are closer to us than anything else in the image, and appear larger than the man in the distance, an optical illusion that makes the man seem much smaller than he really is. The man, the focal point of the image, is the middle, or subject, layer of this image. The fourth layer, the building, provides the background. The wideangle lens embraces all four layers and creates the appearance of depth to give this image its sense of dimensionality.
Wooden horses, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005
It is possible to layer images from side to side, as well as from front to back. In this case, I use three layers, moving from left to right, to express my idea. These ornate wooden horses were staring at passersby from an antique window in Santa Fe. They not only were protected by a pane of glass, but also by a wire mesh insert. By shooting the window from an angle, I was able to illuminate the mesh on the left hand side to create the first layer – giving the horse on the left a caged presence. This single caged horse contrasts to the matched pair of horses in the right hand layer, who do not seem to be contained as securely. The wooden panel running down the center of the image is a layer unto itself, symbolizing division. Looking at all three layers together we see these horses as unequal partners, locked away in a microcosmic stable of life.
Railroad Depot, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005
In 1880, historic Santa Fe joined the nation’s mushrooming rail system. Its name became synonymous with railroading. Today, Santa Fe, like so many smaller cities, no longer has regular passenger service, but does offer its tourists train rides over an old spur line through New Mexico. Those rides begin and end here, at this 100-year old station. I wanted to evoke a sense of the past by layering this image first with the land itself. I placed my 24mm wideangle lens a few feet from the rail, creating an emphatic foreground layer filling the lower half of the frame with dirt, rocks, weeds and steel – the old rail bed. It speaks of time, as does the old station itself, which makes up the subject layer behind it. A drooping wire is draped across it, recalling the old telegraph lines that once hung over train tracks everywhere. The background layer features a timeless blue, cloud-splashed sky, a witness to such history as this.
Transformation, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005
Graffiti is, in itself, a layer of meaning superimposed on something else. I use horizontally progressive layers in this image to portray the transformation of an abandoned freight train into a work of contemporary art. This image reads from right to left – beginning with a layer focusing on a partially painted caboose, then moving to a middle layer of an unpainted portion of that caboose, and then culminating the most expressive layer at left – a fully painted freight car, featuring an energetic stick figure that seems to be dancing in a swirl of arrows and circles. To me, these progressive layers symbolize the fading of the railroad era -- a 19th century transportation medium with its grimly painted steel siding, forever transformed into a 21st century form of urban story telling.