Pilgrim, Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet, 2004
Hundreds of Buddhist pilgrims clutching prayer wheels still circle the three-story Jokhang, Tibet’s holiest Temple. They come from all corners of Tibet to circle the 1,300 year-old building in never ending waves. I carefully planned most of this shot in advance, primarily because of the way the light fell on the ancient building and on the plaza that surrounds it. I spot-metered on the white façade to hold detail and prevent “burn-out.” That made the shadows black and the sky deep blue. I then waited until a pilgrim entered the frame and shot him as he stepped into the space between the two shadows on the Plaza.
Yak Skull, Lhasa, Tibet, 2004
We visited a Tibetan home in Lhasa that had the skull of a Yak lodged within the roofing over its front door. Good fortune, faith, and perhaps just luck are supposed to come from such symbols. This photograph works because of how the light shapes the subject. Once again, I used the spot meter option in my camera to expose on the white skull, and everything else in the picture becomes darker. The façade of the house flows into darkness and the red rooftops get darker as well. A Buddhist decoration set into the window directly between the horns of the skull, and decorative elements hanging below the roofline are kept in shadow for context.
Translucence, Botanical Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego, California, 2004
Sometimes, light and shadow will combine to create memorable rhythms and patterns. And when that light is translucent – passing through the subject itself – the effect can be even more striking. Thin, opaque subjects lend themselves to such lighting effects, particularly leaves. In making this particular shot, I looked for translucent leaves in front of darker backgrounds. I noticed that the light passing through some of the leaves also cast crosshatched shadows on the leaves in front of them. I used my spot meter to expose for the brightest part of the leaves, which made the shadows as dark as possible. The interplay of light and shadow on these delicate ferns is mesmerizing. The more we look at it, the more complex and beautiful the scene becomes.
The Star of India, San Diego, California, 2004
This 19th Century sailing ship once carried hundreds of passengers to ports throughout the old British Empire. Today it draws hundreds of visitors to its berth at San Diego’s Maritime Museum. I must have made fifty or so different images of this ship, but none as effective as this one. As we left the ship, I noticed that the sun had moved lower in the sky, and for the first time I could find a vantage point that would allow me to place strong light behind the ship’s sails. This would help me to simplify my image by backlighting it, and create an abstract, rather than a literal, interpretation. I selected only one slice of the ship to avoid distracting clutter, and this called for a vertical frame. After numerous experiments (digital film is always free) I was able to express the essence of the Star of India by relating the graceful figurehead at the front of the ship to the three translucent triangular sails soaring above it, as well as to the reflection on the water
Urban Tree, San Diego, California, 2004
Interpreting the art of another artist is a great challenge to a photographer. I want to maintain the integrity of the original concept, yet also express my own point of view about the work. San Diego offers a stunning variety of public art works. Among my favorites are the “Urban Trees” that sprout along the harbor – each of them interpreting the work of nature by using man made materials in different ways. One of these trees features huge textured leaves made of tinted opaque plastic. By putting the sun behind five of them – along with their metallic supports – and using my spot meter to expose for the brightest area, I was able to bring out the richness of texture and tinting through backlight, abstraction, and translucence.
Resto en Paz, San Diego, California, 2004
On the edge of the oldest surviving cemetery in San Diego, I found a small cross and a few stones placed next to the massive roots of an ancient tree. When I first saw this scene, the sky was overcast, and my attempts at symbolization did not work very well. Within the hour, however, the sun broke through the clouds, and I returned to this small grave at the foot of the old tree. I noticed that the shadow of the cemetery’s wall now ran diagonally through the grave itself. I was able to repeat that diagonal line by finding a camera position that oriented the roots diagonally within my frame as well. I used my spot meter to expose for the highlights on the roots and the ground, which made everything in the shadows, get much darker. The resulting image uses light as both abstraction and symbolization. The incongruity in scale between tree and cross, the interplay of light and shadow, the glistening highlights on the roots themselves, all work to suggest the cyclical nature of life itself. (Some have suggested to me that this image might work “better” in black and white. I made the conversion, and found that when I removed the golden brown warmth of that sunlight, the image became quite bleak and severe. The photograph became a metaphor for death itself, rather than death as part of life.)
Shadow of Time, Cappodocia, Turkey, 1999.
This old Turkish caravan stop at first appeared to be just another ruin, but when I noticed an assertive shadow of a tourist momentarily imprinted upon its vast façade, I created a photograph based on the interplay of light, shadow, and structure. The shadowy figure at the summit of a neighboring building represents the authority of man, but it is impermanent, and will soon vanish. These old buildings, however, have stood the test of time and history -- they will remain long after we pass from the scene.
Nile boatman, Elephantine Island, Aswan, Egypt, 1984
The translucent backdrop dominates this photograph of an Egyptian boatman waiting to carry his passengers along the Nile. The sails of the boats glow as the sun passes through them, while the lush foliage, his costume, and his body language create a mood of timeless tranquility that brings a sense of place to this image.
Cemetery Fence, Willemstad, Curacao, 2003
I find cemeteries to be rich in symbolic potential. Various religious beliefs are expressed in monumental fashion. Cemetery art represent man’s attempts to somehow transform mortality into immortality, all of which provides much grist for photographic interpretation. Light and shadow plays a significant role in interpreting such subject matter photographically. Shadows can be regarded as symbols in themselves. They mysteriously withhold information, abstract subject matter, and can often provoke the imagination of the viewer. As I walked about this old cemetery on the sun-drenched Caribbean island of Curacao, I noticed a rusted fence casting its shadow on the walls of a very old tomb. A series of shadowed bars and gothic crosses, symbols of religious beliefs in themselves, rhythmically move across two of the tomb’s surfaces -- the walled up entrance to the crypt itself, and the outside wall of the tomb. A long horizontal shadow bar sweeps across the frame. The recessed entrance to the crypt is also in shadow at its top. The tomb basks in the warmth of the morning light. In this image, I contrast this symbolic interplay of light and shadow against the stark, rusted iron bars of the actual fence that wall the tomb off from us. This fence speaks of the reality and finality of death – whereas the light and shadow imply the spiritual forces that make the concept of death easier for some to accept and perhaps even understand.
The Conspirators, La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2004
I almost stumbled over this trio of small angels enhancing an entrance to a Buenos Aires building. They were hidden in the shadows, and seem almost conspiratorial. I chose a high vantage point and shot down on them to make it seem as if we were spying on their little meeting. This vantage point led me to another discovery. These angels may think they are hiding from us, but there is a virtual directional arrow right leading us right to them – a big black shadow on sidewalk gives the game away. It is the interplay of light and shadow that makes this picture work.
San Francisco Monastery, Lima, Peru, 2003
Rather than attempt to photographically describe the appearance of this beautiful Peruvian monastery built by the Spaniards in 1620, I use light and shadow to express the feelings I had while walking through a long, haunting gallery. Its arched windows had bars on them – this monastery was not only a retreat but also a sanctuary, a place of refuge at a time of great dangers. The light on the floor was reddish orange – the color of fire. I used a wideangle converter to create a series of window shadows moving through space, as if from the past into the present. It was a mystical place, and I use the beauty of its light and the symbols of its colors and shadows in my attempt to visually define it.
Roses in Hand, City Cemetery, Punta Arenas, Chile, 2004
A Sunday afternoon visitor had just placed a floral display in the hand of this sculpted angel looming over a tomb surrounded by massive trees that have been pruned into a series of rounded dome-like monuments. The late afternoon sun is illuminating the statue and its roses from the side, turning the pruned trees into shadowy background. By using my spot meter on the angel, I keep it from washing out, and turn the green trees in the background to black. I placed the figure of the angel on the right side of the frame, making it seem to offer those roses towards the darkness. If the angel and its roses commemorate life, the darkness implies that most unknown aspect of life – death. This interpretation is made possible entirely by the interplay of light and shadow on the angel, its flowers, and the trees.