Ancestors, Naha, Okinawa, Japan, 2006
The most fascinating aspect of this multi-generation memorial in Naha's Asahigaoka Park is the deterioration of the portraits. Water has worked its way into the frames, forcing the faces to struggle for recognition through a haze of oxidation. Memorials and tombs have always represented mankind’s plea for remembrance, yet nature eventually intervenes, as it does here. I've made a similar image to this one, featuring a photograph on a tombstone in Zagreb, Croatia. While the subject matter is essentially the same, the point of the image is entirely different because the pictures on this Okinawan tombstone are gradually fading from view, while the photo on the Croatian gravestone is strikingly vivid and life like. (See http://www.pbase.com/image/50093459
, to compare images.)
Prayers for peace, Hiroshima, Japan, 2006
No city in the world regards world peace as seriously as Hiroshima, Japan. Prayers and hopes inscribed on small pieces of wood honor some of the 140,000 victims of the blast and plead for a world free from nuclear weapons. The fragile sticks may vanish with the first storm but the large and deep carvings in the rock just behind them no doubt echo the sentiments they express. I made this image with a 28mm wideangle lens, which allowed me to come in as close as possible for detail, yet still get the full range of subject matter into the frame.
Royal advisor, Jingjiang Royal Mausoleum, Guilin, China, 2006
His king has been dead for centuries; yet he seems to spring from the earth, knowledge in hand, ready to advise. The contrast between the green circles of bushes, the field of grass, and the forest of live trees and the serene but stained and crumbling figure are strikingly symbolic. Nature renews itself, but royalty does not. Kings come and go, but nature remains around forever. This is one of the many figures that flank the entrance to the Mausoleum where 300 former rulers of Guilin are buried.
The Founder, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2005
A San Franciscan friar, Juan de San Miguel, founded the town bearing his name in 1540. It became a major supply center for the surrounding area, including the silver mines at nearby Guanajuato. I wanted to photograph a statue of him in the context of both his calling and his religious order. The statue stands on the town’s main square, in front of its parish church, El Parroquia. I made this as the early morning light illuminated the church yet held the statue partially in shadow. Only the head and shoulders catch the early morning light – the rest of the friar is obscured. The curve of his shoulders echoes the curves in the design of the church itself. At the moment I shot, a pigeon was standing on his head. Normally, that would be a humorous cop out. A cliché. But this friar was a follower of the order of St. Francis, founded by a saint noted for his compassion for animals. A bird on a Franciscan’s head makes an appropriate statement. This is more than just a picture of a statue with a bird upon its head. It is an expression of a historical figure’s faith and tradition.
Ensnared, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2005
Ignacio Allende, who led San Miguel’s town-folk in rebellion against their Spanish rulers in 1810, perished in the effort, but in the process, he had his name appended to the name of the town. I photographed this statue of Allende as a close-up because it was contained in a screen of wire mesh. It is actually a protective device, but it can also represent a young man seemingly trapped in a web of intrigue and politics. The incongruity of a statue caught in such a web creates a statement based on human values.
A sense of loss, Mirogoj Cemetery, Zagreb, Croatia, 2005
This Art Nouveau memorial figure symbolizes a loved one who will never return. Just as I approached this tomb, nature made it even more evocative as a shaft of early morning sunlight passed through a break in the heavy overhead foliage, falling precisely on the head of the figure. I exposed for this lighted portion with my spot meter to make the shadows on the rest of the tomb darker. Death is part of life. It is natural. And nature itself illuminates the meaning of grief here.
Flowers and gravestone, Mirogoj Cemetery, Zagreb, Croatia, 2005
Someone had left a bouquet of artificial flowers just to the side of this gravestone. I noticed that the shape of the bouquet followed the posture of the grieving angel on the stone. I moved my vantage point until the bouquet fit tightly against the figure on the stone, echoing its flow. The flowers symbolize life, the grieving angel represents death, and the two become opposite sides of the same coin. I expose on the flowers, allowing the figure of the angel to recede into the shadows.
Untended grave, Fairview Cemetery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005
The oldest grave in this cemetery dates from 1862. It belongs to the wife of a clergyman. She must have made the long trek west from New England along the Santa Fe Trail and was only 47 when she died. Her name was Catharine Gorman, and that is all we know about her. I found her untended grave filled with high grass, and made this image of it with a 24mm lens, catching the softly illuminated strands of grass as they flow diagonally across the headstone and then out to the opposite corner of the frame. The delicately glowing strands of grass juxtapose a symbol of life against the eroding stony icon of death. With this contrast of opposites, I express a metaphor for the cycle of life and death itself.
(Three and a half years after first posting this picture, I received an email from Ty Coup of Lawrence, Kansas. He had stumbled upon my image, and he sent me a link to a digitized copy of the 1913-1914 edition of Old Santa Fe Magazine, which featured the life story of Samuel Gorman, one of New Mexico’s first Protestant missionaries. In 1842, Gorman married Catherine A. Turner, a school-teacher in Granville, Ohio. That same year, he was ordained a Baptist minister, and ten years later became a missionary to New Mexico to Christianize Indians. After spending ten harrowing and heroic years in Laguna and Santa Fe, his wife Catherine Turner Gorman died of a brief illness on February 19, 1862. Gorman went on to remarry twice, and after a long and colorful career as a missionary, he died in Dayton, Ohio in 1907. Gorman’s first wife Catherine rests below this stone in a grave nearly lost among the weeds of Santa Fe’s Fairview Cemetery.)
(Further information on Catharine Gorman has been kindly provided by Betty Danielson, historian of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. She has researched the Gorman family and compiled their life story. She tells me that Catherine had three sons and a daughter. She also told me that her husband had her tombstone freighted by commercial wagon across the prairies to Santa Fe. Betty and her husband have written a full biography of the Gormans, but it has not yet been published.)
Façade, The Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium, 2005
These soot covered goddesses holding gilded horns have graced the façade of this ornate guild house for the last 300 years. I spot-metered the vividly colored flag (probably a banner of a trade association) and allowed the statues, façade, and dramatically reflective windows to go dark. The building is a historical treasure, and should look as old as it is, while the flag appears to be brand new – symbolizing the dynamic present.
Sculpture, Rubens House, Antwerp, Belgium, 2005
The home and studio used by the great Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens from 1610 to 1640 still stands in the center of Antwerp. Rubens himself commissioned the sculptures that adorn its courtyard. This shrouded figure with huge blank eyes emerges from the façade itself, an allegorical figure probably symbolizing death. The long fingers curled around a batch of pointed leaves are grim and unforgiving. I chose this vantage point to stress the arm flowing diagonally within the frame of the molding that surrounds the sculpture. It is almost as if this figure is entombed. I abstract it by converting it to black and white. The yellowish stone walls and sculpted figure become much more stark and severe once the color is gone. I did everything I could to photographically render the subject as severely as the theme it seems to represent.
Bishop’s Tomb, Church of our Lady, Bruges, Belgium, 2005
The medieval bishops of Bruges all seem to relax with a good book in death, at least according to the marble effigies that top their tombs. This one is in the Church of Our Lady, which took 200 years to build. I further aged this image in the post processing stage by darkening it, adding a slightly grainy texture, and giving the cold marble a touch of sepia warmth. My goal is to express the idea that this Bishop has been sleeping in this position for a very long time now.
Eleven Buddha Images, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar, 2005
Thousands of visitors express their faith in Buddhism at Shwedagon every day. Here a family mediates before an altar of eleven Buddha images. It has often been said that Burma is the most profoundly Buddhist country in the world, and Shwedagon is Burma’s largest temple complex. This photograph expresses the magnitude of that devotion. Sacred objects such as these are similar to monuments in that they honor and remember the past and illuminate the present. These statues venerate a deity. Like many monuments, they are associated with immorality and express the essence of a culture, in this case Buddhism. As scale incongruity, eleven Buddha images overwhelm the seven people that sit before them, in both size and grandeur. Golden patterned walls and lavishly carved padlocked wooden chests, decorated in flowers and pale green umbrellas, surround ten golden figures and one wearing a red robe. A worshipping monk sits before it. I abstract all of these people, showing them from behind, inviting the viewer to participate, in a sense, with them. To understand the complex beauty and meaning of this striking scene, is to understand Burma itself.