Remains of Failed Railroad, Khone Island, Laos, 2005
On Khone Island, we visited remnants of the French attempt to build a railroad linking various islands in the Mekong River. The effort failed, and today little is left but a bridge and some rusting equipment. Historical relics such as this rusting boiler are also monuments of sorts. This old boiler represented the aspirations of another country, and as such is not honored but instead left to decay. I found a vantage point where the foliage seemed to overwhelm the rusting equipment and used the shade to create a mood that reflected the neglect. It is said that “history is written by those who win.” The French were driven from Southeast Asia, their dreams of empire shattered forever. This is how they are remembered in this corner of Laos.
Thatluang Stupa, Vientiane, Laos, 2005
Stupas enshrine Buddhist relics - this one, the most spectacular in Vientiane, holds Buddha's bosom bone. This shrine also commemorates the glories of the 16th Century Kingdom of LanXang. A statue of King Sethathiraj, who moved his capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane in 1560, sits with sword in hand before the great golden stupa. To express the essence of this monument, I juxtaposed the statue of the king against only part of the stupa itself, essentially a rhythmic pattern of five spires and five shadows moving horizontally across the image. This pattern is echoed by the rhythms of nine stylized lotus leaves on the crown of stupa. If I had shown the entire structure, including its towering central spire and its huge base, the king would become a minor detail. In choosing to abstract the structure by zooming in on the king with my telephoto lens, I abstract the building and emphasize instead the somewhat incongruous body language the king uses in balancing his sword upon his knees.
Art Nouveau Monument, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
When I visit a city or place, I search for small things that can mean a lot. Dublin is full of monuments, particularly those honoring its famous authors and poets such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats. Yet in an obscure corner of the city’s beautiful St. Stephen’s Green, I found this modest Art Nouveau memorial sculpture almost hidden from view by a cluster of bushes. In style and form, the nostalgic Art Nouveau movement flourished at the end of the 19th century – a time when all of the above Irish authors and poets were enlightening the world. Using the lens on my Leica Digilux 2 to record maximum image quality and stress the subtle detail in both metal and stone, I worked with soft, indirect light to bring out the beauty and meaning of that time and relate it to this place. Softly dappled sunlight was barely sifting through the surrounding trees, but it produced a sublime, understated glow, softly illuminating this memorial sculpture, and expressing, at least to me, the essence of what Dublin once had been, just over 100 years ago. Do you agree? If so, or if not, please leave your comments, questions, or criticisms below. I’ll respond, and we’ll all benefit from the discussion. Thanks.
At Ease, United States Military Cemetery, Omaha Beach, St. Laurent, France, 2004
A visit to the vast World War II cemetery at Omaha Beach is a moving, sobering, and thoughtful experience. It’s 72 emerald green acres, holding 10,000 dead –is a sight both terrible, yet utterly peaceful. Everything is done to honor the memory of those who rest here, including grass cutting done with military precision. Perhaps the most poignant moment of all came when the buzz of the mowers stopped and the maintenance personnel slipped quietly away to take their rest in respect and silence. The left their numbered military mowers precisely aligned with the first grave in each row.
To express what I considered to be the essence of this vast burial ground, I chose to photograph just two of those lawn mowers, each silently guarding a row of eleven graves. I, too, was once a soldier, many, many years ago. And if I listened hard enough to my memory, I could almost hear a sergeant barking the military command “at ease”.
Ghost of the Provost, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
On the surface, this looks like a very familiar cliché. It is, after all, just picture of a statue of a long dead authority figure seated before his old domain. However we must evaluate an image based on what it says, not what it shows. And the more we look at this photo, the more it speaks to us. The ghostly grey color of this man of marble, contrasted to the austere brown building that soars behind him, suggests that we are looking a ghost. And that is why I made this picture. Ghosts are spirits from the past. I am sure the 19th century Irish academicians who placed the Provost before this building did not have ghosts on their mind. Yet by my choice of angle, the flat nature of the light, the grey coloration I have chosen to bring to the marble, I have created a story-telling image suggesting that his spirit may still roam the haunted halls of this old school.
Jacques Cartier’s Tomb, St. Vincent’s Cathedral, St. Malo, France, 2004
The understated tomb of this great French explorer, whose exploits gave France claim to Canada, would not have made much of a picture in itself. But the context given to it by the flowers, color, and light – and the way I chose to compose the image -- adds beauty, mystery, and meaning. The light streaming through the great stained glass windows of the church has turned the gray stone floor to a soft pink, changing the austere, grim nature of what is essentially room of the dead, to a chamber of warmth. I composed the image as a series of repeating diagonals – the tomb itself is the last of them. Using my spot meter, I exposed for the brightest part of the picture – the white flowers in the floral arrangement on top of the tomb. As result, the entire picture gets darker, particularly the shadowy background. I wanted the eye to move across the pink slabs to the tomb and then into the darkness beyond, creating a metaphor for both the nature of death as well as Cartier’s challenge in life. The tomb is like a ship, sailing off the edge of the world into the unknown, its flowers symbolizing life, the darkness of death. Cartier, who once successfully explored the unknown, now floats upon an eternal sea.
Cloister, Fonseca College, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 2004
Archbishop Fonseca III founded Fonseca College in Santiago in the 16th century. To offer viewers a good sense of this place, as well as the Archbishop himself, I integrate a section of the cloister with a part of the statue. This image is as much about light and color as it is about things. Once again, a spot meter allows me to expose for the brightest part of the picture – the center part of the cloister itself. Everything else in the image becomes underexposed – the left side of the cloister, the bush and the statue. Because of these dark shadows, the cloister and statue look old, very old. That is how I wanted this image to feel. We are encouraged to study the image, looking at its now subdued detail. We see a small sculpture of a turbaned figure on the cloister, no doubt a reference to the Moors who once ruled here. A Latin inscription streams cross the top of the picture. I carefully adjusted my camera position to allow the elbow of the Archbishop to just touch the column of the Cloister. He becomes a part of it. His body language is exquisite – hunched over, deep in thought, perfect reactions for a man with great responsibilities – and ambitions. By using almost a quarter of the picture for that bush, I was able to also to stress the contrast between yesterday and today – the greenery flourishes amidst the old stones and metal around it.
German Field Gun, St. Peters Port, Guernsey, UK, 2004
Guernsey is an island in the English Channel, not far from the French Coast. St.Peters Port is its capital city. During World War II, Guernsey was the only part of England occupied by the German army. German field guns still stand on display in a plaza atop a St. Peters Port hill. Long silent, they speak of war, occupation, and the ultimate British victory. I used a portion of one of those guns to express the cruel and unforgiving nature of war. I abstract the subject by moving in on it, including only a portion of the gun barrel and the mechanism hanging below it. By exposing with my spot meter on the brightest part of the picture, the background gets much darker – the flavor of war itself. The Leica Digilux 2 camera I used for this shot resolves detail brilliantly, revealing the ravages of weather and time on the gun. There is a silent beauty to this image. It is hard, in fact, to believe we are looking at a killing machine. This gun is an eloquent reminder of the nature of war itself -- deceptive, brutal, and uncompromising. It speaks more profoundly, in fact, than a war memorial or statue, because this gun is real.
The Spire, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
O'Connell Street is at the very heart of The Republic of Ireland's capital. Splitting it right down the middle is The Dublin Spire, the tallest structure in the city. Popularly known as "The Spike," the structure is the world's tallest sculpture. It was completed in 2003, replacing Lord Nelson's Pillar, which was blown up by the IRA. The Spire was a highly controversial project, primarily because of its four million Euro cost, and its lack of a viewing platform. Yet many Dubliners feel that it has the potential to become Ireland's version of the Eiffel Tower. I symbolize this controversy by dramatically slicing the picture into two parts. The barrel distortion of the 24mm wideangle converter lens on my Canon G5 also helps make this point by tilting the buildings towards the spire, almost as if the different sides of the street were arguing with each other
Remembering Jane, Church of King Charles, Falmouth, England, 2004
This gravestone marks the last resting place of a woman named Jane in the small burying ground of Falmouth's Church of King Charles the Martyr. I moved close to the stone to abstract it, and intensify its sense of antiquity. Its rough texture shows us how the passage of time has taken its toll on the stone. I also cropped out much of the stone’s faded message, and tilted the stone in my frame to make it seem even more unstable and vulnerable. I hope this image conveys the point that after hundreds of years the memory of “Jane – the wife of…” still lingers in the consciousness of the town of Falmouth. Do you think it does? Let us know if this picture works, or doesn’t work for you. I’d be delighted to respond.
Big Jim Larkin, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
A spectacular sculpture of Big Jim Larkin, founder of the Irish Labor Party, stirs the clouds from its pedestal in the middle of Dublin's O'Connell Street. Instead of recording the appearance of the statue from the front, as most photographers would do, I saw this statue as a symbol of an appeal to a higher authority. I moved behind the statue, backlighting it, and placed my spot meter on the brightest portion of the cloud. Larkin and the distractions of downtown Dublin – traffic, pedestrians, and the trees that frame the statue, all are abstracted into black shadows. The image becomes a symbol of a symbol. Instead of a describing a statue of an Irish labor leader, I attempt to create a metaphor for man’s futile efforts to control his own destiny. We may beg and plead and shout at the heavens all we want, but in the end it will still rain on our parade.
German Bunker, Pointe du Hoc, France, 2004
60 years ago, in one of the most heroic acts of World War II, a group of several hundred US Rangers scaled 100 foot high cliffs under heavy fire to silence German artillery shelling American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach. From this bunker, German spotters directed that artillery fire. Today’s visitors to the famous D-Day landing beaches of Normandy can tour the heights of Pointe du Hoc and view what remains of that bloody day. In this image, I tried to sum up how we recall that battle. I placed my camera virtually on top of the coils of barbed wire sealing off the back of the bunker. The barbed wire becomes a symbol for war itself, and fills half of my frame. I waited behind that wire for about five minutes, hoping that someone would come by and look inside the front window. A mother and her young daughter arrived and stood in silence off to one side of the window, staring solemnly into the room where soldiers once killed and were killed. I make my point with scale incongruity. These people appear much smaller than the bunker that envelops them. The war that once raged in this spot, and its consequences, still looms large in our collective memory.