Face in the fountain, Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal, 2004
The Rossio Square is to Lisbon what Trafalgar Square is to London. It is the nerve center of the city. The square is home to the Rossio Rail Station, the National Theatre, two huge fountains with multiple sculptures, and a towering column topped by a figure of Dom Pedro IV, the fist emperor of independent Brazil. There are far too many monuments for ten pictures, let alone one. I chose one small statue to sum up the grandeur of the place – an angelic water nymph in one of the squares massive fountains. This image is intimate, rather than all encompassing. Her eyes are lifelike, and gaze intense. Yet this image is also incongruous. Instead of flesh, we see calcium stained metal on her face and chest, at odds with the smooth classical beauty of her features. I position the hands and arm of the sculpture in the lower right hand corner, tilting the camera so that the head flows into the upper left hand corner, creating diagonal tension and energy. My goal is to express the beauty and flamboyance of another time, because that is exactly what Lisbon’s Rossio Square is all about. By choosing part of just one monument to represent all of them, I make use of abstraction to best tell this story.
Collapsed grave, St. Multrose Burial Ground, Kinsale, Ireland, 2004
This small cemetery, standing next to a church that was nearly a thousand years old, seemed haunted. Its ancient headstones bear names of families that still live in Kinsale. To stress the haunted nature of the place, I stood over the leaf-strewn slab of a collapsed tomb in the shadowed foreground, and using a wideangle converter lens on my G5, I add the context of the tilted, half buried tombstones emerging from the rich green grass just beyond. The vertical perspective of a wideangle lens, used in close, pulls the viewer into the subject, and indeed, into the grave itself. Scary stuff.
14th Century Tomb, The Se, Lisbon, Portugal, 2004
The Se is Lisbon's great Cathedral. Built in 1150, it holds many tombs within its solid Romanesque walls. Among them is this striking marble sarcophagus of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, companion in arms to Portugal's King Alfonso IV. Sword in hand and a dog at his feet, Pacheco fought alongside of Alfonso at the Battle of Salado, turning back the final invasion of the Moors in 1340, not far from Gibraltar. To make this more than a literal postcard shot, I moved in with my 24mm wideangle converter, deliberately distorting the image by making the hands on the sword and scabbard larger than the head. Most photographers would have probably backed up and included the entire sarcophagus, giving equal to all parts of it. Yet this man, who has been dead for almost 700 years, was a fighter, and that is why he is still remembered. My interpretation of this tomb rests in who this man was, not what the tomb itself looks like.
(Subsequent comments by Jen Zhou and Marek Warno have convinced me that there is really an element of futility in this scene. As such, black and white offers a stronger form than golden marble to cloak this darker story. And so I have converted this image to black and white. Your comments are welcomed.)
Soldier, Bom Jesus Shrine, Braga, Portugal, 2004
Bom Jesus is a religious shrine on a steep hill overlooking the city of Braga in Northern Portugal. Behind the shrine, a bizarre 17th century staircase winds down the hill – each of its landings featuring a fountain, statue or tableaux interpreting stories and characters from the bible. At the top of the steps is an enormous horseman carrying a spear and an incongruously surreal shield -- the Roman soldier who crucified Christ. I framed this horse and its rider in foliage, which seems to bring it to life. It’s a fairly routine image, until you get to that shield, which screams and keeps screaming. Yet it pretty much remains in context with its times. In the 17th century, religious art was entertainment, education, and sacred ritual. That’s why this strange staircase seems like a 17th century version of Disneyland, and this statue its thematic symbol. No matter where you look within this photograph, the shield, like a kid throwing a tantrum, will keep demanding your attention.
Abbey Church, Mont St. Michel, France, 2004
Crowned by its medieval abbey, Mont St. Michel rises from a small, quasi-island, separated by one kilometer of waves from the mainland at high tide. A village, established in the Middle Ages, grew up below its fortified walls. Its ramparts and location repelled all assaults and the Mount became a symbol of French national identity. Mont St. Michel is now the second most popular tourist draw in France, topped only by Paris. Most visitors prefer photographs showing Mont. St. Michel as it seems to rise from the sea at high tide. That kind of photograph may capture its unique appearance, but it doesn’t tell you what it feels like to actually be there. My photographic goal was to give my viewers a medieval experience by capturing it’s feeling instead of its appearance. This image is my solution. I focused on a splash of dappled sunlight as it skimmed over the thousand year old stones in the interior of the Abbey’s Church. This interior is vast, dark, cold, and spartan -- very much as it must have looked and felt during the middle ages. I focused my spot meter on the brightest part of the light as it played across those stones, and the room went virtually black, with only the play of the brightest sunlight on a few of the church’s stones still visible to the camera. I know that I am taking a chance with this picture. Many people would probably prefer to actually see what the inside of that church actually looks like. But description is not my purpose. Expression is. I chose to interpret the church as an experience honed down to a highly abstracted glow of light representing a thousand years of spirituality. Some have told me that if they squint their eyes, they can even see the shape of a cross within this glowing area. That was not intentional. If people want to see such symbols, they can, and they will. I had simply hoped to characterize the essence the Mont. St. Michel experience by showing less and saying more. I hope this picture, as well as entire gallery, has helped you appreciate how to express more meaning through your own travel images of monuments, statues, tombs, and historical sites. If I’ve been able to help you do this with the examples in this gallery, I’d welcome your posted comments and questions. And if I haven’t, be sure to post a critique, with any suggestions you may be able to offer for improvement. Either way, I’d enjoy hearing from you. I’d be delighted to respond.
Shimmering Steel, Scottsdale, Arizona, 2003
Gary Slater’s 1975 work, “Right Angle Variations” is a series of stainless steel bars displayed as an array of right angles. Slater sands and burnishes the surface of each bar, creating art within art – an endless swirl of circles and slashes. I move my camera close to the sculpture, framing only the ends of three of the bars, thereby taking them out of the context of the rest of the sculpture. I use a vantage point emphasizing the reflections on these swirls. The spot meter in my camera exposes for only the reflections themselves, honing the image down by turning the trees in the shaded background absolutely black. I compose this shot by tilting the camera to create only three diagonal lines, abstracting the rhythmic thrust of Slater’s already abstract sculpture into just three bars of shimmering steel.