Star spangled stock exchange, New York City, New York, 2010
The façade of the New York Stock Exchange is actually a vast display of symbols and metaphors. I move in to fill the lower half of the image with the huge flag and allow the name of the exchange, its classical Greek architecture, and the sculpted figures laboring on the pediment that surmounts the vast portico of columns to fill the upper half of the frame. A stock exchange is a non-governmental organization, yet here it literally wraps itself in the flag to display its patriotism. The Greek columns and pediment symbolize timeless virtues, designed to inspire trust, no doubt, in financial instruments. Finally, the five figures at work suggest the timeless value of labor itself. Working together, these symbols suggest that investing in businesses as a patriotic act, an act that draws on historic traditions for its reliability and value. In light of the recent financial disasters on Wall Street, however, the warning “Caveat Emptor” should be added to the mix here.
The Talisman, Red Rock Crossing State Park, Sedona, Arizona, 2009
Someone had left a ring of stones forming a heart on a huge red rock boulder lodged alongside of Oak Creek. I saw it as a talisman, a metaphorical symbol of love, harmony, and good luck very much in keeping with Sedona’s identity as a spiritual retreat. I saw the red rock, splashed in dappled light, as representing the body of Sedona itself, and placed its rocky heart in the upper right hand corner, within the brightest spot in the image.
Fallen leader, Mogosoaia, outside Bucharest, Romania, 2009’
Just outside the walls of historic Mogosoaia Palace, two huge statues lie discarded in a muddy field. One of them depicts Lenin, who is resting face down. The other one once honored Romania’s first Communist prime minister, Petru Groza, who rests face up, hat in hand, arm outstretched. His statue was dumped here twenty years and has been gathering bird droppings ever since. I photograph only Groza’s statue here, cropping in on the middle section of the statue, and abstracting it into a symbol of political failure. We primarily see the two hands, one still clutching the stained and dated hat, the other gesturing futility against a crumbling brick wall. It becomes a symbol that goes beyond Romanian political history – it shows us how history remembers all failed political systems.
Archangel, Kiev, Ukraine, 2009
The gilded leaves held by an allegorical bronze figure of Archangel Michael symbolizing Ukraine’s independence reflect the rising sun over Kiev’s Independence Square. The figure stands atop a huge column, requiring me to use a long 400mm focal length to express such detail. Both the statue and the photograph function as symbolic personifications of independence – the upraise arms suggest triumph, while the gilded leaves proclaim peace. It was erected in 2000, celebrating ten years of independence.
The Lonely Leaf, English Bay, Vancouver, Canada, 2009
My good friend Tim May’s passion for symbolic “lonely leaf” imagery has rubbed off on me. Whenever I see a dead leaf curled up off by itself, I think of Tim. While walking the shoreline of Vancouver’s English Bay, I saw this autumnal leaf decaying on a boulder, its shriveled form emerging from a stream of lush green lichen, and my thoughts immediately went to images I call “Timesque.” Tim, by his very nature, is ever the optimist. He usually manages to at least offer a hint of renewal as his lonely leaves wither before our eyes. (For example, see the green winking at the crumpled leaf in this image of Tim’s: ( http://www.pbase.com/mityam/image/98032185)
And that’s what I mean by his artistry “rubbing off on me.” A few years ago, I would see a dead leaf as simply dead. But now I eagerly look for symbols suggesting a new life to come. While the leaf in this image may have come to the end of its road, in this instance, at least, the brilliant green lichen encourages all of us to think about the road to tomorrow. Thanks, Tim, for helping us appreciate such symbolic treasures as this.
Sans head, Vancouver, Canada, 2009
This image is rich in symbolism. The headless mannequin itself is a symbol, an abstracted human, elegantly clothed. Potential buyers are asked to imagine our own heads to complete such an image as this. And that’s probably why they make mannequins without heads. I photographed this one through a fading tree. It could be a real tree, or one that is part of the window design. In any event, it creates a layer of symbolism, reminding us that the season is now changing, and that is when people are supposed to go out and buy new clothing.
Shipboard dreams, off Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2009
I found this man sleeping on a table in the lounge of a deep-sea fishing boat. He had spent the day fishing and was heading back to Gloucester. The circular table echoes the arm and hand that circle round his head. His fingers rest lightly on the table, casting their shadows within a window reflection. The table supports his weight, becoming a makeshift bed, its circular shape going round and round like the dreams that might be flowing through his slumbering mind.
Mr. and Mrs. Brown, Ipswich, Massachusetts, 2009
By a quirk of fate, the settling ground has gradually caused these gravestones to lean towards each other in a gesture of companionship. They mark the graves of a married couple, Abner and Sarah Brown. They died less than a year apart in 1818 and nearly 200 years later, their tombstones are tilting towards each other as if reaching for an embrace. I converted the image to black and white to complement the background, which speaks of eternity.
The Mourners, Union Cemetery, Crescent City, California, 2009
The grave of C.J. Keeling lies off by itself in this small cemetery. Although he has been dead for 75 years, he is still mourned. Somebody has decorated the grave, perhaps to remind us that he was born 100 years ago. Using a 24mm wideangle lens, I came in close enough to show detail on the metal plate bearing his name, yet the wide focal length still enabled me to stretch the frame enough to include the three silent tree trunks that stand behind the grave – the symbolic mourners.
Half-Dream, Port Angeles-Victoria Ferry, 2009
This ferry journey between the US and Canada is long enough for one to catch some sleep, as this woman is doing. How she well she sleeps here in questionable. She sits upright, resting on her hands. She is surrounded by active kids. If she dreams, they must be shallow, short and fitful, perhaps truncated. This image defines such dreams as half-dreams. I manage to chop in half each of the four people who surround her here. The pillars divide two of them, and my frame divides the two others. We can’t see what is going on in her subconscious mind. But we do get the feeling that whatever she may be dreaming at the moment is only half-formed.
Wrapped in the flag, Jacksonville, Oregon, 2009
Using my longest focal length (400mm) to compress the space between the flag and the man standing just behind it, makes it appear as if the man has wrapped himself in the flag, symbolic of extremely patriotic behavior. Actually, there are several feet between the flag and the man, but the long telephoto lens does not allow us to see that such space exists. It is an appropriate motif for Jacksonville, a 19th century town which calls itself “one of the most historically significant communities in the western United States.”
Opposing symbols, Downtown Civic Space Park, Phoenix, Arizona, 2009
A swirl of hoops and funnels, symbolizing Arizona’s monsoon clouds, forms a vortex-like cone that moves with the wind. The $2.5 million sculpture, created by Janet Echelman, dominates a new park in downtown Phoenix. On a previous visit, I had used a long telephoto lens to pick up the glow on the strands of netting that make up the work. ( See http://www.pbase.com/image/111968245
) On this occasion, I used a superwideangle lens, and shot directly into the sun. The sun becomes a star, backlighting the form of the sculpture. By exposing for the sun, I darken the rest of the image so that day appears to become night. A swirl of pale clouds mimics its shape in the dark blue sky. My 14mm wideangle lens creates rays that resemble stylized starlight, as well as encompassing the entire sculpture and several downtown buildings in the background. The eerie scene speaks of a ghostly vision, a giant net or trap hanging above us like a bad dream. Yet the star-like sun presents a hopeful, optimistic symbol to play against the effect of the net about to descend upon us. It is the tension created by these opposing symbols that gives the image both its energy and its meaning.