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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Eight: Light and shadow shape meaning > The Chapels of St. Vincent, St. Malo, France, 2004
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The Chapels of St. Vincent, St. Malo, France, 2004

Mystery can often be expressed by the interplay of light and shadow. And such mystery can work symbolically as well, as in this image. I was initially drawn to this scene by the beauty of the light itself. It was flowing into this cathedral through its stained glass windows, producing a subtle rainbow-like pattern, and striking the steps that led to each of the chapels that line the side of its nave. Then I realized that it was much more than just the beauty of the light itself that was drawing my eye. It was the interplay of that light with the deep shadows, creating a pattern that mysteriously lingers at the entrance of each chapel. Light and shadow also define a series of black rectangles on the floor - each of them a gravestone. My spot meter was an essential tool here - by exposing precisely on the bright light, I was able to intensify the depth of the shadows, instead of washing them out, as I would have done if I had used standard evaluative metering.

Ultimately, the meaning of this image must be resolved by each of my viewers. As for the meaning I intend here, I hope I've been able to imply that there is beauty and meaning in death, as well as in life.

Canon PowerShot G5
1/50s f/3.5 at 11.2mm full exif

other sizes: small medium large original auto
Phil Douglis27-May-2006 04:25
Thanks, Jack. The operative word here is "minimal." Light and shadow can be great simplifiers. This is a very abstract image, asking the viewer to think, feel, and wonder. Glad you appreciate its subtlety.
Guest 27-May-2006 03:06
I really like this one!! The subtle colors from the stained glass on the marble floors, etc. add a lot of information in a minimal, poetic way.
Phil Douglis01-Jun-2005 01:44
Your interpretation is richly layered in mystery, Derek. What greets us on the "other" side, of course, is our own imagination.
Guest 31-May-2005 16:56
A beautiful image conveying lots of mystery and imagination. There are many ways you could interpret this, besides the ones that have already been commented on. I want to follow the light up the steps, to see what greets me on the other side.
Phil Douglis01-Nov-2004 17:26
I am glad this image is both mysterious and relaxing to you. It says many things to many people, and for some, it can even be a bit disturbing (read Maureen's comment below.) My job is to give you food for thought. And that's what this image does.
Jim Chiesa01-Nov-2004 10:17
A beautiful image. Full of mystery, optical suggestions, and peace. Very relaxing !
Phil Douglis31-Oct-2004 18:57
Thanks, Maureen. Where we are, who we are, and what we are, determine what we see in photographs that leaves themselves, as this one does, open to interpretation. As we change, the image changes for us. It is a mysterious process, without beginnings, middles, or ends. It is good that we don't view images in concrete terms. Much better that we see them as Minor did -- as mirrors and manifestations of ourselves.
Guest 31-Oct-2004 13:42
I agree with you and Minor White and would add that the thing I love most about the arts, meaning paintings, photographs and music, is that you can come back to it days, months or even years later and have a completely different interpretation of it, based on where you are THEN.
Phil Douglis31-Oct-2004 05:37
You have moved this image to a new level of meaning for me as well, Maureen. Years ago, I took a workshop with the late Minor White, one of photography's great visionaries. Minor told us that photographs intended to be interpreted as works of art often mirror the beliefs and feelings and souls of those who look at them. If we can apply that lesson to you, you are unabashedly bringing who you and where you are spiritually are into this image. Minor also told us that photographs themselves are not the end product of an artistic endeavor. It is what happens inside of the mind of the viewer that is the end product. What this picture does in your mind, Maureen, is more important than anything I consciously put into this image. You determine the validity of my efforts based on your own "mirroring" of its contents. I am a secular person. I share no religious belief, but I can see the great beauty and mysteries expressed in religious structures, and I gather my symbolic impressions of them into meaningful images. In this case, I was simply implying the beauty and meaning found in death, as well as life. You have taken it a step further, made its symbols of hope and mystery and darkness into a personal experience that defines both the positives and negatives of your own beliefs. I am honored that you gave so much of yourself to this image, Maureen, and I thank you for letting me know how much you have been moved by it. If my images can stimulate thought of a significant nature, they go beyond my expectations. And this one has done just that.
Guest 31-Oct-2004 04:46
Maybe it's the place I happen to be in my life, or maybe because it's hard being Catholic right now, but this photo depicts the darkness and the light - the good and the bad - of religion. There's a sense of hope in the light, and it's a little unsettling trying to see in the darkened parts of the image. It also brings to mind the mystery in religion. Very powerful stuff here.
Phil Douglis27-Sep-2004 23:02
Thanks, Lara, for calling attention to the way the light moves through this image. I did use the words "flowing" and "lingers" in my explanation, which acknowledges this fact. However, your comment made me take a new look at this image to discover exactly what makes this interplay of light and shadow seem to be in motion. It's an illusion, Lara, based on something called "diminishing perspective." I chose here to shoot a series of repeating shapes -- namely steps and entryways. The steps closest to us reflect more light into the camera than the steps further back do. The light is also more intense at near distance, than it is at far distance. The shapes of the steps themselves rearrange light and shadow as well, making it move left to right as well as from front to back. This shifting "diminishing perspective" causes the interplay of light and shadow to gradually recede, and as it recedes into the distance, it carries our eyes with it. And so it seems to move.
Lara S27-Sep-2004 22:19
I love this photo. YOu make it seem like the lights are literally flowing on the photograph. You've created movement in the shadows and light.
Phil Douglis22-Sep-2004 17:23
Marek, your words always bring new meaning to my images. You do it again here -- the magic of light, the nature of spirits, our "residual memories of other worlds" -- all indeed play a part in this visual exploration of space and time.
Guest 22-Sep-2004 12:47
Inventors of stained glass really had the right idea; its projections are spirits, never more than in this image. The light defines perspective, and ultimately form. Aldous Huxley theorised that our attraction to colourful, shiny things must be residual to memories of other worlds...
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