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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Twenty Six : Using reflections to transform reality > Reflection in water (3): Transformation, Ghent, Belgium, 2005
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Reflection in water (3): Transformation, Ghent, Belgium, 2005

Shooting from Ghent’s Graslei promenade at dusk, I merged an explosion of golden ripples into a shimmering reflection of one of Ghent’s historic buildings. The energetic effect seems to transform present into past and past into present. The picture is based on a combination of the golden light of the setting sun on the building, sudden movement in the water of the River Leie, and a deep blue dusky sky.

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Phil Douglis01-Jul-2007 19:30
Thanks, Ceci, for explaining my unconscious desires here. I don't think this is a religious structure, but it certainly can be read as one. As you know, I am uncomfortable with dogmatic, autocratic, or despotic authority, and always fragmenting and dissolving such symbols if I can. The reflection gives me a chance to do this here, and turn, in your words, any implied "religious control" into a more spiritual, natural populist force.
Guest 01-Jul-2007 04:43
This suggests to me a disintegration of what appears to be a church, as though it was flaking into tiny bits and blowing away in the wind. I love the way the water has produced this effect, as though whatever dogmatic stuff that was going on in the church was giving way to more of a spiritual approach or self-realization process, as though it was losing its power over people because people want to be more directly connected to God, and not have to go through "interpreters". Which feels to me to be a "natural" turn of events, and a natural change from the idea of monarchy and religious control.
Phil Douglis17-Apr-2006 07:04
Thanks for appreciating what my photography is all about, Jeremy, and what I am trying to do with it here in my cyberbook. If an image can stimulate such conversations as these, it must be doing something right!
Jeremy02-Apr-2006 11:56
For a moment, I thought this was another shot of the Golden Palace in Thailand that you took from the vibrating platform of the barge, except it is in reflection. However, I realise from your description that it was another photo taken at a different place & time and under different circumstances. But I think it achieves the same effect. And I am sure you had waited patiently for the ripples to form in the water of the River Leie before creating the shot to express the effect you want as shown in the photo. I note with interest that previous posters have asked/commented about the possible interpretations of this image, and your replies. The interpretations/expressions discussed are somewhat deep, to my mind. The image attracts attention and is aesthetically pleasing by the way you have photographed it, and for me, that is sufficient interpretation even if this is as shallow as the reflection on the surface of the water, and as vague as the bluriness of the reflection caused by the ripples of the water. Cheers.
Phil Douglis11-Aug-2005 17:06
Thank you, Lisa, for this thought provoking observation. I think expressive photography often involves bringing a question mark to perception. As I mentioned to Celia just below, reflections, for example, can provoke thought, ask questions, and demand answers. As you can see, she was grasping for meaning, and wished there was more context here for her to read more meaning into it. But context is not always needed for the imagination to catch fire. As you put it, simply making us question our own perceptions can be enough to illuminate the imagination. And yes, I am, in effect, painting with light here -- it matters not what this building may actually be. Simply the transformation of its shape, form, texture, and color is enough to start the mind on its way to wondering about yesterday vs. today, or man vs. nature.
Guest 11-Aug-2005 13:42
Wonderful! Brings a big question mark to perception. Something v. solid and man made disappearing into water....colors just vaporise. Makes you wonder what you're looking at form seen through water or water in one of its forms. Photography "painting with light"....this kind of image embodies that definition.
Phil Douglis09-Aug-2005 20:08
Thanks, Celia, for your questions. I think I have answered those regarding my intentions in my comment to Alister below. This image is all about change, the transformation of past into present and present into past. Not in a literal sense, but in a symbolic sense. Change can be explosive, gradual, progressive, or convulsive. There are elements of all in this image.

The last thing I wanted to do here was to make a pleasing image. Change is not pleasing. It involves destruction as much as construction. The negativity you sense is certainly there. If you are looking for specifics, you will not find them. That was not my intention. There is nothing special about this particular building -- it is symbolic of another time. I am not making social or political commentary here -- I am simply expressing the nature of transformation and change.

You are right, Celia. Reflections can provoke thought, ask questions, and demand answers. That is, for me anyway, the very basis of expression. I intended to trigger the imagination of my viewers. I hope I have done that with this image.
Cecilia Lim09-Aug-2005 19:42
Phil, I was drawn to this photograph by the shock value of the image. We often expect the reflections used normally in photography to be calm and pleasing to the eye, but this reflection has gone against the norm. This beautiful building seems to have exploded and shattered - and is disintergrating before our very eyes. There seems to be a negative connotation here but I am not sure what it really means here. You mention, transformation and disturbance, but I wish you had offered more context to help us read more meaning into it. Is there something historically important in the building which is affected by something in the present? Is this an expression about the loss of something? If this building with what looks like steeples is meant to be a church, then perhaps I can interpret this image as an expression about the shattering of structure & faith in today's modern chaotic society. But there's not much here to go by. I think I need some help to grasp this one better. But one thing I've learnt here is that we should never understimate the power of reflections to create mood and meaning. And as we can see here, reflections can be used as an effective means to provoke thought whatever form they take. This image has left me with a lot of questions. Is this your intention because you've often said that one of the things expressive imagery does is ask questions of the viewers.
Phil Douglis07-Jul-2005 18:21
Glad you feel stronger about this image the second time around, Alister. If we bring open minds to viewing images, without any preconceptions of what they "should" look like, and instead look at them for what they actually are, we will see the metaphorical content in them more readily, and also allow them to stimulate us, as you say, on a more subliminal level.
alibenn07-Jul-2005 12:12
Coming back to this one again and I feel stronger about it than before. The abstraction and the evolution metaphor are rich and growing on me. The comment about influences was very much assuming it was working on a subliminal level.
Phil Douglis02-Jul-2005 18:27
I was drawn to the evolving contrast in reflections here, Alister. Instead of a single focal point, this image is a continuum of change -- the building does not exist at the bottom of the image but gradually defines itself as the surface movement of the water slows to a shimmer. It offers us a choice of meaning. If we read the image from top to bottom, it reads from past to present. If we read it from bottom to top, we flow from the current disturbance to a contemplation of the past. I agree with you that my eye is instinctively influenced by movements in European art -- both impressionistic and surreal effects are at work here. I don't consciously try to be either an impressionist or surrealist, Alister. But I do know that the influence of both of these movements is part of my intuitive response. For example, I did not go out looking for this image. It found me. I responded to what I saw, and my response was certainly influenced by my respect for and interest in both of those European art movements.
alibenn02-Jul-2005 08:42
I find this appealing and disturbing at the same time. I'm not sure compositionally where you're going with this one, as there is no clear focal point to my eye. I don't know whether this is the European influence on you here, but many of your newer images mirror the creativity of the great impressionists, or in this case Dali.
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