photo sharing and upload picture albums photo forums search pictures popular photos photography help login
Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery One: Travel Abstractions -- Unlimited Thought > St. Anthony’s, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2005
previous | next

St. Anthony’s, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2005

A woman pauses at the top of the steps before entering St. Anthony’s church for morning services in one of San Miguel's outlying neighborhoods. We don’t see her face – there is just dark shadow where her face may be. In fact, we don’t see much of her form, either – the highlights graze off her shoulder and back, while her entire front is shielded in darkness. Because so much is abstracted in this image, we are left with much to imagine. We see that she carries a cane and a wears a shawl to keep off the morning chill. She moves slowly, almost at a crawl. I photographed her from the bottom of the steps, so that the ground seems to be enveloping her feet, making her appear to walk even more slowly than she actually is. The rest of the story must come from within, not from without.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30
1/800s f/8.0 at 53.0mm iso80 full exif

other sizes: small medium large original auto
Phil Douglis06-May-2018 17:53
You create an entirely new context for this image, Merri, by referring to this woman as an abuela, which is Spanish for grandmother. We can see her in a new light - more than just an old woman who walks with difficulty. Your affectionate term makes her become a loved one, as well.
Merri 05-May-2018 21:03
This Abuela is weary, yet dutiful. Her body is visibly tired and worn, but she still finds the will to go to worship services because that is what God expects her to do. She reminds me of my boyfriend's elderly mother (who he also calls 'Gramma'). She could be anyone's abuela walking slowly in the morning light and shadows.
Phil Douglis24-Aug-2007 23:26
Good questions, Cyndy. This is just one of many images I made of her. And yes, I saw her coming towards me, very slowly. When I seen a situation developing that has possibilities such as this one, As you guessed, I uses my spot-metering mode to expose on the brightest spot in the picture, in this case the sunsplashed wall. The image became darker, and I waited until the woman dominated the frame and then used my multiple image mode to fire off shots as long as my finger held the shutter button down. So I had many to choose from, and this was the one that worked the best. For me photography is more than a shot. It is a process. Thanks, Cyndy, for appreciating the expressive aspects of this image.
Guest 24-Aug-2007 21:44
This is an amazing image--on so many levels. My question would be in the execution of the photograph. Did you anticipate her walking into your frame? A second sooner or later would not have produced the same results. The exposure is superb. Did you meter that quickly or was your camera set for the highlights on the back wall, thus putting the silhouette in shadow? Profound and moving piece of art.
Phil Douglis02-Jul-2007 20:10
Thanks, Daniel, for your interpretation of this image. The degree of abstraction here has obviously stimulated your imagination to fill in the blanks here, creating your own story. I think your "shedding her own skin" metaphor is wonderful. It certainly adds a new dimension of meaning to this image.
Guest 02-Jul-2007 19:22
Phil, this image is haunting. The contrast between the darkness and the light is very symbolic, as if this woman, after 80 years of living her life, has finally found solace in religion. She is stepping from the darkness into the light and in the process is shedding her old skin, and assuming a new body and life in Christ.
Phil Douglis13-Sep-2006 18:50
I am delighted by the variety of responses to this image, Jenene, your own included. As I said to Sam, this image can be seen as a metaphor for strength based on faith, just as others see it as referring to the mysteries of death and a timeless past.
JSWaters13-Sep-2006 18:29
Sam beat me to the punch, Phil. I love the variety of interpretations this image has produced, but like Sam, I see strength and resilience in this woman. I can't tell by the image that she is entering a church, but I would guess by her very bearing that she found her God long ago and has relied on Him many times over to endure some of life's hardships. Her perseverance in climbing those steps is only an echo of the way she has steadfastly faced the challenges in her daily life. The morning light reaches out for her, caresses her unseen face, and warms her devoted soul.
Phil Douglis17-Aug-2006 02:46
Hi, Sam, and welcome to pbase. Glad you found me via the PSA website, where I've set up a contact page in the hopes that members such as yourself will come here to pbase and share in my ideas about expressive photography. I enjoyed your comment on this image, Sam. Your interpretation is fresh and makes a great deal of sense to me. While others see this woman as mysterious, aged, ghostly and even sinister, you see her as a metaphor for strength. You tell us why as well: it is strength based on her faith.
Sam Bliss17-Aug-2006 01:39
Phil, I am new to PBase and found your photos through the PSA web site (new member there as well). I find that your images seem to capture a moment in time and its essence. This photograph is a perfect example. To me, the image speaks of strength. The women and ‘her’ church have grown old together. They are worn with age, but both are still standing. She looks down to see (as best she can) where she is going and appears quite determined to get there. She got this far didn’t she? The Church will be there long after she is no more. This is suggested by the weight and strength of the masonry and stonework. It is interesting to note that the Church takes up more than half of the image - adding to the sense of strength.
Sam Bliss
Phil Douglis07-Jul-2006 20:50
Thanks, Annie, for continuing the dialogue here. Others have suggested the presence of death in this image -- it is, as you say, the interplay between the gray and black hood and the red skirt, that creates the incongruity that drives this image. Jen sensed this contradiction, yet sees hope. So does Rod. You, Anna, and King see this as a study of mortality -- with death as the major player here. As I said in my caption, the story comes from within, not from without. I leave it to the imagination of each of my viewers to reconcile the factors that I have put into play here.
Annie J07-Jul-2006 18:43
To me, this image seems to convey that death is coming for her and slowly taking her over. The darkness in the hood and the cane remind me of images of the Grim Reaper, yet the vibrant color at the bottom of the skirt says that a part of her is still alive and vibrant. But it is only a matter of time before that shawl grows longer enshrouding her fully in death.
Phil Douglis07-Mar-2006 03:40
You allow your imagination to go to work on this, Rodney, and it serves you well. I felt many of the same things as I made this image. The mystery inherent in the faceless image, her infirmity, age, and timeless costume. She walked very slowly. Each step was an effort. Yet bit by bit, she climbed those steps and entered the church. As for her motives and doubts, only she could answer those questions. But you raise some interesting points. I am glad the image has triggered your imagination to this degree.
Guest 07-Mar-2006 02:58
For me, this photo is quite amazing. Her abstracted form presents a mystery to me. Her bent shape highlighted by the light, adds to her age, for me, along with her shadowed cane. Light abstracts her in this way so very well! As she pauses, I get a sense of apprehension from her, as well as how she is dressed. I will explain:

I get a feel she wants to find God, thus she goes to church, but somehow she feels unworthy, thus hides herself from the light. (She's fully hooded, yet not to avoid rain--it's sunny). She pauses before going into the church. She is old and has a cane. My thought would be she would want to go in and sit down as soon as possible, yet she hesitates. It's as if she pauses and wonders is she worthy.

It's one of my favorites in this gallery.
Phil Douglis26-Feb-2006 03:32
You are right, Ana. In the Western cultures, death has been historically presented as a bent, hooded figure with a skull for a face. You can't see her face, but because of the hood, we can imagine it as skeletal.
Anna Yu25-Feb-2006 23:52
Like a walking skeleton, symbol of death. Must be the way she wears the shawl.
Phil Douglis02-Feb-2006 22:00
I love your phrase "belongs to the darkness" King. As for thinking as I made this image, I don't recall thinking any deep thoughts. Some photographers think a lot before making their images. Particularly those who pre-visualize their images and control very aspect of the process. I generally post-visualize my pictures. I don't know what I want to say until I see it before me. I don't stop to think about it, either. The picture may be lost forever. I act spontaneously and instinctively. I will have time to think about meanings when I edit my pictures later. And as you say, I leave much of the meaning up to my viewers. I want them to make their own image of it in their own minds. My pictures are a catalyst to thought, King. That is why I make them. I am glad to see this image stimulating your thoughts.
King 02-Feb-2006 08:23
Hi Phil, I am a new visitor of your gallery. So glad I can find such a place on the net that I can improve my photography skills and share my feelings with you and all the viewers. (sorry my English is not that good, I am from China and English is not my first language.)
This picture makes me feel depressive, like she turns her back against the light and put all her body into the shawl, she just can't face the light. she belongs to the darkness. Phil, may I ask a question: when you took this picture, what you were thinking, or you just didn't think much cauze you want to leave it to the viewers and yourself tocomplete the image afterwords.
Phil Douglis24-Jan-2006 02:33
Thanks, Antonio, for coming to my cyberbook. I welcome your comments and ideas and hope that you will find it fuels your passion for photography with all kinds of good ideas.
Antonio Trincone 23-Jan-2006 11:10
Hi Phil, I am a new visitor of your gallery and cyber book on expressive photography. I am really impressed by the first overall reading and quick look at your truly beautiful photos. I decided to bookmark this site for a thorough reading and an intensive look at each concept in your shots; this will surely engage me for a period of time being english not my mother language (I am an italian chemist researcher with photography as a passion); just if you are interested I may show my poor examples here and here
Not sure but I will also make the effort to comment on your image in the hope to have the interactive learning you talk about in the introduction of this remarkable piece of work.

In this photo I am impressed first by the red color attracting my eyes most and the well coupling of it with the remaining soft, pastel light brown colors
Phil Douglis04-Dec-2005 23:25
I like the "baggage of history" metaphor. She is faceless and her costume is timeless and she could just as well be a monument to another time and place.
Guest 04-Dec-2005 11:03
Your image really stops time here. She looks like a statue to me, stuck there, with heavy load of baggage of history; that drags her to move forward…
Phil Douglis23-Nov-2005 19:44
Good to have you back in my galleries, Jen. I've missed your thoughtful, substantive observations. This one, as usual, is excellent. Light and dark are opposite sides of the same coin. For you, this coin is her world, with a dark side and light side. By abstracting her face, she is caught between them. The red is very important, a touch of hope, and a link, as you say, to her sense of spiritual energy. While she may be frail and slow, her faith is not.
Jennifer Zhou23-Nov-2005 08:18
I feel in this picture, world has been divided to a warm, bright part and a cold, dark part. And this faceless person was caught in between. The new day's sun shines on her but she still can't let it go of the past. But I see a trace of hope from the color of her skirt---the bright red..Maybe that's why she goes to the church...
Phil Douglis22-Nov-2005 17:17
Thanks, Rudi, for letting your imagination finish this image for you. That's the realm we aim for. Always.
Guest 22-Nov-2005 16:54
strange - normally the eye goes to the brightest part of the picture at first. Mine was attracted by the faceless head, one of the darkest parts of the picture. Moving out of the cold black night into the gentle and warming light of morn', i expect this woman's bent back to straighten up in the warmth - which is an illusion itself. Just as the faceless hood, which provokes so many mysterious thoughts.
Phil Douglis15-Nov-2005 17:30
Thanks, Mo -- the mysterious is always a prod to the imagination, and that is where expressive photographs do most of their work.
monique jansen15-Nov-2005 14:58
This is one of your pictures where you make the most of light and shadow to add a layer of mystery to the image, she looks like she comes out of the past, out of a non existing sphere and has just entered the world for a short time
Phil Douglis12-Nov-2005 19:44
Thanks, Kal, for your response to this image. I deliberately avoid talking about the meaning of this picture in my caption, so as not to influence responses such as your own. I can see why you would call it sinister and shocking. You only see the image. And it is just that. Yet this woman, who also appears in the photo at , is merely an elderly person going to church. She is a timeless figure, and by abstracting her in this way, I make her more so. Looking at these two photos together is like looking at the beginning and the end of a story. I photographed her entering the church at 7:38 in the morning, and then resumed my wanderings through the streets of the neighborhood. Exactly one hour later, I walked past the church on my way back to my hotel, and there she was again ! She had just come out of the church, after an hour of prayer, and was ever so slowly making her way towards me. It was almost as if fate had aligned our respective schedules!
Kal Khogali12-Nov-2005 13:00
To date the most sinister and shocking of all your images here Phil. It grabs the eye, and is, in my opnion, all the more powerful without the context. It becomes real, and because of it's nature it then becomes surreal. It's the kind of image where somone needs to experience it, then have it explained. I rarely read your context first. I react, then of my favourite images of yours.
Phil Douglis12-Nov-2005 02:08
Thanks, Mikel, for making these points. As a photojournalist, you can appreciate from experience how precious those first few hours of light are in terms of creating mood and meaning. I also find it interesting that you made the connection of the Day of the Dead to this image. I did not intend it to represent that holiday in any way, yet because you knew I was in Mexico to shoot the Day of the Dead festivities, you were able to see something in this image that others will not -- the spirit returning home. Ah, the importance of conext!!!!
Guest 12-Nov-2005 01:51
I think Phil that one important subject is the light quality existing at first hour of the morning, a low yellowish and contrasted light in this case all of it together gives it a ghostly feeleng, also the old stones of the church still give more dramatism to the old and worn old women. As you told me that it was a series of photos from the Day of the Dead in mexico, this looks like an old ghost of someone retouring to her old home. And as you said, stressing the perspective from the ground angle helps it even better since on one you dramatize it you also add a slightly larger figure impression doing that. It is a good picture indeed. ;)
Type your message and click Add Comment
It is best to login or register first but you may post as a guest.
Enter an optional name and contact email address. Name
Name Email
help private comment