Water puppets, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2007
Water puppetry is one of the most authentic expressions of Vietnamese culture. Hiding backstage, puppeteers standing waist deep in water maneuver large wooden figures carved from fig trees. Backed by live music and song, the puppets tell stories of ancient warrior heroes, corrupt landlords, and cruel rulers. I was more interested in the uniqueness of the context around these puppets than the appearance of the puppets themselves. As I shot my images of them, I watched the patterns reflected in the water as closely as I watched the puppets. And when these reflected patterns significantly extended themselves, as they do here, I made my images. More than half of this picture is a swirl of magical colors – it is if a palette of paint has been placed just below the surface of the water. It is that shimmer of color that brings life to this image and takes it beyond literal description.
Golden puddle, Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona, 2007
Just before sunset, the puddles on the canyon floor turn gold, because of the intense light on the surrounding cliffs. Instead of photographing those cliffs, I shot their reflections. They may show us less of the canyon itself, yet they somehow say more. When I look at this image, I feel as I am flying high above a flooded landscape at sunset – yet we are actually looking at only a few feet of mud and water. One of the goals of an expressive image is to stimulate the imagination of the viewer, and I believe that this kind of photograph can do that very well.
Tracks, Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona, 2007
The key to this image is the abrupt incongruous disappearance of the tire tracks within the reflection. It is as if the towering red cliffs lining the sides of this great canyon have somehow swallowed the vehicle whole. I should have called this image “Journey’s End.”
Moorish vision, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2007
We found this reflection in a puddle just outside the city’s old train station. In this case, I kept the surrounding dirt in the image as context. The station becomes a metaphor for a vanished era.
Huangpo River, Shanghai, China, 2007
By photographing the lights of Shanghai as reflections in its river, I am able to symbolize the city, rather than describe it. An advertising sign on top of the buildings creates a set of bookends of blue to enclose the shimmering windows in between them.
Fusion, Shanghai, China, 2007
A glass enclosed advertisement for Shanghai’s Van Gogh exhibition makes an ideal reflective surface for an abstracted image of a man coming down the steps of the underpass below the city’s famed Bund. I am able to merge the reflected steps and its railing, Van Gogh’s self portrait, and the Chinese text in the advertisement into the man’s figure, suggesting that art and commerce are fused.
Wealth, Nanjing, China, 2007
Rather than describe the appearance of Nanjing’s central business district, I symbolize its energy and beauty by photographing the reflective surface of one of its buildings very late in the day. The enormous letters draw the eye and affect the emotions. To me, the golden letters suggest wealth. To those who read Chinese, they may well suggest something else. Surrounding structures swirl in the façade behind them, broken only by one window that is open and reflects the blue-sky overhead.
Impressions, Pingyao, China, 2007
Just before leaving Pingyao, I walked outside of our hotel and noticed my friend and travel companion, pbase photographer Tim May, diligently editing his pictures on his laptop at a desk by the lobby window. I took a number of images of Tim at work, integrating him with the hotel background and the street reflections behind me. In this image, I was able to place the reflection of a cyclist carrying an adult and child between Tim and the left hand edge of the picture, just as they floated into the decorative swirls on the window. The rest of the street is empty, allowing Tim and his gear space to work. I even included my own hand holding a small camera at the right edge, adding another layer of reflected context. In the background, the hotel’s front desk and a crowd of people waiting to check out merge into the reflection of a store just across the street. It is a fantasy image about photographers and their dreamy impressions of China.
Rain, Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China, 2007
A rainy day makes photography difficult at best, but it brings unique opportunity as well. Wet pavement can reflect and abstract surrounding subjects, as in this image of one of China’s most famous buildings, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests – the centerpiece of the Temple of Heaven complex. Earlier, I had been photographing reflections on smooth pavement, which reflected but did not abstract the subject. When I moved to older, rougher pavement, the reflected building lost its shape and form, but retained its color and energy. The golden panels on its maroon walls become ever more abstract as they flow from bottom to top, while tourists carrying pink umbrellas shimmer at upper right.
Ghost school, Denver, Colorado, 2007
Built in 1904, this school has been shut down for the last thirty years. It is a ghost. Under private ownership, it awaits a new life in Denver’s booming Golden Triangle neighborhood. But when, and as what? As I passed by, I noticed the morning sun glinting off one of its third floor windows. Exposing with spot metering for the bright reflection, I deepened and enriched the colors – it was almost as if that reflection was pumping blood into those four massive columns, as well as symbolizing the better day that may yet eventually come.
Street crowds, Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Denver, Colorado, 2007
I isolate a street of frenetic activity within the glass windows of a spa by shooting this scene as a reflection. That reflection almost looks like an old roll of film splashed against the side of a white building. (And yes, the silhouette just to the right of center is the photographer.) By shooting at least forty people within a single reflection, I was able to incongruously contrast all of that activity to the absolutely empty sidewalk just alongside of the building.
Guard, Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco, California, 2007
A lifelike figure of a prison guard stands in a glass case in the museum at the entrance to the former Cell House. A cellblock reflects on the glass at right, along with several visitors. I wanted to imply a sense of memory to this image – the guard seems haunted by the years he has spent on “The Rock.”