Vitrine 2

by Stefan Fletcher November. 05, 2014 2312 views

These are pictures of a fascinating sculpture from late Antiquity in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. My favourite is the bottom image, but I wanted to show various attempts.

Classical statues represented human ideals of perfection (gods, heroes, kings and emperors and Olympic champions). As such, they tended to be vertical, so a supine classical statue is always interesting. This one may have started off male (the derriere was decidedly masculine, as I recall, and the arms and neck are a bit chunky), only to be recycled halfway through the creative process as a sleeping maenad. The Roman empire’s dire economic woes at the time would make this highly likely. The statue has suffered extensive damage over the millennia, which is why I always shot it from the same side and much of the face was reconstituted, although I don’t know how accurately. I suspect some creative license explains the mysterious smile that I find captivating. Compare it with the poorly executed closed eyelid. If you’re unfamiliar with classical mythology, maenads are devotees of the god of wine, Dionysus, who indulge in orgiastic frenzies before collapsing in exhaustion.

What you don’t see – and it’s one of the reasons why I like these images – is that the statue lies in a glass box under harsh museum lighting deliberately arranged to frustrate any photographer. I tried all kinds of camera and post-processing techniques to overcome these obstacles: UV filters, tilt-shift lenses and all the tricks I could learn in Photoshop. For a year, this statue was the closest I got to a human model with the extra benefit of not moving or requiring coffee breaks or payment. I used to live next door to the museum and would trundle along any time I had a spare half hour and try out a new approach.

I prefer the final image because it’s where I fully realise that this sculpture is nearly 2,000 years old and still conveys emotions we understand and share today, even if they’re not entirely clear. The reconstruction work on her face and back (excessive in my opinion) is not a distraction; it helps me remember that even inanimate objects are constantly changing. There is, in my opinion, enough detail in this image to appreciate the statue for all its flaws and its loveliness.

So, what’s wrong with the final picture? Clearly, we’re missing the rest of the body under its bright, shiny, glass case. It’s also cropped too tightly (the plinth is hideous). Although black and white works for me here in focusing on the important factors, here’s the problem with digital B&W photography: it is very easy to make it look contrived which is, after all, what it is. A digitally sharp image with faux B&W grain (as is the case here, despite some selective softening) just doesn’t ring true. (The colour and B&W attempt is me going “sod it” on the principle of ‘if you can’t beat’em, join’em’.) The highlights appear burnt out on a backlit monitor. I’m glad to say it prints really well, unlike the previous post.

The main problem is the “so what?” factor. I may be pleased with myself for having used various techniques to convey something, but this and so many other images of mine rarely reach out to and engage other people. The “so what?” question is one I realise increasingly is very hard to answer.

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There are 8 comments , add yours!
Dany 6 years, 7 months ago

Beaucoup d'émotion à voir cette statue d'une datation d'environ 2 000 ans ou nous sommes bien informé grasse à ton commentaire avec de belles présentations de tes prises de vues, surtout en ce qui concerne la 2 avec les couleurs et le noir et blanc.

C'est une autre approche, mais j'aime bien.

6 years, 7 months ago Edited
Varvara Romantseva 6 years, 7 months ago

So beautiful sculptures and cadrage!

6 years, 7 months ago Edited
Deianeira (Deia) Zukowski 6 years, 7 months ago

Appreciate seeing all the different takes on this. #5 is certainly the strongest, but I really enjoy #1. So what? Sew buttons, as we say in the biz.

6 years, 7 months ago Edited
Mikkal Noptek 6 years, 7 months ago

Wonderful report and sensual statue !!

6 years, 7 months ago Edited
Gillian Parsons 6 years, 7 months ago

Peaceful repose.

6 years, 7 months ago Edited
Moira 6 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for sharing these I can now see her "facelift" alterations and like yourself the last shot does hide that more so and the smile is intriguing , well done.
Pity you can't visit her so often now to get the "perfection" you would prefer.

6 years, 7 months ago Edited
Larry Sample 6 years, 7 months ago

I do like that she stays perfectly still while you work. Not reaching for her phone or coffee. Total dedication to the craft. So what? So that we can feel it too.

6 years, 7 months ago Edited
Marilyn Grimble 6 years, 7 months ago

You do reach out, not so much, in this case, with your images, but with your fascination for technical perfection.
It's something I find hard to appreciate.
I so sometimes wish I possessed a different mindset, however I would not skip these posts, just in case I missed out! :-))
I rarely do - you always give me something to ponder over for awhile - sometimes longer than awhile - that is what I see as reaching out.

6 years, 7 months ago Edited