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Caress on lost shadows

Published December 22nd, 2011

Here you got a textbook case. Wording of the exercise: how to deal with a bas-relief without creating endless boredom? The problem is complex. First, it's like photographing a page of a book. A fresco is a narration with a start and an end, with in the middle the creation of tensions. Take only the first panel and you lose the story, the interest of the work. Meanwhile, if you try to get all a bas-relief in your frame, you swamp the intensity by a mass of tiny so unreadable details. Second problem: there is no depth of field. No different layers on which the eyes could sail and weave a story. No perspective and lines of sight; in photography the bokeh is important as a tool of depth. The reading of a painting is made by clear lines, and the technique is similar than those for a photography but not the same. The depth of field is the main originality from our art media. In short, a bas-relief removes the specificity of the photography. Third problem now. We work with masses creating dynamism. These masses are born with the contrast with the black & white, with the spectrum of light with the colors. This dynamism is a motor using pistons to snatch our interest, for our eyes to start the reading of the visual story. You can of course create a very soft gradient and by the only power of lines you can fascinate the viewer. It's more complicated, but easily done. The trouble with a bas-relief is there is no natural contrast (same stone all around) and no clear lines. You can't create a real dynamism in a photo made perpendicular to this carved wall. That's annoying indeed. The last complication is about your place, that's to say, if you're an artist it's because you want to say something, to use your own words. A bas-relief, work from an another artist, will question about your place per se.
So you can understand my thoughts and doubts when I went to the Angkor temples in Cambodia in order to work on these bas-reliefs. The first decision was to avoid the overview. No way to select a story amid thousands details. The second was to stay who I am. I was not here to serve the Khmer artist for him to attain a certain fame. I'm storyteller, only, and that's the final clause. Since the stories of the Khmer army was not reachable, I went to let my imagination capering all around. To use you own emotion and imagination is critical to share something. You need to feel something first before to share the emotion. That's quite obvious.
Let's go technical for once. The lens. Usually I choose only one for an entire body of work, in order to keep an harmony amid the photos. I went for the Makro-planar 100mm from Zeiss on this work in Cambodia. I needed an extra sharpness to get the texture of the stone for an extra portion of sensation and the possibility to get macro, to get close of the stones, of the ridges (around an inch) since it was the only depth of field available. Then I went with my home made Hasseblad system to get a grain of 10 ISO with 66 mp, to get from each quartz and mica crystal the maximum of light. For this photo, I've decided to create a depth by an unusual visual angle, the camera sticking almost on the wall. You need many tries with different apertures to get the perfect one able to isolate the subject. The purpose was to distill a dynamism and to capture a light which would able to tell a story. Of course, the result is personal, but, anyway, I never do reports, where you try to seize the reality, and I rarely do conventional documentary where you try to breathe the verity. The only thing is to be clear on what you want, and not to sell a work for what is not.
After a bath in my personal potion in my darkroom, these photos were wrapped in the Kodak Tmax grain and black. This use was natural since there was no colors on the wall, only textures, and I needed to create a strong contrast, again in the idea to improve the poor dynamism and the reading of the photo. I will not post many photos from this work since these photos will not stand out amid the other thumbnails. But I wanted to share this creative process, which was the most interesting for me this year.
Class dismiss. :)
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  • nikon D3X
  • 100mm / f/11 / 1.3 sec

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