Compass

Photo of the week: February 15, 2013

Compass

The Temple of Debod at twilight. (Photo: giusmelix/Flickr)

The Temple of Debod (circa second century BC), photographed at twilight, in the heart of Madrid, by Spanish photographer Giuseppe Melis. An Egyptian temple in Madrid, Spain? Yes, and within our Flickr photo of the week there is a tale.

Search for images of “Temple of Debod, Spain” and you will be treated to three full pages of photos, some good, some… not so good. The ones that catch the eye are the ones that were shot at twilight or at night, but few if any of those have people in them, and that’s what puts Melis’ photo at the top. That simple human form, silhouetted by the sunset, adds important scale and mystery to this finely composed, well-executed photograph.

Landscape and architectural photographers are loathe to have people in their work, perhaps because clothing and hairstyles might date the image or distract from the actual subject. When we see people, we tend to think about them: Who is that? What is he doing there? Where are they going? And a landscape photographer just wants us to say, What a beautiful mountain. I would love to go there.

Sometimes, however, the inclusion of a human adds drama. For instance, as we view this image our thoughts might carry us back through thousands of years to ancient Nubia; past Anthony & Cleopatra, Cesar Augustus and the Ptolemaic Empires, to the First Cataract of the Nile, near Aswan, where the Kushite king, Adikhalamani, built the Temple of Debod to honor the god Amun.

Using a Canon EOS 40D and a Sigma 10-20mm zoom lens – and a tripod, no doubt – Melis set the lens’ aperture to f:18, used a four-second exposure and captured the last glow of twilight. As with almost any time exposure in a public place, someone crept into the image – at the middle entrance pylon – and moved around. It happens, but luckily for Melis, the intruder was in shadow and no real harm is done to the image.

The poetic term for having someone in a landscape is the beating heart. In the right place it is a fellow human with whom we can identify; in the wrong place it is an inescapable intruder – a photo bomb subliminally shouting: Me! Me! Look at me!

Since the subject of Melis’ photo is over 2,000 years old, it would be disrespectful to have anything compete for our attention. The silhouetted figure standing, respectfully to the side of the temple, is a mere offering to Amun.

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