I recently had the opportunity to have an off hours visit at The St. Boniface Museum. Museums are not the easiest places to take fine art photographs but some times you just get lucky. This was a lucky day.
Among its artifacts I was drawn to one which was is paper mashè sculpture of “God” created by the nuns in around 1870. I’ve never seen a sculpture of God before so at the end of the morning shoot I spent some time with him. Here is a difficult lesson for photographers to learn and that’s patients. You can force yourself to stop and spend time, but you have to void your mind of everything around you and get into your subject. So, humm a statue of God you say. Well here was my thought process as I studied the sculpture. Just sit down and look at it, without a camera, block out everything around you and study its details and you’ll begin to formulate a plan of different ideas on how to capture your subject. If you can walk all around the subject do it, view it from different locations in the room, look low or high but think about the subject and is there a story here.
In this case a couple of details jumped out at me. The colour palette was extraordinary, all pastels. The story of the bible was rolling through my head but the most unusual characteristic was in the eyes. They had given them a heavy coating of clear varnish that made them look like he had tears welling up. So my plan was to shoot three sides and to make sure the eyes were always the focal point by using a shallow depth of field in most cases. I liked the colours but with this unusual palette I was really curious to see what a B&W conversion would look like, I sensed it would be very angelic almost an infrared.
Here is the set. I started with a straight up shot. The monochrome conversion is a layered hybrid that I’ll explain in a minute. He was on an alter and the mistake I made here is the halo of stars should have been aligned above his head. This unfortunately is a big no no as it looks like goes through his head. Ouch! Look into his eyes though…. maybe that mistake introduces the eyes, a divine intervention, certainly not planned.
The next couple of images were from the perspective of looking up to god. I tilted the camera to give them a different feel and they do feel different, in fact there is a definite line drawn by the viewer and most will like one or the other. I believe this is associated to the left and right brain perspectives. Look into those eyes…. a highlight sparkle is present that really adds life.
The next shot was to deliberately offset him in the frame. You want to have your subject looking into the open space so I needed to have a slight angle to position him on the right side of the frame. I added an additional slight tilt to give it a more unusual look as if he’s looking down to the viewer. Better halo positioning and look at the sparkle in those eyes…
Now I moved to the right side and here I tried something different. I think people can associate with the possibility of touching god so I made the focus his hand. This image is as if you were beside him as he’s talking to someone, your mind is focussed on his hand that is just in front of you. His face, out of focus and distant. A poignant moment indeed and a hand you can almost touch.
Lastly was a look from the side where he presumably addresses his followers. Again give the subject space to look into to the image. Here is another bit of detail in the planning of the shoot. In the bible where did God tell Jesus to sit? He sat to his right side from this perspective. Again look into those eyes. His hand is cut off by the bottom frame but that becomes acceptable with the focus on the eyes and the hand is now soft, out of focus, with a shallow depth of field.
When taking pictures of wildlife or people make sure the eyes are in focus and capture a highlight, they breath life into the subject. The eyes of this sculpture are very extraordinary indeed.
Lastly I tried a few different types of processing ideas but it all becomes a bit of experimenting with a goal in mind. I did want a vintage look and feel so the water stained backdrop was a must. I then added a scratched layer to add more depth as if these shots were taken many years ago. The colour is a hybrid blue grey that will change from monitor to monitor and it does appear to be slightly faded with age. I felt the final look was strong but divine at the same time. Make sure when you have a formula you save it as an action so you can duplicate it for the set.
This is truly an extraordinary sculpture.