Every picture tells a story, they say. But sometimes it’s useful to have more than one picture to expand on the narrative. If one picture can tell a story, what more can three tell us?
That’s the Lens Artists challenge set for us this week by Ann Christine. She suggests that by grouping three images of a single subject we have the possibility to show more than one side of the coin.
That got me thinking about my approach to photographing buildings. Often I realise after a visit somewhere that I’ve spent all my time photographing the small details and omitted to capture the whole building. That’s something I’m trying to be conscious of and rectify. Meanwhile other people, it seems to me, tend to do the opposite; they capture the grandeur of a building, its overall impact, but miss some of the details that give me the most pleasure.
And what is a building without the people who visit it? A famous sight, a place of worship, a museum … all are nothing unless we need and use them. So for my sets of three I’ve chosen to focus on some impressive buildings I’ve visited around the world. I’ll show you the overall appearance; share a detail that caught my eye; and introduce you to a person or people I saw there. Hopefully this will bring these buildings to life in a way a single image could never do.
In all cases, please click on any image to see it full size and open a mini slideshow of each building
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal needs no introduction and there are thousands of photos of it online. As well as taking the standard shots I tried to capture the details of the intricate stone carvings. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s also visited by thousands, every day; so I wanted to show that aspect too by photographing some of the more interesting visitors I saw there. This is India, so no one minded me taking their photo!
Jama Masjid, Delhi
This is one of the largest (some sources say the largest) mosques in India. It was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (most famous for another building, the Taj Mahal above) between 1644 and 1656. It is said to have taken 5,000 workers and cost a million rupees to build, which must have been a huge sum in those days.
The mosque is certainly on an impressively grand scale. The huge courtyard can accommodate more than 25,000 worshippers. All visitors, including non-Muslims, are allowed inside as well as out, but the mosque is closed to non-Muslims at prayer time. Photos can be taken everywhere; we were advised not to photograph Muslim women but told that otherwise no one would mind, which indeed proved to be the case.
The Forbidden City, Beijing
The Forbidden City or Palace Museum as it also known as today, once served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 – 1911). It was built over 14 years during the reign of Emperor Chengzu in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but has of course seen many changes since then.
Its Hall of Supreme Harmony or Taihedian is the largest surviving wooden structure in China. This was the ceremonial centre of imperial power and as such was the highest structure in the empire during the Ming and Qing dynasties; no other building was permitted to be higher anywhere in the empire, and no trees were planted in the courtyards of the Forbidden City so that there was nothing taller than it here.
The carved roof ornaments are known as imperial roof decorations. Only official buildings (palaces, government buildings, and some temples) were permitted to use such roof decorations.
Like the Taj Mahal the Forbidden City is visited by thousands every day. Many of the domestic tourists dress up for the occasion, providing interesting photo opps.
Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang
Wat Xieng Thong is possibly the most visited temple of the more than thirty in Luang Prabang; we knew we wouldn’t have it to ourselves. Its name means ‘Temple of the Golden City’ and it is considered one of the most important of Lao monasteries. The roof of its main shrine or sim sweeps nearly to the ground; the locals liken it to a mother hen sheltering her brood. It was built under the rule of King Setthathirath between 1559 and 1560 and unlike nearly every other temple in the town has not been significantly damaged or altered since.
Other buildings in the complex are almost as ornate. The detail above is of a door to a hall built to house the royal funeral carriage. There were several couples at the temple having wedding pictures taken, all happy for others to also take photos.
My featured threesome are of the Royal Palace also in Luang Prabang.
The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Cambodia’s Royal Palace is not a single building but a whole complex. As it is the residence of the king there are only a few parts open to the public. It was constructed between 1866 and 1870, when King Norodom decided to relocate the royal capital to Phnom Penh.
The Throne Hall was where the king’s generals and royal officials used to carry out their duties. It is still used today for religious and royal ceremonies such as coronations and royal weddings. Its roof is supported by stone figures known as kinnaris, mythical creatures with the head, body, and arms of a woman and the wings, tail and feet of a swan. They are considered symbols of beauty and are skilled dancers.
Next to it is a smaller building, Hor Samran Phirun, built in 1917. This is where the king used to rest while waiting for his elephant to be prepared to carry him on a journey. It was being repainted when we visited so I grabbed a shot of a woman carefully painting a wall.
The National Museum in Phnom Penh
This museum building looks older than its roughly 100 years because of the traditional design and mellowed terracotta stones. It is arranged around the four sides of an attractive courtyard garden and displays mainly statues from the pre-Angkor period through to the 19th century.
No photos are allowed in the galleries; but they are permitted in the garden, and as the galleries open directly into this it isn’t too difficult to get a few photos of the exhibits on the edges! I also spotted a young artist focused on drawing some of those exhibits. In the centre of the courtyard is a 15th century stone statue of the Leper King from the Royal Palace at Angkor Thom.
The Shipka Memorial Church, Bulgaria
This is the stunning Bulgarian Orthodox Memorial Temple of the Birth of Christ, usually known simply as Shipka Memorial Church. Its golden domes are all the more striking in its rural setting. The church was built in the Russian style at the end of the 19th century to commemorate the Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian soldiers who died during the liberation of Bulgaria in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78.
A baptism was in progress and nobody seemed to mind my camera; indeed one member of the family stood aside a little to let me see, and the priest was equally tolerant.
In searching out sets of images for this post I realised how often I photograph in series that tell a story about a location or sight. Perhaps we all do? It’s something I’ll look out for in the future, and consider sharing my mini photo stories in future posts.