Sunday, September 29, 2013

old times there are not forgotten

I woke up on Saturday with no particular plan in mind.  San Miguel de Allende is like any other place.  If I lived here for twenty years, there would be something to do that I had never done.

Instead of adding something new my Bottomless Pail list, I decided to visit the only monumental archaeological site in the area.  Cañada de la virgen.  Canyon of the Virgin.

You may remember it from last year (
steve meets indiana jones).  I hired Albert Coffee, who had worked at the site, to give me a personal tour.  It was well worth the money.

This time I decided to head up to the site without an individual guide.  No one is allowed on the site without some sort of guide.  So, I joined a Spanish-speaking group.  I could understand a bit of the spiel.  But I was there to shoot, not to listen.

I told you earlier that I am re-reading Aaron Copland's How to Listen to Music.  He starts his lecture series by dividing how we listen to music into three categories.

  • the sensuous plane -- our emotional response to music where we let it wash over us (often while we are engaged in other pursuits; the way everyone experiences music at a rather basic level)
  • the expressive plane -- where we try to determine what the composer's music means
  • the sheerly musical plane -- where we listen to the music as an abstract art form; or, in Copland's words: "the notes themselves and of their manipulation"
I realized on the drive up to the site that those three categories also apply to photography.  Good photography requires all three planes.  Being able to shoot the sensuous "pretty picture" is only the shallowest part of the art.

The photographer also needs to know the meaning of his subject.  For instance, the thirteen skies house, the main pyramid, had a ceremonial purpose.  Unfortunately,that purpose can only be a matter of conjecture based on the few clues discovered at the site during its restoration.

Knowing the purpose assists the photographer in focusing on details that help to underscore the meaning.

And then there is the abstract art form.  Using all of the photographer's tricks to combine a well-framed shot with a meaningful representation.

Well, I had no intention of doing all that. This was entirely a sensuous shoot session.  I was happy to be shallow by playing with the elements of water, stone, and sky.  To put my camera through some of its paces.

Getting to the site is quite a trek.  A bus takes the group from the visitors' center to a drop off point.  It is then a three kilometer walk -- mainly uphill before arriving at the gate to the site.

So, I decided to try something new.  Here is a panorama shot of the road.  The site is on the mid-right rim of the hill.  My aim?  To convey that it was a hard slog just to start the tour.  (On each of the panoramas, you should click on them to see them in their full glory.)

I wish I had a shot of the young woman in her high heel boots.  Despite her footwear, she carried on like a trouper.

When I was at the site last year, the rains had been sporadic. Not so, this year -- as you know from my reports.  The wetland area was in full bloom, and had enough reflective power to take advantage of the sky and clouds.  (I know some of you like that sort of thing.)

Archaeologically,the different colors and sizes of stone are a clear indication of when each structure was constructed.  (You can read about that in last year's post.)

From a photographic standpoint, they are beautiful on their own.  Whether in these waves of various building styles --

Or this linear reconstruction of one of the earliest foundations.

I have always struggled with trying to show steepness.  Cameras tend to flatten out the image.  So, I tried this little trick to convey just how steep the grade is on the stairs of the main ceremonial building.

And why climb a "pyramid" if you are not going to share the view with your friends?  This is the view looking off of the back of the structure.

And this?  The view looking forward.  You can see the wetlands to the right, and the ceremonial court in front.

On my next visit (next year?), I will sit down with Albert Coffee and establish a shoot that will bring you the combined beauty, meaning, and spirit of the place.  For now, I am happy merely with pretty pictures.

What I do know from this visit is that my new camera and I have the start of a beautiful friendship.

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