Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tintern Abbey Photo Smackdown

The Challenge:  Take a picture of an overly familiar place, a place much visited, widely documented, and famous in literary history for its powers to inspire.  Find an angle or perspective that will not only avoid visual cliches but will make that overly familiar place seem unfamiliar, even to an audience of smarty-pants readers who think The Norton Anthology of English Literature is handier than a highway atlas for finding one's way around the back roads of the Welsh-English border region.  Oh, and snap that photo quickly, on account of your merry band of literary travelers has to find its way back to Cardiff to surrender a rental car and catch a train so that the good people of Wales will be safe from the threat of at least one car full of drivers careening around the countryside with someone constantly screaming, "Keep to the left!  Remember, keep to the left, ridiculous as that may seem!"

The Contestants:  Geoffrey, armed with his cute little Panasonic Lumix, and Moose, running around like the Annie Leibovitz wannabe she has always been with her Canon G9.

The Judge:  The official ex-yearbook editor of Roxie's World, Moose, who promises to be 100% objective, because, like, she's totes committed to Fairness and Truth.

Wevs, kids, here's the kind of shot that'll get you voted off this show in the first round, pretty as it is:

(Photo Credit:  Moose, 8/2/10)

Are you still awake?  Yeah, me neither.  Standard, boring tourist snap that by some miracle doesn't have two or three grouchy Germans looking for the loo strolling across the bottom of the frame.  (It's down to the left, by the way -- the loo.)  Nice, but totally insufficient for our purposes.  Next!

(Photo Credit:  Moose, 8/2/10)

Regular readers will note in this photograph the Moosian fondness for frames and for zooming in on relatively small parts of a large building or landscape as a way of capturing -- or avoiding? -- the whole.  Yep, photography for Moose is often a matter of failed synecdoches.  Oh, and if she were a better technician, you'd be able to see that there is a little white dove perched on the apex of that roof in the bottom third of the frame.  For all the photographer's limitations of skill and vision, we kinda like this shot for the repeated patterns of threes, the attention to texture, and that nice triangle of sky at the top.  In directing the viewer's attention to a particular spot, the image asks us to pause and look carefully at something we otherwise might not see.

Not bad, Moose.  Next!

(Photo Credit:  Geoffrey, 8/2/10)

Geoffrey takes a totally different strategy on this assignment, bravely seeking to capture both the epic scale of the 13th-century building and the drama of what time has taken away from this awe-inspiring space -- i.e., its roof.  Standing in the middle of what was once the edifice's great church, he looks up and captures three walls open to and reaching toward heaven, a heaven that in that particular moment looked especially appealing, with its puffy clouds and big patches of bright blue sky.  (Moments later the sky was dark, and the abbey became a different place altogether.)  Geoffrey's image is beautifully composed but also wonderfully disorienting.  It conveys immensity and loss, ambition and elegy.  The beautiful emptiness at the center of the frame perhaps recalls the secular consolations Wordsworth found in the area around the abbey, where he found "tranquil restoration" in nature.

So, who wins the Tintern Abbey coffee mug that Goose did not purchase yesterday in the gift shop?  We are giving Geoffrey the edge -- but we'll let our devoted readers weigh in before we make the final decision.  Have at it, gentle judges.  The moms and Geoffrey are in London now and off to catch a museum or three.  Hope you all are doing well and enjoying the dog days of August in your neck of the woods.  Peace out! 


  1. As a Wordsworth scholar, I feel I must weigh in here. I like the work of both photographers, but I think the Romanticism prize goes to Geoffrey and his image which cements the relationship between the Abbey and Nature. Plus it's kinda acid trippy.

  2. Well, I like Moose #2 -- but I am well-known as having cheesy taste in photography.

    My question is that if Moose is Annie, does Goose get to be Susan?

  3. Much as I want Moose to win, I've got to give this one to Geoffrey.

  4. Why did neither contestant compose a photo a few miles above Tintern Abbey? maybe they should revisit the banks of teh Wye and do just that.

  5. dog-eared book12:13 PM EDT

    I'm torn: #3 makes me dizzy, so I'm inclined to go with #2, though the dove kinda ruins the pleasures of abstraction. I'd suggest a run-off, with both contestants advancing to the next round. Howasabout some unexpected, non-trite images of London? Good luck with that, and happy travels!

  6. Love the idea of a second round, D-EB, and kinda like being Susan, TR. I think we'll have a campy evening and I can post some notes on that!

    And that second round can proceed to a third testing their abilities to post non-trite pics of Oxford.

    We're soon off to dinner at St. John. Mmm. . . .

  7. Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

  8. Yeah, there are days when Goose is every bit as curmudgeonly as Susan Sontag is supposed to have been, TR.

    Love the idea of a second round, DEB. The group will be back in London for a couple more days after the conference trip to Oxford, so perhaps Round 2 will be up there and Round 3, should that seem necessary or appealing, will be back in London, which is of course one of the world's most photographed and photographable cities. We'll see what our two shutterbugs can do with it!

    Kiss the sky, Geoffrey? See you in Round 2, pal, and we'll see who gets to kiss what. Game on!

  9. I vote you guys have a contest to see who can take the best picture of the inside of a fucken pub.

  10. That's a great 'kin idea there. Should be lots of opportunities in Oxford. Just mind you head on the beams.


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