In Search of an Emotion

by Flo Deems

Introduction: A subject that has long frustrated me, "long" being several years, is a sculpture displayed at the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, USA.

Project: - The sculpture in question, titled "King Lear" by J. Seward Johnson, is on display in the section of the Grounds For Sculpture called "The Water Garden." This cupronickel sculpture is an eight-foot tall depiction of Britain's legendary King Lear in his tormented last years of life. The sculpture backs against one of the muted yellowish walls surrounding the Water Garden.

Unfortunately for me as photographer, the wall isn't tall enough to provide an uncluttered background for images of the statue's face. Trees and the sky appear around King Lear's head, with the top of the wall bisecting just below the head, when I got under the face to shoot up at it. Even when I've backed off a distance to include the whole statue, that too-short wall interferes from most angles. My many attempts to portray how I feel about this statue, and the emotions within that seem to be called forth by it, have caused me my own degrees of torment.

King Lear

A closer viewpoint from the side doesn't get the whole sculpture. Only part of the face is visible here. He looks unhappy. But passionately tortured? Nope.

I even did a Lensbaby portrait, thinking that the blur might convey an indication of tortured emotions. Either I didn't get enough blur, or this wasn't a workable idea.

Playing Footsie: - One day while standing in front of the King, contemplating his tortured features again, I glanced down and saw a single tiny birch leaf lying near his foot. So I composed the image below. Of course, this doesn't even begin to portray what I wanted to about this sculpture. But it did introduce a bit of play and levity into an otherwise serious project.

Approaching a "Perfect World" Image: - Since I shoot everything in manual, I had to set the camera on the tripod for this attempt. Getting the right exposure, the f/stop that would allow just enough depth of field plus refining the composition, all demanded use of the tripod. Which I had to extend taller than I normally like to use it. So I had to be extra careful not to knock into one of the legs. I shot a series; below is the best of these images.

Although this image does show the tortured expression that Johnson managed to convey, it still didn't portray the passion that I felt King Lear also expressed.

The "Perfect World" Image? - In the fall of 2006, I was standing in front of the King again, looking up into his face. Backing off a few feet, suddenly I saw I had the perfect viewpoint that just might capture for me an image symbolizing the passion of tortured King Lear! Above the top of the wall I saw the blazing red leaves of a maple against the blue, blue sky, with a few fluffy white clouds drifting by. Yes!

So I hastily determined composition and exposure and made several shots, waiting mostly for the clouds to pass or surround. Some were too small, others too large or too close together. But finally I got one shot that pleased me the most. It is below.

To me the brilliant red symbolizes King Lear's burning passions. The blue sky, a spiritual salvation, if only he'd look up, beyond himself and the things that he'd chosen to focus upon that caused him misery. The white cloud, his Soul, waiting patiently for him to surrender to a Higher Self in which he could find refuge and succor.

So now I am happy to have been able to express via an image, that which I have felt about this sculpture ever since the first time I laid eyes on it!

One day I was again in the Water Garden, when I turned around and saw this couple kneeling in front of King Lear - almost like they were paying homage to him! So I crept forward and got off a quick shot. Below is this image.

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