There are several things I like about this photo I took at dusk in Fan Tan Alley in Victoria, British Columbia. However, it’s a photo where the story is a little more difficult to perceive. So I’ll start with what I like and then move on to “the photographer’s story” of this photo.
I am attracted to the colour – the orange of the brick and the contrast with both the light and the blue sky. The intensity of the colour attracts the eye and confuses the mind. How do we have such a bright sky, but such dark shadows and intense colour? It seems unreal.
It is like trying to hold two disparate ideas in the mind at the same time. The brain flips back and forth trying to make but never getting there. I will cite Oscar Wilde’s famous dictum that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
The wires snaking through near the top of the buildings hold both sides of the picture together, like the corpus callosum, that bundle of energy connecting the right and left halves of the brain, the light and the shadow.
I am also attracted to the vanishing point which descends somewhere down below, out of the frame, purposely out of view. Then, on deeper inspection, there are the intricate light and dark patterns of the wiring, the tangle of electricity and the suggestion of age and carelessness.
The light hangs from the building like it would in any 40s film noir setting. If the photo were in black and white this element would be pulled out more strongly, but it’s there. These are the things that attract my eye. But where is the story: the beginning, middle and end? Is the story a mystery, a tragedy, a drama or a comedy?
Ok, so I’ll call it a mystery. The photographer is trapped between two opposing brick walls. His eye moves up, pulled by the details: spider web-like wires and the odd reflection below the light that could be a lens flare or a ghost orb. This alley is reputed to be haunted. The photographer keeps looking up, beyond the buildings, towards the light. Is he thinking of escape? Does he feel fear? Or is he pondering the promise of release, the freedom, the spiritual message.
And then his eye moves to the end of the alley. Or maybe it is the end, maybe not. Maybe there’s no real mystery, just an imagined story. Maybe it’s only an alley at dusk and a great angle? Nevertheless there is harmony at the end.
“Alley” © Christpher Holt, 2010