Steve Sampliner  

Zhongshan Palace by Steve Sampliner

September 2020 - Zhongshan Palace

September 2020 - Steve Sampliner


September 2020 - Steve Sampliner

Original 2

About the Image(s)

Equipment: Pentax 6x7 w/ 90mm lens. Kodak 120mm Tri-X 400 B/W film. All manual. F/stop and shutter speed; don’t recall. No tripod. Post-processing done with Lightroom. Minimal post-processing done. Increased contrast, intentionally softened and illuminated the whites to create more of a “glow”.
Location and subject: Shot was taken from outside the entrance to the Zhongshan Palace museum, Zhongshan Park, Beijing. This complex is part of the Forbidden City complex. It was a cold and grey January or February morning in 2015. There was a light snow the night before, and that continued off and on while I was in the park shooting. The ancient palace structures follow a design theory of layers within layers, which create geometric shapes within shapes. You go through one gate, and another gate, and then another gate before you arrive at the central structure. The process of moving through these gates is designed for a purpose. When you finally arrive at the final gate, the maze that you have negotiated has disrupted your sense of scale, and as you walk through the gate, this disruption manifests as sense of grandeur, even if the object itself is not grand. My intention when taking this photograph was to pause this process to see how it disrupted this process. The other reason I took this photograph is I like taking photographs of frames within frames. Sometimes it works out where the dissonance or discord between framing, objects, distance and scale becomes hard to measure, and creates a friction between the visual interpretation and the mental interpretation of spatial proximity.
Critiquing this photo now, I see a whole different narrative, so I am very interested in hearing about your interpretations of this photograph.

11 comments posted

Thorro Jones   Thorro Jones
Steve Sampliner Zhongshan-Palace-2: Steve you challenged the viewer with this shot as it took me a while to figure out that you were shooting through a doorway. At first, I through I was looking at an old B&W photo in a frame. I believe you succeeded in creating the frame within a frame look you were looking for.   Posted: 09/01/2020 13:09:43

Jim Horn   Jim Horn
Steve, I realized that the original did not have a white border so I added the white 0.25" border to equalize the comparison. See Original 2. I would consider showing more floor (by adjusting the exposure of your "frame") because the four black corners in your finished photo make it look two dimensional instead of defining a three dimensional space for the gate.
I understand that you are expressing yourself in layers and framing which is two dimensional - but that leaves non parallel lines, especially at the bottom of your "frame."
For that interpretation in two dimensions, I would burn the line on the right side of your "frame," like I did here to eliminate the confusion of a 3D line on the right. Jim   Posted: 09/01/2020 14:59:47
Comment Image
Thorro Jones   Thorro Jones
I was thinking that fill-in flash in this shot would have been helpful to create the frame within the frame look as you would actually be able to see the outer frame.   Posted: 09/02/2020 14:36:02
Steve Sampliner   Steve Sampliner
Reading your comments and also those of Thorro are quite interesting to me in terms of suggestions to sort of create either a 3D or 2D perception of the image. I have to say that I had neither intention in mind when taking this photo. I intentionally shot from off-center so as not the flatten the image. Having a hint of the thickness of the wall was intentional. Also, I wanted to capture that sense of illumination coming through the gate, almost as if it was a projected image. I find the lack of shadows in the image to be the most conflicting aspect. The building appears to be very 2D, while the wall and the gate is 3D. But this is conflict that I would take in preference to moving the viewer towards one way or the other.   Posted: 09/06/2020 01:20:37
Jim Horn   Jim Horn
Steve, simply stated, if the black frame is 2D the inner edges are not parallel with the outer edge of the photo. If it is a hallway, there is no way to distinguish the walls or ceiling because it is all black.
(I know there is detail in the hall to define the walls because I overexposed it in Photoshop). Jim   Posted: 09/06/2020 11:13:15

John Tabaczynski   John Tabaczynski

Interesting concept!! Before I read your rationale for this image I had trouble figuring out "maker's intent"! Once I understood your approach, I thought about the image in a different light. I like the frame in frame approach, but in this rendering I think it would be stronger if the thickness of the portal at the top and RH side were enhanced. Detail is in file, but it is currently too dark in the image to give me the hint. Being a passionate amateur photographer of long standing, I approach the critique aspect in a personal way, ie "How would I have handle this scene if I were standing there." So from that perspective I have to say that I think the slight amputation of the lower steps on the RH side and the thin sliver of sky at the top and to the right, and the amputation of the ornamentation at the roof peak detract from the composition. There are two ways to handle that. One is to move back, eliminating the top edge sky and amputation. At the same time the RH cut line of the frame should move into the middle of the stairway indicating that the amputation is a maker decision. As it currently stands it seems like an oversight. Moving back would also reduce the front edge of snow field which appears flat and lacking in detail and bring more balance to the central image. However, my preferred choice would be to move closer to the portal to bring the top of the temple and its ornament fully into the image and give a heavier slice of sky. In doing so one could then in-camera crop the image at top and LH side reducing the framing there to bring the portal up and left introducing more tension in the image which I think makes it more interesting. That could also enhance the non-rectilinear aspect of the portal itself. It would also reduce the amount of negative black area which at this point seems very heavy to me. One could also squat down and reduce the snow field as well. At least I think it is a snow field based on your description of the situation. It also looks like flowing water. It is an interesting image and got me fully engaged, but perhaps not in the way you had intended.

Tab   Posted: 09/10/2020 11:54:53
Steve Sampliner   Steve Sampliner
Hopefully I'll be able to cover everything in your feedback. That sliver across the top of the palace building definitely is in stuck in limbo. Not sure which direction I would go; open it up to get the entire roof plus ornamentation, or bring the door frame down and cut across the top beam. I might sway towards option two so as to have the flow of the roof tiles pulling the movement down. Might work? I can see your point in opening it up a bit and getting the a fuller image of the palace while increasing the slice of sky. My concern would be the addition of more glare. As we can see, the snowy mist really spreads illumination but also creates strong dark spaces. I do like how you mentioned that, "the amount of negative black area which at this point seems very heavy", and I can completely understand where that is coming from. I would like for the image to be heavy, but maybe not so much as to really impose itself too much on the viewer. The snow is an interesting call in terms of what to do with it. I like ambiguity to an extent, and here I might stay in that area. Most of the time, I don't shoot for perfection. If someone went to that exact same spot, in those same conditions, and approached that gate and thought, "Is that water surrounding the palace?", but on closer examination found it was was an illusion, would that not be real?
On to your second post (I think I covered most of the stuff from the first). First, I can see your point with drawing out more detail in the wall and portal area. I agree that it might add to the tension while also decreasing the "heaviness" felt in the image. I might not go about doing too much with the interior of the image. I wouldn't want to narrow the possible narratives. I like your interpretation of the Yin-Yang nature of the image. This was not my intention, but if I must be honest, I have four narratives constructed based on this image. I prefer images that "show", not necessarily "tell". The fact the image engaged your interest beyond the superficial was the only intention from the very beginning. I took this photograph just in the hope of getting something that might be engaging. There is no light meter on a Pentax 6x7, you only have 11-12 frames to shoot on 120mm film - the whole process is hope hahaha It is the hope that the negative says something to you, and hopefully speak to others.   Posted: 09/12/2020 03:51:07

Sam Fernando   Sam Fernando

You have achieved your intention of capturing a photo within a frame quite well.

I can't really understand why you tried to get a 'gloomy' appearance in here. My preference is to see more contrasting lines of the building.   Posted: 09/11/2020 05:04:31
Steve Sampliner   Steve Sampliner
Well, in this case, I really didn't have much choice. It was a gloomy day :) Late January / February in Beijing is not really the best time of year to do much of anything, but I had the entire palace complex to myself.   Posted: 09/12/2020 03:55:02

John Tabaczynski   John Tabaczynski

After submitting my previous commentary (a photo-techno input) I had to go into the office for a bit. On the half hour ride in I thought some more about the image. So here is the other half of my story (a photo-perceptive treatment). For me this image is a great portrayal of the oriental philosophical concept of Yin-Yang. It captures so many contrasting elements. There is the heavy dark surround of the portal versus the brightness of the interior. For me the interior brightness is too high and I would choose to introduce a bit more contrast. We can contrast the massive rough stone of the portal (which is why I would like to see that given more emphasis) against the delicate features of the temple and the mist in the air. The temple portrays orderliness while the frame with its non-orthogonal projection introduces the element of chaos which is why I would like to see the portal off-set in the image to introduce additional tension. So Steve, I don't know if that was where you wanted to take me, but it is an interesting image that gave me a lot to think about!!

Tab   Posted: 09/11/2020 12:41:09

Laura Lee Bartholomew   Laura Lee Bartholomew
Ok, my first impression was that I can't tell the difference between your original and the finished product. This is only my opinion, but I want to know, what did you want me to see? I'm just not sure.   Posted: 09/16/2020 18:31:25


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