Photo Exploration: Sunset Statue at Biltmore

This entry in the Pho­to Explo­rations series will focus on a 35mm film piece from the Bilt­more Estate.

When I vis­it the Bilt­more, the embar­rass­ment of (pho­tog­ra­phy) rich­es is over­whelm­ing. After the ini­tial “pho­to­graph every­thing!!!” ses­sions, I real­ized I would have to focus my vis­its with lim­its on the medi­um, sub­ject mat­ter, etc. This pho­to­graph was tak­en dur­ing a late-after­noon film ses­sion in Jan­u­ary 2011. I enjoy the way black and white film can enhance stone, and when that is com­bined with sculp­ture the results can be fantastic.

This was Kodak 400cn, which is an inter­est­ing black and white film as it is devel­oped via the same process as col­or neg­a­tives (C‑41) as opposed to tra­di­tion­al devel­op­ment of black and white film (think Tri‑X, T‑MAX, etc). There are many ben­e­fits to this film — smooth grain, incred­i­ble scan­ning fideli­ty, ease of devel­op­ment and so on. Although it won’t ever give you the grain and feel of a Tri‑X or HP5 (and def­i­nite­ly don’t try push­ing or pulling it and then expect most labs to be able to fol­low those direc­tions), it is an excel­lent choice for start­ing in black and white and giv­ing the pho­tog­ra­ph­er the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­cen­trate on tonal val­ues and shape with­out the dis­trac­tion of col­or reproduction.

Meter­ing was prob­a­bly done by hand. When there is a dif­fi­cult light­ing sit­u­a­tion, a cam­er­a’s built-in meter can be thrown off by the dif­fer­ence in ambi­ent light and what is being reflect­ed from the sub­ject. In this case, the stat­ue was offer­ing very bright and very dark spots and I was wor­ried about over/under expo­sure. With an inci­dent meter, I was able to con­cen­trate only on the light of the scene and not the dis­parate light read­ings com­ing from the statue.

I want­ed to tell a sto­ry with this piece and not so much doc­u­ment the art­work. By going around the stat­ue, I found angles that lost the stat­ue’s face but gained van­tage points for a more engag­ing point of view. I like to think that this flautist is giv­ing a bit of a salute to the set­ting sun and is per­haps call­ing friends togeth­er for a night­time celebration.