Monday, January 31, 2011

The Gargoyles Remain the Same. My View Has Changed.

Before moving on, one last look at a few of the gargoyles of Notre Dame.

Contrasting last week's photos, below are a few of my more recent photographs of the iconic stone figures on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

These three photos were taken using a lensbaby lens, which is basically a bending plastic tube that you physically push and pull to focus on one tiny "sweet spot" in your field of view. Frustrating, yes. But a lot of fun, too.

I love the possibilities of this lens, but I also miss black and white film. Yes, there's always Photoshop to convert color photos into black and white. Something of the mystery of photography is gone when you can snap hundreds of photos without thinking about it, though. With digital, we often miss out on savoring the few special images we captured on film during a trip.

Whenever I have room in my bag -- which isn't as often as I'd like -- I take my Holga plastic camera with me. It shoots 120 film and takes square pictures. Again, you can always crop a photo in Photoshop, but it's rather magical to frame a photo just as you want it and then see how the light falls in the print you end up with. Maybe I'll find some of my Holga photos to scan for my next post.

-- Gigi

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Gargoyles of Notre Dame

The gargoyles that first inspired my imagination are the gargoyles of Notre Dame in Paris. Although the cathedral was constructed in the 1200s, the gargoyles weren't added until the 1800s -- a romantic addition to the Gothic cathedral.

I first visited them when I was a kid in the 1980s, dragged along to France by my anthropologist mother. I was fussy because I hated the food in France (oh, what a silly child I was...). But as a fan of Scooby Doo and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, I was enamored with the mysterious stone creatures at Notre Dame.

The photos I took with a pink plastic 110 film camera will remain in a shoe box in my parents' house and never see the light of day. When I went back and visited Paris on my own, though, I discovered the mystery in these stone carvings all over again. Below are a few of the first decent photos I took of the gargoyles of Notre Dame in the 1990s.

They look out over the city, watching. 

Each one is a completely unique creature with its own personality.

The photos above were shot with black and white 35mm film. When I first moved to San Francisco, I spent hours in the community darkroom of the Harvey Milk Photo Center developing prints of photos like these.

I've since switched to a digital camera, and have accumulated more lenses than I could afford as a teenager. But these early photos remain some of my favorites.


Monday, January 17, 2011

What is a Gargoyle Anyway?

Technically, a gargoyle is a stone grotesque on the side of a building with a very specific feature: a waterspout for its mouth. It's from the French 'gargouille,' meaning throat, which is also how we get the word 'gargle'.

The purpose of the gargoyle, in architectural terms, is to carry rainwater away from the building via a more artistic form than a drain pipe. Like this fellow below, at Westminister Abbey in London (with the saint looking out from behind).

But that architectural understanding leaves us with a pretty narrow definition. In common usage, the word gargoyle more broadly describes any ornamental grotesque carved in stone. That's the way I use the term gargoyle.

One of the most iconic gargoyles isn't technically a gargoyle. Le Penseur ("The Thinker") is one of many non-waterspout gargoyles that sits high atop Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Gargoyles now adorn many types of buildings, but as the examples above show, churches are important in their history. There are different interpretations about their original meaning, though.

One understanding is that gargoyles represented demons and were meant to frighten people into attending church, which was a sanctuary from the demonic forces outside. Another interpretation is that the gargoyles themselves warded off evil.

Since countless artists and patrons were essential in creating unique carvings before the era of mass-produced statues, it's likely a combination of factors across time and locations. I'm in awe of the visions of the people involved and their stone creations that have endured over the centuries.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Introduction to the Gargoyle Girl Blog

I already blog with a fabulous group of writers, the Pens Fatales, giving me an opportunity to talk about mystery writing and life. The reason I'm starting this Gargoyle Girl blog is to explore another side of mystery that's a part of me -- the art of mystery.

I'm a photographer who's drawn to mysterious subjects. Gargoyles make up a large body of my work, thus the name of this blog.

I've been meaning to do more with these photos for ages. This blog is a way for me to share these mysterious images with others who might appreciate them as well. What better way to motivate me to organize my countless old negatives and unsorted digital archives? I've announced my intentions, so there's no going back now.

But it would be boring to focus solely on my gothic photos, so you can also stick around for some mysterious musings. (Hint: My bookshelves are filled with fantastic books from the Golden Age of detective fiction -- with correspondingly cool pulp art book covers.)

Today, I'll leave you with a photo that gives a sense of the mystery I'm talking about: a fallen angel from the Brooklyn Museum's sculpture garden, a sanctuary where giant carvings that once adorned the historic buildings of New York now lie in overgrown, tangled ivy.

As of the last time I visited, the sculptures in this garden were all hand-carved pieces of art that were rescued from buildings that were demolished. How high above the city did the wings of this cherubic angel once stretch?

Whenever I find myself in a new city, I try to find time to seek out architecturally interesting buildings with stone carvings high above, and to walk through cemeteries of weathered sculptures. There's history -- and mystery -- in the stone.

--Gigi Pandian