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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Two: Travel Incongruities > American Merchant Marinerís Memorial, New York City, New York, 2009
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19-MAR-2009

American Merchant Marinerís Memorial, New York City, New York, 2009

This monument, located at the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park, honors the thousands of merchant mariners who have died at sea in the course of American history. Created in 1991 by the artist Marisol Escobar, part of it features a bronze sculpture of a drowning man that is not only unsettlingly realistic, but dependent upon the ebb and flow of New York harborís tides. It is reaching upwards from the water, towards a helping hand extended from one of three other bronze figures stationed on a rescue boat overhead. I framed only the drowning man, his body wracked with tension and fear. Over time, the weather and seawater have coated the figure with a patina that further blends it to the sea. Will he live or die? The colors in my image make the body appear to be flayed Ė revealing raw flesh below its green copper skin. The rough texture of the stone base of the monument adds still another dimension of fear to the image, confining the figure within a claustrophobic space. The power of photographic illusion enhances the creative concept and brilliant execution of the sculptor, using incongruity to help express the terror of a drowning at sea.

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Phil Douglis06-May-2018 19:51
Thanks, Merri, for sharing your views of this image with me. It is indeed a harsh and painful memorial. I tried to make it even more so, by framing only the drowning man, a man teetering on the edge of death itself. The memorial commemorates the merchant mariners who have died at sea, yet the essence of this statue is all about the struggle of a drowning man to survive. You saw him as a man already lost, while I saw this man's life still hanging in the balance. And that's a powerful commentary on the nature of photographic expression. When a photographer leaves a seed of doubt in an image, viewers will always see exactly what they want to see.
Phil Douglis06-May-2018 19:48
Thanks, Merri, for sharing your views of this image with me. It is indeed a harsh and painful memorial. I tried to make it even more so, by framing only the drowning man, a man teetering on the edge of death itself. The memorial commemorates the merchant who have died at sea, yet the essence of this statue is all about the will to survive death at sea. You saw it as a man already lost, while I saw as a life still hanging in the balance. And that's a powerful commentary on the nature of photographic expression. When a photographer creates the illusion of doubt in an image, the viewer will always see exactly what they want to see.
Merri 06-May-2018 01:09
Both this photographic image and Jenene's (in the comments link) are powerful and disturbing. In 1995, I visited New York with a friend and we came upon this memorial. Even after all these years, the memory of the experience retains its clarity. It is a memorial that is not gentle or kind, but harsh and painful. And it was also cold and overcast the day of my visit which enhanced the mood. The photo I took with my cheap little camera showed the boat with the 3 rescuers above the drowning man. It seemed to me then he was already lost. This image tells me the same thing.
Phil Douglis03-Apr-2009 02:11
As always, you and I reflect so much of ourselves in how we read photographs,Tim. I see fear and terror, life and death, even bodily decay here. And you see the colors of diversity, and the rainbow of hope. Our divergence tells me that this image succeeds as expression beyond my wildest dreams.
Tim May03-Apr-2009 00:06
Often, now a days, the rainbow is a symbol of diversity. Here the colors on the statue remind me that we are a diverse nation and that our present is build on that diversity.
Phil Douglis01-Apr-2009 01:02
And that is the great beauty of expressive photography, Jenene. It is equivalent to language. A slight shift of frame can change context and thus the meaning of an image, just as a slight shift in intonation can change the meaning of a spoken sentence.
JSWaters31-Mar-2009 21:58
The wonderful part of having both these images in mind, even given their similarities, is how well they illustrate how differently they can be interpreted. I like them both and appreciate even more how a seemingly small shift can really alter perception.
Jenene
Phil Douglis31-Mar-2009 21:25
You are right, Jenene -- it rained all day in New York on Thursday, March 19th. We spent the morning shooting inside of Grand Central Station and then caught the Steichen and Munkasi exhibitions at the International Center of Photography. We had planned to go to Ellis Island in the afternoon because that offered us indoor shooting, but we missed the last boat from Battery Park. Having time on our hands, we explored the park more closely and found Marisol's amazing monument. It was still raining a bit when I made this picture, but I use cloudy white balance and it warmed up the colors, and then I brightened it and added some saturation later with Photoshop. The tide was lower in my shot than yours, so I chose to concentrate on the amazing figure, rather than on the two hands reaching for each other, as you did in your image. We are shooting the same subject but in different situations, with different interpretations. I had your picture in the back of my mind when I made this shot -- when I walked up to this monument, I recalled how you had handled it instantly.
JSWaters31-Mar-2009 05:24
We were both struck by the realism in this sculpture. It's interesting to see the differences between your photo here and the one I made last yearhttp://www.pbase.com/jswaters/image/96997549 It was raining when I took mine, so there is a complete lack of sunlight. Here, the sun illuminates his struggle by painting him with horror film color.
Jenene
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