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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Thirty: When walls speak and we listen > Inscriptions, The Sacred Way, Ancient Delphi, Greece, 2005
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Inscriptions, The Sacred Way, Ancient Delphi, Greece, 2005

This wall has long since fallen. It was part of the Sanctuary of Apollo, the center of the universe to the ancient Greeks, more than 2,500 years ago. It stood along side of the Sacred Way – the marble road leading to the dwelling place of the god Apollo – a street once lined with 3,000 statues and huge treasuries holding the offerings of the people who came to consult the god through his priestess, the Oracle of Delphi. The statues and most of the treasuries are gone now – all that’s left are ruins. Yet these ruined walls still speak to us, and we can listen to them. I singled out a single stone to express this idea. The afternoon sun was low in sky, illuminating the ancient Greek lettering on one side, and shadowing the mysterious, crudely scratched words on another, words that have stood the test of wind, rain and sun for twenty five centuries. I don’t know what the writing says – or if it was even part of a wall. It may have just as well been a column. Yet someone is still trying to say something to us after all of this time, and on this fall evening centuries later, their words can still be seen, revealed in light and hidden in shadow. I tilted the camera to allow the primary inscription to move along a diagonal plane, ending abruptly in the shadows where the other words seem to have left by succeeding generations. And that is the dynamic at work here – a war of words.

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Phil Douglis03-Oct-2006 06:33
Yes, John, it is my mission to make you and everyone else who looks at my images think, feel, wonder, and imagine. If I can do that, I will be satisfied with an image's expressive force. Glad you feel this one as strongly as I did when I made it.
Guest 02-Oct-2006 12:15
As usual, excellence in imagery and expression . . . if the wall only had a camera, we'd be able to see all the people that have passed in thousands of years, and you. Again, thanks for sharing. I'm always compelled to think clearly when viewing your galleries. Is that your mission?

Best regards,

John Connor
Phil Douglis08-Oct-2005 01:44
Thanks, Rene, for reinforcing earlier comments about the contrast between these ancient inscriptions, which still manage to invoke the presence of a society long gone, and our present ephemeral electronic natterings.
Rene Hales06-Oct-2005 12:40
Powerful --gives the feel of the presence of those who have gone before us. And as stated what do we leave behind fleeting electrons gone in a nanosecond.--Rene
Phil Douglis04-Oct-2005 17:48
Thanks, Celia, for your wonderful observations. As for giving you additional context for these ruins by showing you what "Delphi looks like," -- that would go well beyond the purpose for which I post my images here on pbase. I post these images here primarily to help others learn how to express ideas. I post pictures intended to show where I've been and what I've seen, on my site. For example, take a look at this shot of Ancient Delphi on . It's main purpose is to function as a landscape containing ruins, which is pretty much what you have asked for above. It is impossible, of course to make an image that uses powerful abstraction to define an idea, as in this image of the inscription, and at the same time emphasize "what it looks like," as in the shot I've linked you to on They serve two entirely different functions, and must be served by different images. It would be a very rare image indeed that could be both powerfully expressive, which usually involves a degree of abstraction, and at the same time be essentially descriptive.
Cecilia Lim04-Oct-2005 13:01
I love how you used variations in light here to express the sense of struggle in self preservation. The juxtaposition between the shadow that encompases the worn-off inscriptions and the well-preserved engravings beaming in the golden light, seem to be telling us that this once great civilization tried to leave its legacy in stone, but it appears to be a losing battle as time and forces of nature have already begun to strip its will away. Even your purposeful tilt in composition suggests this very instability and fated doom.

Although this image focuses on a very small part of the ruins, you’ve managed to express a sense of place - about the order, discipline, pride, intelligence, identity & sophistication of this great place. While at the same time convey a feeling of sadness about the inevitable deterioration and loss of this great civilisation. We see the struggle for longevity - words trying to speak out but which we know will eventually be lost to the wind.

I’ve often found it difficult to photograph ruins and this image gives me an idea how to express the feelings of a place. But I would love to see how you might photograph more of the scene (like a landscape) and express these same ideas in one photo. As expressive as this image is, as a travel photograph, I would still love to see what this place looks like and be able to identify this ruin in some way. At the moment I am not able to place this macro image to a particular site. It looks like any other greek ruin. As your teaching galleries revolve around travel images, do you think it is important to be able to show what a place looks like as well as express one’s ideas or feelings about it. I always struggle when I try to do both. I hope you can shed some light on other ways we can approach photographing ruins.
Phil Douglis02-Oct-2005 20:53
Thanks, Ana for your interpretation. I am drawn to the dark side myself. I have the feeling that people may had left their names or their own feelings in response to the primary inscription on the front. What are they saying? And when did they say it? By abstracting it in shadow, I tried to stimulate such questions.

And thanks, Clara, for your poetic observation on this image, as well. You make a good point. "Carved in stone" is now a figure of speech. Most ideas are now, as you say, merely collections of pixels that come and go. I have no doubt that this photograph will only survive as long as there is a way to view it. And given the commercial desire to change technologies every few years, I am not optimistic about its longevity. We all can be thankful to the ancients -- they made things that lasted, including their ideas.
Guest 02-Oct-2005 15:16
Great angle, texture, contrasts, and subject. Perfectly composed.
Isn't amazing that at that time people wrote in stone?
Their message had to be important, at least to them.
Now we write on screens that get erased after seconds.
Even hard drives and cd-roms have limited life.
Our culture is transient in comparison with theirs.
How long this photograph will endure the pass of Time?
And even so, we are the witness of the past.
Ana Carloto O'Shea02-Oct-2005 06:35
This time I'll start with the first, because it was an image that imediately held my attention....
I believe the tilt gave a lot of dynamic to the image, almost like the huge block of stone was moving... It must weight tons and yet, on account of the tilt, it seems like it's about to slide of the image at any second now.
The fact that the inscriptions are part in the shade and part in the light, definitely add a lot of mystery to this photo... almost like we've discovered some hidden secret under the shade of the centuries. And it's actually quite interesting how my eyes always try to go to the darker part of the image, trying to figure out what's written there, which is something funny, because I cannot even understand what's writtenn on that lighted side :)) So, for me the greatest power of this image was actually making me believe that I could see beyond what is really there there...
Beautiful details also. It feels almost like we are able to feel the textures of the stone in this image.
A war of words?? Nah... just the power of them!!
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