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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Thirty: When walls speak and we listen > Listening, Plazuela del Baratillo, Guanajuato, Mexico, 2005
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Listening, Plazuela del Baratillo, Guanajuato, Mexico, 2005

This woman was sitting on the steps of a house, listing to a sad song from a nearby guitar. I was attracted by the contrast created by the vivid color of the house and her monochromatic clothing. She occupies steps surrounded by walls, alone with her thoughts. With one hand held to her face, she limply holds a bag in the other. Her body language and expression may be relaxed, but the reddish walls that flank her seem heavy and unforgiving. None of us can know what may be on her mind, but those walls, working as context here, give us a melancholic view of this moment in time.

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Phil Douglis25-May-2006 17:32
You are right, Jack. The walls are context here. They help bring meaning to the body language of the subject.
Guest 25-May-2006 12:22
Beautiful!! Obviously more than the walls speak here.
Phil Douglis04-Dec-2005 23:46
Thanks, AJ, for your comment. Yes, the walls and steps are slightly askew -- they make the image more substantive in the process, because often the barriers that restrain us in life are out of line as well. I left the pipe in because it echoes the geometry of the walls, and the patch of ground in the lower left hand corner repeats the coloration of the clay that covers the step at right. It completes the picture by echoing that earthy flavor still again.
Guest 04-Dec-2005 21:20
I really like this image: the girl alone amongst all those geometric walls -- it is a fine contrast of form and colour ... nevertheless there are a few minor details which distract me: one is that the image seems to be leaning, but this could well be the walls leaning; another is the pipe at the front right (it attracts my attention too much); and the other (tiny) one is the patch of ground to the bottom left ... which I feel breaks the wall. These are REALLY minor things, and I not trying to get picky, but just tell you the things which I see --- hope that's OK
Phil Douglis04-Dec-2005 03:24
I'm glad you used the phrase "mirrored all of us there" in this followup comment, Jen. As you know, we often are expressing how we feel, as much as we express how our subjects feel, in our photographs. To be human is to be faced with continual choices and decisions that will significantly affect our lives. Often, we worry about taking a risk, or making a choice because of barriers that primarily exist in our own minds. All of us have been there at one time or another -- on these steps, faced with both barriers and opportunities, both real and imaginary, and have had to make risky choices. When I saw this woman on these red steps, I saw myself thirty five years ago -- feeling walled in, yet also seeing avenues of exploration that were wide open, but daunting to me. I made some hard choices, and looking back at them, I am glad I did. And so I made this personal image in which you, and, as you say, many others as well, can recognize yourselves as the subject. Thank you, Jen, for understanding what I have tried to do here, and for being perceptive enough to know WHY I made this image.
Jennifer Zhou04-Dec-2005 01:29
Thank you Phil for the response. In somewhy, I feel that was me sitting there, wondering about life. There are indeed barriers and openings, and I just need sometime to find out which way to go, what to do with my life.. Now I see the values of this portrait. You mirrored all of us there! Thanks!!
Phil Douglis29-Nov-2005 23:26
Thanks, Jen, for your comment and question. Yes, this picture is as much about listening as speaking. The geometry of the picture creates a series of symbolic barriers and openings. She seems to be trapped within them, and wondering where, when, and how to "get out" of her situation. Yes, it is very much an environmental portrait. Expressive environmental portraits can define aspects of a person, their character, and their situations. This defines a personal situation -- her melancholic mood makes her seem as if she may be worried about what lies ahead, doesn't she? And we worry with her.
Jennifer Zhou29-Nov-2005 14:23
Well, it is a great opening for a gallery about how when walls speak and we listen. The girl is actually listening to a guitar, but we don't see the player in the picture, and the girl sitting there appears as if she is really listening to the wall...

I understand how the contrast of the colors between the wall and the girl's clothing makes a point, but I still can't figure out how these geometric lines help to defined this person. Or this is not just an environmental portrait?
Phil Douglis19-Nov-2005 03:56
Thanks, Sean You are right -- this image is awash in geometric repetition. I have been attracted to such concepts as this ever since I saw Henri Cartier Bresson's image "Greece, 1961" many years ago.

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The idea of a figure exquisitely trapped within the geometry of walls has, as you can see, been used before and used very well. I worked on this image for sometime in order to stamp it with my own point of view. It was not a lucky candid. I shot this person for more than ten minutes from a variety of angles and moments, and this one worked the best for me. And yes, I kept that pipe in the picture deliberately. Some might find it distracting, but I saw it as an echo of the geometric walls and pillars that surround her.
Sean McHugh19-Nov-2005 03:39
What drew my eye to this image was the play on geometry; the stepping diagonals are even mimicked in that bit of pipe you left on the bottom right. I also like how at your exact angle everything seems to overlap (or doesn't) just right. Did you snap this real quick for a candid at the first available angle and get lucky? Somehow I doubt it... :)
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