Paul Grayson | What's in a name?

What's in a name?

May 03, 2014  •  Leave a Comment



The Sentinel

The SentinelThe SentinelCopyrighted Digital Photograph

How does the title of this image enhance it?

Rather than discuss the image-related issues of this photograph, I want to discuss the importance of the associated text. I love to read and I love to write, although not to the same level of passion that image making inspires in me, but the creativity inherent in writing also seems to wrap itself around the images, whenever I bring them out for viewing.

Conscious or subconscious?

It is banal to state that imagination, personal sensitivity and worldview permeate the artistic process of image making. Many artists are able to express the underlying processes that inform their expression and many are not. I can explain what is going on in my subconscious during the making of this photograph, but it would not be true to say that it was all on the surface at the moment of capture. As a pilgrim trekking the road behind Cartier Bresson's path to the "Instant Decisif", I am greatly inspired by reflex-action capture of fleeting moments that appear around me, but I more often take photographs in a more reflective, prepared, or pre-planned way. In the latter, it is the conscious artistic me which dominates.

This image seems to fit in the middle of these states of consciousness. I had intentionally gone to the northern embankment of the Thames to photograph around the cream, green ziggurat of the British Secret Service on the southern bank. The vast majority of the images were architectural and landscape-driven. All the while, though, I was aware of the romantic, filmic, James Bond legend of the place, alongside the deeper, darker reality of the headquarters of one of the world's most effective and secretive intelligence institutions, relatively recently emerged from mysterious non-existence into the light of democratic accountability, as demonstrated by its sudden appearance on the London skyline in a flamboyant, beautiful building.  

My change of perspective

Not shown here is a storytelling set of images where I focussed on the Bond aspect, by "signifying" the building with passing London buses. This was a light-hearted attempt at a visual joke, but as I moved nearer and nearer to the bridge leading to the building, I was instantly struck by the potential meaning in the statuary adorning it. I set out to bring them both into close relationship, although the original image did not emphatically make the connection that I felt was there. I dramatically cropped in order to achieve my intent and create a kind of sentry box, but that is a "visual" blog for another day. Neither did I immediately drag from my instinctual sensitivity what it was that drew me to the statuary, apart from the dignified and soldierly stance of the figure, with the Union flag snapping above it.

In the digital darkroom, when I had time to ponder the emerging meaning, I realized that the hood and its strange shape (due to the blade of the scythe held by the reaper) evoked a sense of soldier monks of old: Templars sallying out to battle the forces of darkness attacking the values of the kingdom they were sworn to defend with their lives. Mysterious and legendary, sacrificial and ruthless. Various words came to mind to enable me to project that sense to you, the viewer, mainly prosaic, such as "The Sentry" or "The Guardian". Then it came to me - and seemed to perfectly define my feelings towards the image - "The Sentinel". Not a guardian of the building or a protector of the place, but a keen-eyed watcher, monitoring time and space to ward off evil. Indeed, the fact that it is a sheaf of grain and not a weapon which is being held at "Slope Arms" evokes another layer of purpose to the figure as defender of the kingdom's peace and prosperity. Each of these infuses an archaic and non-prosaic sense into what I was trying to convey.

I hope that this blog is not pretentious or boring. It really does reflect my personal response to my work and a significant, but mostly uncommented aspect of it. I hope that it helps you to review your own process, by not neglecting the meanings that your artistic subconscious is offering you, if you pay close attention.


Here are the settings for the image:

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G

Focal Length: 160mm


Focus Mode: AF-C

Aperture: f/11

Shutter Speed: 1/320s

Auto Focus -Area Mode: Single

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation : -0.3 EV

Metering: Matrix

ISO Sensitivity: 500

Mounted on a Tripod


Copyright Paul Grayson 2014



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