Sunday was Day 7 of the #AmyShuttPhotoaday challenge, a photo-a-day project for this month coordinated by Amy Shutt of Amy Shutt Photography. On this dreamy Sunday, I visited the Oakley Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, with my mother in law. The plantation grounds and home, built starting in 1799, were dressed up this weekend for the Audubon Pilgrimage. Young girls, women and men dressed in colorful and vast 1820's costumes gave tours of the plantation home and glistened with perspiration as they cooked 19th century meals in dank kitchens separated from the main house.
"The rich magnolias covered with fragrant blossoms, the holly, the beech, the tall yellow poplar, the hilly ground and even the red clay, all excited my admiration." - John James Audubon, on the Oakley Plantation in 1821
I took so many pictures Sunday that I lost count. But one picture stood out among hundreds, and still makes me hold my breath when I look at it.
As we toured the plantation, we came upon an external kitchen that smelled of warm bread and sizzling oil. A women dressed in costume told us stories about the food and the kitchen. She told us how in the 19th century (such a sad short time ago...) slaves weren't allowed in this kitchen past 1 p.m. out of the plantation owners' concerns about work-disrupting heat injuries. But as the women told her stories, a young girl flowed slowly, but ever-moving, through the kitchen. She pushed johnny cakes in a black oiled pan with a old iron spatula. She wiped down utensils with the same meticulousness that she wiped off her brow. And then, for what felt like the split of a long second, she sat down with a dirty plate in a corner of the room, dipping the plate in a barrel of dish water and rubbing it dry with her apron.
Where she sat, light from a single window in this dark kitchen lit up her scrubbing arm and profiled her face. I gasped, and stepped forward with my camera. I knew I had to get that shot.
The mirror in my camera flips up and down slowly, once. The girl scrubs harder for a second against the plate, her arm flexing slightly, and then relaxes. One more time, I click.
I have a 40mm lens on my Canon 5D Mark III. My aperture is set at f/5.6. The ISO climbs to 1600 in this dark room, with a shutterspeed of 1/160 seconds.
The scene looks like a painting. The spotlight barely finds the girl's eyes as she stares into the water.
And then just like that she is up, moving slowly back across the kitchen
Chiaroscuro. It's an Italian art term for "light-dark," which according to Michael Freeman in his book Capturing Light "means using the contrast between light and shade to create a sense of three-dimensional modeling - something that now we take almost completely for granted, particularly in photography."
The Italian painter Caravaggio made his name with chiaroscuro, and it was taken up by the Flemish. Rembrandt in particular used it powerfully. [...]
One way to use chiaroscuro is when a spotlight fires up the action and inescapably pulls the eye to the main subject. [...]
[Rembrandt's St. Peter in Prison, 1631, is] a classically powerful chiaroscuro that both spotlights part of the subject while leaving part shadowed to blend with the dark background. The spill of light at lower right, pointedly focused by the keys, is important to the effect.
- Michael Freeman, Capturing Light
This photo looks even better printed (I printed on a Canon Pixma Pro-100) as a 13x16. The light and shadows play such that it looks like a painting - and in this instance I think the high ISO adds to the quality and mood of the photograph, instead of detracting.
What do you think?
Update: This photograph when printed is a fine piece of art. If you are interested in purchasing it, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit my photography website gallery for direct ordering here.