16 November 2006

Roadside Jesus Art in New Mexico

We're departing from the theme of autumn leaves for the time being. Today's photo is one I took on my trip to New Mexico in early August. We just don't get that kind of public piety up here in the Pacific Northwest, apart from a few white cross shrines near the side of the road where people were killed in car accidents. This "Jesus of the Hoops," as I call it, is somewhat tacky at one level, but there's also something beautiful about it. The basketball hoop is like a second halo, echoing the yellow painted halo and the shape of the crown of thorns, which is in turn repeated in the stack of old tires. This is an everyday Jesus. He's there in the midst of the sweltering heat, while you shoot hoops behind the garage, carry a load in your wheelbarrow, work on your beater van with the missing bench seat. And yet he's somehow otherworldly, painted with saintly aspect, eyes averted, blood trickling down his face, shoulders and chest. You probably can't see it in the low-res version of this picture, but the painter signed his work with his initials and the date: "** - 77" (the initials had been blacked out; perhaps he was embarrassed by his work or wanted it to remain anonymous). This isn't art photography per se as much as it is a photograph of art. But I've taken it in an artistic way, framing it to emphasize the jarring juxtaposition of Jesus and junk, and the repeating halo shapes.

It was a very bright day, so parts of this photo are washed out (overexposed). Nothing Photoshop could do about that. One of these days I'll get on the ball and do some HDR (high dynamic range) photography, where you take two different exposures of the same photo (using a tripod of course, to keep the composition exactly the same), one properly exposed for the shadows and one for the highlights, and then, using some fancy selection and masking and layers work in Photoshop, you merge the shadows of the former with the highlight areas of the latter for a perfectly exposed photo from bright to dark. No camera has the breadth of dynamic range that the human eye has, but with the magic of technology, you can make it look like it does. This process can be quite time consuming, but the results are stunning.

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