The subject of a straightforward, “realistic” painting will temporarily hold the viewer’s attention.
But the viewer won’t be able to stop staring at one whose subject is enveloped in an air of mystery.
The woman in Leonardo da Vinci ‘s painting,”The Mona Lisa,” is just such a subject. Who is she, and is she actually smiling or not?
We could spend an eternity arguing about the identity and mindset of da Vinci’s most famous female model, and whether he painted a second version of her.
But what bearing do those questions have on photography?As it turns out, photography is simply a substitute for painting when it comes to depicting the world around us and those who people it.
As with paintings, some photos clearly show what their subjects are up to.
A napkin might wipe the whipped cream off the face of this women, but not her smile. We don’t know exactly where the photo was taken, but the words on the vendor’s sign appear to be written in the German language, so surmising that she’s enjoying a waffle in a German city would be a good guess. (In fact, she was in Dresden.)
On the other hand, we’re forced to ponder what’s happening in this next photo and where the action is taking place.
Seen from the back, this woman seems to be wearing a burka. We assume it is a woman, but how old is she?
If I had been a little quicker to press the shutter button on my camera, I would have caught her turned slightly to the left, and the viewer would have seen her holding a cellphone up to her ear. But my hesitation in taking the photo has left the viewer with a mystery to solve: What is she doing and what is she thinking about?
The traffic light, striping on the pavement, and passing car, suggest that she’s standing on a curb, waiting to cross the street. But where?
Her clothing might suggest that she’s in a Middle Eastern city. But the fact that the people in the background of the photo are not similarly clad indicates that’s probably not the case.
Focusing on the woman leads the viewer to neglect the words “Marble Arch” on the blue sign partially obscured by the passing vehicle. And if the shutter speed would have been a bit faster, the image of the car wouldn’t have been blurred, of if the entire car had been within the frame, the viewer might have concluded it was a taxi cab.
Do a Google search for “Marble Arch” and “taxi cab,” look at a map of London and you’ll quickly suss out the fact that she waiting to cross Oxford Street near the Marble Arch Tube Station and “Speaker’s Corner” in London’s Hyde Park.
And if you did a little more research, you would have learned that the area between Marble Arch and nearby Edgeware Road has attracted both residents and tourists from Middle Eastern countries over the years.
From those facts, Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional London sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, might have deduced that she was returning to her hotel or residence and that because she didn’t appear to be accompanied by a male escort, she probably did not hail from Saudi Arabia.
Of course, for those viewing the photograph without those facts in mind, she’ll remain a woman of mystery, as enigmatic as da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
(Click on an image to enlarge to full-size. Visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more of this week’s Travel Photo Thursday shots.)