Shot! One of the three Graces
Whilst her name may escape me, this is the story behind one of my favourite ever captures
Generally, my images can be found illustrating a review of a live concert or an exceptional event. Apart from having written about Sam Hussein’s stunning ‘umbrella’ portrait of Harry and Meghan from March 2020, I’ve never focused an article on just a single image.
So why this one and why give it the spotlight? In a word, because I love it and think it deserves more exposure.
When you take as many photos as I do, some of them immediately stand out as having something special about them. For me, rather than just taking photos, it’s all about making images. Put another way, it’s as much about what happens after pressing the button that matters. Of course, you need to start with an interesting image, but the real creativity — what makes it truly eye-catching — comes with what you do with it afterwards.
I’ve never been an advocate for keeping my images ‘as shot’. I’m not a purist. My aim isn’t about making a faithful reproduction of what’s in front of me. I’ll leave others to do that. I always want to enhance my images, to give them my own artistic spin.
I compare it with what musicians do to create their own unique sounds: guitarists use a plethora of pedals and boards to modify the tone their instrument makes, and mixers take an original track to a different level by modifying everything from its beat to its sound. Insodoing they add their own personality to the end result. It’s the same for me with my images, rarely do I share anything that’s just out of the camera. What’s more, over the years, I’ve ‘remixed’ numerous images shot by other photographers.
Recently I was at Hampton Court Palace, photographing the 2022 Concours of Elegance. Whilst there I was drawn to a statue in the Great Fountain Garden. I took a few photos of it.
After editing my automotive images, I looked at my shots of the statue and my first thoughts were of disappointment. I wished I’d taken just a few more as the ones I had weren’t that great. Usually in situations like that, I either delete or don’t do anything with the images, however something told me I needed to persevere and see whether I could create something interesting with what I had.
I also did some research about the statue. Almost always, the more I know about what I’m shooting, the more invested I am in the images I’ve taken. Having some kind of emotional connection — however fleeting— makes all the difference in how one views an image.
It turns out The Three Graces is not an original piece, it’s a bronze cast from a marble statue in the Louvre. Apparently, it was placed at the head of The Long Water in the 1850s. While the sculptor appears to be unknown, it was restored in 1609 by Nicolas Cordier for Cardinal Borghese.
The Three Graces themselves are a motif from ancient Greek literature, and a very popular subject for artists to portray. They depict the three daughters of Zeus, each of whom can bestow a particular gift on humanity. Euphrosyne personifies mirth, Aglaia elegance and Thalia youth and beauty. Usually, they’re seen in a loose semi-circle so that they complement one another in their poses and gazes, entwined arms and swathes of drapery. Which of the sisters is in my portrait, I’ve yet to work out.
Like the statue itself, my original photo included all three. However, you could only see the back of one of their heads and a second looked like her face was conjoined with the former. To me, that didn’t look like a good composition. Much better I thought was to focus on the third sister, who was isolated from the others. So I cropped in on her until I was left with a clean portrait of just one of the Graces.
Immediately I could see this was a much more pleasing composition. But it needed something more if it were to be anything other than just a close-up of a statue covered in bird poo and spider webs!
I’m not going to reveal the exact process I used to get from the original crop to the final image, suffice to say it involves a number of steps and several different software applications, without at any point altering the image itself. What’s important is to look at the difference between the two.
The first thing you see is I’ve added some colour. Right now, I’m a big fan of golden yellow. The statue itself is dark grey and the skies over Hampton Court were pale grey, so visually it was pretty dull. I also enhanced the clarity, which not only provided more detail, but makes the image look more artistic than photogenic. Finally, appreciating that the statue was weathered and dripping with aforementioned bird poo, I added an overlay of some flowers to the bottom of the image.
When all the above is combined together, it elevates what would have been a pretty ordinary image into something a lot more interesting and eyecatching. It now looks like a bonafide artwork.
I particularly like how the head appears to float away from the rest of her body and how the flowers fit so naturally into the image. In some ways, it reminds me of the work by the great Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, most famous for his iconic painting The Kiss. Not only does this feature a predominantly gold colour scheme, but it also has flowers at its base. Now I’m not comparing my image to Klimt’s, nor did I have it in mind when I was editing. It’s just that it shares a fleeting similarity.
One final observation. I must say I’m surprised at how noticeably poor the condition of The Three Graces statue was — at least at the time of my visit. Being in prominent location in one of the most visited Royal palaces in the UK, I would have expected it to be superbly maintained. From my cursory research, bird droppings are deemed one of the most destructive materials for damaging bronze. As a rule, they should be removed “as soon as they are discovered.”
That being said, as far as my picture goes, I feel the bird poo actually enhances the image, giving it additional visual interest.
And, whilst I still don’t know which Grace it is, I’m sure I’ve created an image that I’ll look back on as a personal favourite.
Behind the shot: This image was taken handheld using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens. Photographed at Hampton Court Palace on 3 September 2022
About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in creating out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens, not forgetting an array of automotive exotica.
On the writing side, he has used his research skills to author deep dives into some noteworthy songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople.
He has also written a biography of Robert Palmer and the stories behind Whitesnake’s blatant Led Zep rip-off, ‘Still Of The Night’ and Harry Styles’ anthem to positivity, ‘Treat People With Kindness’.
Most recently, Gary has penned the fascinating story behind George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’
All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians including the likes of Royal Blood, Joe Satriani and Wolf Alice.