Sometimes what we first see isn’t the entire story and benefits from further explanation. One of my photographs, “San Galgano Window” has been in a number of exhibits and gallery shows and I am always pleased when people stop to look at it, but they typically have a somewhat puzzled look. I go up to them and ask if they have any questions. Typically, they say they don’t, but I ask them if they’d like to hear the story behind the photograph and they always say, “Yes.”
Here’s the story …
The Abbey of San Galgano, built in the 13th century is a Gothic structure located in Tuscany. The Florentine armies overran the abbey in the 15th century and in the late 18th century the bell tower collapsed partially destroying the roof of the structure. The roof that was made out of lead was considered valuable and was sold, piece by piece. Today the skeleton of the church remains, but without it’s roof. It’s a fascinating, enormous structure with ribbed vaults and pillars that was built in a classic Latin cross and sits in the countryside surrounded by sunflower fields.
But what makes the photograph of the window and interior interesting is it doesn’t make sense; what you see isn’t logical because it isn’t what our subconscious mind expects to see. Normally, on a sunny day, we expect to see the “warm” light outside and the “cool” light inside. Look in the Galgano window. It is exactly the opposite of what our brain expects to see. The reason the weathered stone isn’t “warm” toned from the sun, is that it is shaded by a large tree, and shade typically has a blue or cool cast. The interior of the abbey is flooded with sunlight that bounces around the columns and brickwork because there is no roof. That’s why in the photograph of the window, the warm-toned sunlight is inside the building, not outside.
We don’t normally think about the color temperature of what we see. Our brain has a way of making the appropriate adjustments and we just expect to see warm sunrises, warm sunsets and cool shadows. At first, most people can’t describe what they find interesting about the photograph, but they do say there is something about it that intrigues them. Once they hear the story of the abbey and why the warm light is inside and the cooler light is outside, it finally begins to make sense.