Thursday, September 17, 2009

Points of view: The Mona Lisa

True confession: I have lived in Paris multiple times, I go to Paris every year, I have been to the Louvre many many times, but I have never seen the Mona Lisa until today. I mean, I've seen her ad naseum—on mugs, posters, key chains, with facial hair, in a Warhol serigraph—pretty much everywhere except in the actual Louvre museum. But for no particular reason, I gave in to the inevitable this afternoon and paid a visit to every tourist's must-see work of art. Here is what I saw:

I decided to take some "points of view" photos for this month's theme (well, somebody's got to do it.) One of my favorites is the following, in which a man's arms reframe the painting quite nicely:

I also like the smirk on the blurred woman's face in the foreground. The painting seems nearly postage-stamp sized from this perspective, which pleases me because that's how I have heard it described by so many disappointed tourists over the years.

I took a fair number of photos featuring tourists taking photos with their cell phones and various devices. The blatant disregard for the "no flash" rules failed to illicit so much as a sneer from the guards and made me wonder if the museum had replaced the real painting with a gift-shop copy long ago. Trust me, no one would be the wiser.

You would think that photos like the one above would be easy to take, but that's before you realize that you are photographing a sporting event. I am no stranger to museum fatigue, and I often spend less time contemplating art than an educated person should, however, nothing had prepared me for the pace of that room: Hold up camera (or 2 out of 3 times a cell phone), snap a pick, turn around, and get out. Wave after wave of people repeated this procedure. My autofocus could not even keep up. See the blond in the middle? I had my camera on rapid-fire and she was gone before the second shot. (Add some long black hair over her face and you've got a Japanese horror movie.) The efficiency exhibited in that room made me wonder where all of these people came from. They certainly weren't at the CDG airport ten days ago.

From another point of view, the crowded room looks vacant. Although the photo is probably too small here to show it, the security guard's lips form an impossibly straight line that is enigmatic in its own right.

Finally, just as I was leaving, I saw a sophisticated woman looking right at the painting. Not at the screen on her camera. In fact, she had no camera. Her arms were crossed and she just stood there. Looking. Long enough for me to take three photos. And in the Joconde room of the Louvre, three frames is a very long time.

frame 1

frame 2

frame 3

Which do you prefer? Part of the Sam Abell-inspired theme this month is the idea of choice and editing. The photographer and the viewer may have different preferences, but often the viewer has no choice. Comments about any of my points of view on the Mona Lisa are definitely appreciated.


Erica said...

These are great photos. I can't believe you had never seen the Mona Lisa before with all of the time you spent in Paris!

laura said...

I think the first of the 3 photos is my favorite, because of her body language and slightly shifted shoulders. She seems very relaxed, but the last may display her emotions better with her unique stance.

michelle said...

I love this post. It definitely makes me want to try shooting some different points of view. Interesting that people take a quick pic and jet out of there... I guess many of us are more interested in saying we saw something than actually seeing it.

Sean said...

Hi... new here, and I really like your blog and work...

First one is nice... we can see what she is looking at, and the back of her doesnt dominate the photograph, there is a balance between her view and her... dont like the second one, there is too much going on in the middle, the third is an interesting one, simply because it seems to be similar to the second however she provides more interest. Awkward positioning, I am wondering how practical the shoes are for museum visiting, she looks like she is not all that enamoured by the art, but still there anyway. There is more of interest I think. Seeing so much of her makes me want to see the rest.... not for any other reason than it may help understand or make a judgement on why she is there or if she is really a tourist or a model which got lost....

marc said...

Great comments, Sean. I think I agree with your assessment. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if she were a model that strayed into the Louvre by mistake. In any case, having seen her face (and even from her posture), I would say that she is looking at the painting the same way she probably looks at beautiful women: competitively.