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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...
Gold Buddha Face at the Sule Paya Temple
Year: 2013, Month: November
Myanmar > Rangoon > Yangon
We are programmed from birth to recognise the human face. It is one of the first images that we instinctively search for, and even small sections of a face, or the basic features of eyes and mouth are spotted as a pattern within the unlikeliest of shapes. The closer an image is to an actual human face, the easier it is for us to spot and visually 'latch on' to it: hence the power of religious images, no matter what faith or creed they belong to.
Some of the most beautiful of religious statues are created for the Buddhist faith, and this month's Photo Of The Month brings you an image of one statue found in the Sule Paya Temple in the heart of the old Burmese capital, Rangoon: now more usually known as Yangon. Even if we hadn't known its country of origin, I would think that most people could have made an educated guess, and come pretty close to the correct answer. Buddhists usually create their statues with some trace of the creator's nationality. If you visit a Buddhist centre with representations from different Buddhist nations around the world, such as Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha's Enlightenment, you will be able to compare the Buddha images in each of the national temples there, and soon realise how similar the icons are to the nationals of the home country for each temple. The shape of the facial features for this statue will soon be recognised as Burmese by anyone who has spent time in that country.
The statue is carefully sculpted to show an impassive, expressionless face. The eyes are not looking at the viewer but at a point slightly below the viewer's own eyes. The mouth is fixed in a deadpan expression that some might call a smile. The whole countenance speaks of a meditative, inward-looking, and dignified demeanour. It is a face to contemplate, secure in the knowledge that it will not judge us for doing so.
I wonder if gold was chosen for the statue's construction as this reflects, to some extent, the color of the skin of many people within this country? Wealth and worldly status have little to do with the Buddhist faith, but maybe the choice of gold was used to inspire an additional awe in the worshipper, at the possible expense of a certain amount of greed? Certainly the immutable nature of gold reflects well the immutable nature of the Buddha, and from a practical point of view, a statue made from gold needs little maintenance over its long lifetime. Whatever the reason, it is an easy substance to look at, and the gleam of gold is almost addictive to the worshipper in a way that, for instance, a plaster icon would never be.
The body of this statue was wrapped in ceremonial robes of the finest Burmese silk, and its makeup is thus hidden. For maximum impact in this image, I have therefore chosen to show just the face. The statue is positioned in front of a backdrop of the deepest maroon, surmounted with traditional multi-colored Buddhist flags. These colors are reflected in the polished surface of the face, and thus add an interesting tint to the already attractive nature of the base metal. Finally, the image is further enhanced by the reflections of nearby lights that add a sense of shape and form to what might otherwise be a flat visage. The face is positioned to one side of the fixed aspect ratio for the shot, and this positioning adds a visual inbalance that the brain finds naturally appealing. All in all, a most addictive photo, for the best of reasons.
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