I once heard it said that photographers could learn a great deal from sculpture. I have found this undoubtably true and sculpture has become one of my primary influences.

It can teach how to capture movement and the human form in a distilled moment. Also, as photographers using light to create depth and form on a 2D plane, sculpture, often created in the round, can help inform us.

So, last week, on the hottest day of the year (and since records began!), I headed off early to the British Museum in London to photograph some of the most beautiful sculptures ever created…

Iris. Parthenon sculpture. Photographer Simon Tomkinson.
Poseidon. Parthenon sculpture. Photographer Simon Tomkinson.
Ilissos. Parthenon sculpture. Photographer Simon Tomkinson.
Poseidon. Parthenon sculpture. Photographer Simon Tomkinson.

The Parthenon sculptures are truely a sight to behold – outstanding beauty and often dynamic action. And to think they were created well over two thousand years ago.

Designed by Pheidias and made from marble between 447 and 432BC, these figures decorated the temple of Athena (Parthenon) on the Acropolis in Athens.

The sculptor Rodin apparently loved this gallery, finding great inspiration here. (Interestingly, he never visited the Acropolis itself). More about him in a future post hopefully.

Centaur and Lapith. Parthenon Metopes. Photographer Simon Tomkinson.
Centaur and Lapith. Parthenon Metopes. Photographer Simon Tomkinson.

These purpose built galleries provided superb (what appeared to be natural) light from the ceiling. On a day with clear blue skies, at the height of summer, this gave wonderful form to the sculptures. It definitely paid to come at this time of year.

Due to the extreme heat I used my 2nd camera (5d ii). As I expected heavy crowds I knew I would have to work quickly to get clean shots, so just used a 50mm lens (f1.2L). The advantage of using only a prime lens is that it adds a feeling of homogeny to a series.

Normally I would use at least a monopod to add stability when photographing still life but, again, the expected crowds meant this would be inappropriate. Much better to be able to move quickly, take opportunities & avoid people.

The final photographs above (in black & white) are of a neighbouring gallery within the museum holding The Nereid Monument.

It was built in south west Turkey around 380BC by the Lykians. It has Nereids, daughters of the sea god Nereus, between it’s coloumns.

Their floating movement is quite remarkable. There is what I can only describe as a wonderful aura surrounding this Monument.

Credits / Outtakes

Location:  The British Museum

Great Court, British Muesum.

Poseidon, Parthenon sculpture.

Comments relating to photography welcome below. I will try and respond as soon as possible.

For info on the museum & the history, as well as the issues, surrounding these sculptures, please visit:

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