Above: 1/365 Seated Amitayus Buddha at the Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH). Taken with a Pentax KS2 on December 2, 2016.
When I decided to embark on Project 365, I knew I wanted the first photo to be of the Seated Amitayus Buddha statue at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I’ve been taking a class on Buddhist Art in Asia, and have come to know the room that the statue is displayed in pretty well. In my opinion, it is one of the most striking pieces on Buddhist art that the CMA has to offer on permanent display.
For this photo, I really wanted to create a sense of formidability. In Mahayana Buddhism, Amitayus is the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. He is the principal deity in Pure Land Buddhism, which explains why he is displayed in the center of the Ancient Chinese gallery. In my opinion, the statue was really meant to be looked at from below, which is why I decided to shoot upwards. From this angle, it appears as if the Buddha is looking at you, and you really do get a sense of immense power from the statue.
In post-editing, I also wanted to strike up the contrast for two reasons – to further separate the Buddha from the rest of the background, and to emphasize the deep drapery that graces the marble. The drapery itself is more similar to Northern Indian (Gandharan) sculptures than to Chinese sculptures whose drapery is usually frillier and waterfall-like. Anyway, this is not an Art History class, so I’ll skip this technical stuff.
Shooting in museums is quite frustrating because of all the reflective protective glass. But to my surprise, I was able to use the glass casings to my advantage in this photo (I hadn’t even noticed this until post-processing!), producing four reflections of Amitayus. This photo, I think, really creates a sense of the Buddha Amitayus being ever-present.
I decided to go with black and white in this photo in post-processing because the two bronze bells in the foreground were quite distracting in their original color. I also cheated a bit by selectively amping up the brightness of the statue, to further intensify the sense of spiritual magnificence.
My chief purpose at the CMA, however, was really to film a segment on the Bodhisattva, the dry lacquer statue on display also in the Chinese statue gallery. Contrary to the previous photo, reflective glass is not my friend here. Because the statue was well-lit from above (bless), it meant that the reflective properties of the glass was also magnified (not bless). Unfortunately, the KS2 does not have a “through glass” setting, which I remember my old Nikon point-and-shoot having. Regardless, I was able to take some pretty reasonable photos and videos without much glare.
Funny story – when I was filming, it turns out I was on manual focus the whole time, which made my life decidedly more difficult. Silver lining is, I was able to get quite acquainted with the focus dial. It gave me flashbacks to high school when I used to work with high-power microscopes while dissecting fruit flies…
Anyway, I am pretty satisfied by the KS2’s ability to catch detail. Though I do wish it came with a better kit lens with a wider aperture, the images it produces are still very sharp, as you can see from the photo below.
In this photo, you can really see the wonderful drapery of the robe that the Bodhisattva wears, as well as the texture of the cloth used to make the statue. Yep – you heard that right! This statue is not clay nor stone, it is made from cloth and lacquer via the dry lacquer technique. The process was incredibly labor intensive, expensive, and quite toxic. Very few dry lacquer statues exist today, and it’s a treat that the CMA has one on display.
Finally, I want to end this post talking a little bit about my new friend, my Pentax KS2 which I have affectionately named Marcus. It came in the mail about two days ago, and I found that I have been unable to keep my hands off of it. Seriously!
I won’t talk much about the specs, because I think it’s been covered pretty thoroughly on the interwebz. This camera is a true delight to use. I’ve used friends’ Canons and Nikons before, and they were great, but there is something very special about this particular camera. Maybe I’m being weird, but I’m hoping my photographer friends can back me up here.
I’m obviously a newbie into the photography realm. I don’t even dare to call myself a “newbie photographer”. But it seems to be the consensus among the community that it is not always about the specs of the device. The feel and grip of the device matters too! In cognitive science, we characterize well-designed products as being extensions of the user’s body. The Pentax KS2’s smaller body fits perfectly in my tiny baby hands, and the intuitive (at least to me) control dials really do make the camera feel like an extension of my hand.
I’m excited to see what type of adventures Marcus and I will embark on next! I already can’t wait for it to be daybreak already so I can go outside and find something to take pictures of. I think I’m becoming addicted to the shutter sound.
Writer’s notes: (1) The Bodhisattva has had a pretty interesting history. Its conservation story is the subject of my Art History final project, and you can also read about it here.
(2) You can find many technical reviews of the Pentax KS2 on a plethora of websites. I also found these videos helpful: here (TheCameraStoreTV) and here (Spyros Heniadis).