NYIP online photography course student Cindie J. Leer's photo "As It Was" is a transcendent portrait of a bronze soldier surveying the empty Gettysburg battlefield, once the stage for the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
The snow falling on the immovable bronze form of a man holding a sabre in his left hand with his right hand over his heart, standing tall on a hill, looking out onto a now-serene former battlefield gives the viewer a poignant reminder of the sacrifice made by the men who died fighting on this land, now a vast expanse of tree-dotted earth surrounded by seemingly endless forest. A light violet haze of afternoon snow is just beginning to cover the hill he stands upon, and the forest in the far distance will soon become indistinguishable from the color of the sky. The somber mood of the snowy day lends an added air of solemnity to the landscape where so many died.
By framing the shot so the statue is in the left third of the portrait, we can see not only the soldier looking out, but also the wide expanse of landscape that he "sees." By using great depth of field (which would be clearer but for the snow), Leer places equal emphasis on the statue and the landscape. In these ways, Leer makes it clear that the subject of her photograph is not simply a statue or a landscape, but the statue in the context of its landscape. Leer's choice to capture the scene from behind the statue in near-silhouette instead of employing a traditional, head-on, statue-as-subject perspective allows us to transcend the act of seeing it as an object and view it instead as an immortal soldier eternally gazing off into the distance of a long-gone but never forgotten battle.
Out of curiosity and in the name of historical accuracy, I conducted an Internet search to find out who this statue portrays. It is of Gouvernor K. Warren, a Union general known as "Hero of Little Round Top," the name of the hill upon which his statue stands and where he led his troops to a key victory. I found a picture of the front of this statue from a low angle in bright summer sunlight, making the subject look proud, imposing, and heroic. And as it turns out, his hand is not on his heart, but holding a pair of binoculars in front of his chest.
The discovery of the binoculars in his hand reinforces an important photographic concept: Every choice you make regarding your subject, from placement to focus to framing to exposure, makes a difference in the way your photo will be perceived by the viewer. The fact that Leer made the artistic choice to photograph the statue from the back serves to remove any distinguishing features from the man it portrays, leaving only the important details of his dress and weapon. By doing this, she allows the viewer to project his or her own thoughts and feelings onto the scene, and the statue becomes a metaphor for every soldier's undying commitment to his country. The title, "As It Was," along with the slowly blanketing snow remind us that all human endeavors will pass and nature will ever regain its ascendancy over our struggles.