Bread and wine in your Yellowstone photographs

Last week at West Yellowstone’s delightful public library I picked up a copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s Stranger in Paris novel and came across one of the best descriptions I’ve read of what art can be.

Maugham’s characters vividly illustrate how art can go beyond a technically well-crafted and pretty picture, and deliver meaning, though the viewer’s openness and cultural background are just as important.

The scene starts with Charley, on a Christmas holiday in Paris from his sheltered and wealthy English family, visiting the Louvre with Russian emigrant Lydia. They were looking at La Brioche, a still-life by Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin.

Charley said, “Yes, I’ve seen that before” and described it as “well-painted”.

Lydia: “But have you ever looked at it?” and then she talked about what it meant to her.

It’s not only a loaf of bread and a flagon of wine; it’s the bread of life and the blood of Christ, but not held back from those who starve and thirst for them and doled out by priests on stated occasions; it’s the daily fare of suffering men and women. It’s so humble, so natural, so friendly; it’s the bread and wine of the poor who ask no more than that they should be left in peace, allowed to work and eat their simple food in freedom. It’s the cry of the despised and rejected. It tells you that whatever their sins men at heart are good. That loaf of bread and that flagon of wine are symbols of the joys and sorrows of the meek and lowly. They ask for your mercy and your affection; they tell you that they’re of the same flesh and blood as you. They tell you that life is short and hard and the grave is cold and lonely. It’s not only a loaf of bread and a flagon of wine; it’s the mystery of man’s lot on earth, his craving for a little friendship and a little love, the humility of his resignation when he sees that even they must be denied him.

Charley thought to himself, “who would have thought a picture could affect anyone like that?”

The book, and even this scene, weren’t about art, they were about Charley learning new ways of looking at life itself, but it applies to photography and your trip to Yellowstone.

When visiting the park, keep in mind Lydia’s emotional reaction to the iconic images and seek to trigger something similar in your photos. Think about the cultural tradition of the American West, the cycle of life so much on display in Yellowstone, the tremendous power of the Earth’s thermal energy, and represent those elements in your pictures.

Those are the ones that will become your favorites from your visit.

More posts in this category: Photography

Add a Comment Trackback

One Comment

  1. Good words. I hope to head your way someday. We almost came through West Yellowstone today. We were on a tour from Mammoth around the park and got trapped in the snow storm. For a while, we thought we would have to head your way and then up through Bozeman and back to Mammoth to get home. We managed to make it without the big detour, but I was scared. See you one of these days.

Add a Comment