Hidden around the back of Saltram House, near Plymouth, and standing at head height in an alcove, was Isis the ancient Egyptian goddess (sculpture by John Cheere). She was first mentioned over 4,000 years ago, in the age of the pyramids where she resurrected her slain husband, the divine king Osiris. Isis had greater magical powers than all other gods and was worshipped throughout the Greek settlement of Egypt and well into Roman times. She holds a sistrum in her right hand, an ancient percussive musical instrument. This 18th Century lead sculpture by John Cheere fixes her protective gaze over Plympton and Plymouth alongside Venus, Mercury and a Vestal Virgin each in their own alcove and two sphinxes mounted outside the south front of the National Trust’s Mansion House.
My work was to photograph Isis and 26 other sculptures at Saltram House for ArtUK. Usually the outdoor sculptures have been photographed by volunteers but these 6 were considered challenging enough to have me add them to my list.
The weather forecast had always been ‘changeable’ with snow in the early hours, a frosty start and more snow coming later. I was ready for anything, but I was given some wonderful sunshine. However, the sun kept disappearing behind a cloud, so I needed a little patience even though I was against the clock! Studio flash is always used for indoor sculpture, but long trailing mains leads outside were not going to work. Instead, I set up a small, battery powered flash on a stand, through a softbox and fired it wirelessly to lighted the heavy shadows cast by winter’s low sun. Added to this was a reflector which Helen, my ArtUK regional coordinator held. After the standard pictures were taken ArtUK encourage a more creative photograph or a close-up. In the picture of Isis above I did both, making the most of the sepia toned, monochromatic look and using the shadows to emphasis form and bring balance to the composition.
Sphinx – sculpture by John Cheere