The Freedom of the Leaves

IT is the autumn leaves in this photo that soften the stylized bulk of granite shoulders and heads of a heroic, totalitarian sculpture. The location is Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and photographer Robert Harbison was in a public park near the small village of Askania Nova.

He was there to photograph a man named Chernovil, who was campaigning to be president. ``I take photos of everything all the time,'' Harbison says, ``even when I don't have a camera.'' Which means he sees photo possibilities all the time, no matter what he is doing.

So, while the political entourage went on ahead, Harbison stayed behind a few moments to photograph this stoic, celebratory, and patriotic statue covered with a gentle sprinkle of leaves. The leaves are a reminder that there is more delight in the freedom of the unexpected than there is even modest beauty in totalitarian symbols, no matter how well crafted.

Individual character is subjugated to collective heroic will in this sculpture, probably a monument to victory in war. Its effect is quite opposite from Auguste Rodin's ``The Burghers of Calais,'' a large, free-standing bronze with six anguished, life-sized figures refusing to submit to the abstract idea of collective heroism. The burghers offered themselves as hostages to end an 11-month siege of the city by England's King Edward III. And Rodin was commissioned to depict their individual heroism.

Rodin saw six heroic figures, all shaped differently, all twisting and turning differently, but compelled by the same commitment. Yet in the village of Askania Nova, an unknown sculptor, burdened by political correctness, tried for humanity but constricted it with monolithic power. The end result is not celebration, but intimidation.

Then Harbison came along and saw the freedom of the leaves.

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