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The Presence of Humanity

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When I’m walking about I love to think about possibilities. “What could be around that corner?” I might ask myself. Or through that doorway? The experience of discovery is one reason I love to travel and explore with my camera. And this image is proof that it all works out, at least sometimes.

In this image I’m, of course, immediately drawn to the shoes. Which is odd, visually speaking. They’re shoes after all, possibly smelly, and they point out of the frame. They are black; we’re often taught that if we want to bring attention to a subject that the eye tends to be drawn towards bright objects with detail. But here we have a dark object with little detail. These shoes, however, complete the story.

Let’s step back and see how we got here.

A Mosque is beautifully detailed and sits atop a hill in the city. Coquimbo, Chile.

This mosque is called Centro Cultural Mohamed VI on Google Maps. It’s located in the coastal town of Coquimbo, Chile, which is just a short bus ride from La Serena. I was traveling with two fellas and when we got off the bus this mosque and the Cross of the Third Millennium were both reaching into the sky. The mosque is on a small knoll on a hillside and the cross is at the top of anther hill and is much larger. This mosque has a single spire reaching up, which, ironically, I didn’t shoot.

As you approach you climb a gentle incline of a walkway that has steps built into it, but they’re the longer type steps, not a regular staircase. Anyway, the day we were there was a Friday. And please forgive me, I know very little about the Muslim religion, but I know that Friday is a prayer day. Yet this mosque was largely empty. My recollection is that we arrived in the midafternoon. I’d reference my time stamp on the file except for it says it was about 2:30 a.m., I’d forgotten to change the camera’s clock when I arrived in Chile.

Entering the mosque, Coquimbo, Chile.

When you get to the top there’s a simple doorway that leads into this room. This was completely empty when we arrived. We peaked our noses through the doorway into the prayer room and saw someone there. He quietly greeted us, invited us to take off our shoes, and allowed us to come in and photograph inside.

Rugs cover the floor in the Coquimbo mosque.
Detail of lattice work at the Coquimbo mosque.

I had a great time working with different compositions but as it was an empty room there wasn’t too much to work on. I liked that entryway with the wash basin. The tile work was amazing, and the design of the basin was bold and powerful. So, we went back out and that’s when I saw the shoes. Were they there when I first arrived? Probably. I’d just missed them. They were my hero. I knew my story was complete. I worked the room a bit more and even got a vertical image with the shoes, but this one is by far the most powerful of the few I got that day. Or maybe I should say the few I kept. I’m a very strict editor when it comes to identifying my keepers and I chuck the rest.

Just before entering the prayer room worshipers have an opportunity to cleanse their hands in the start shaped font.
S.A. Chile, Coquimbo A Mosque is beautifully detailed and sits atop a hill in the city.

The mosque is filled with ornate details that don’t go too over the top. Compared to most European cathedrals it is actually rather tame in its design. No matter how beautiful something is, though, nothing beats having the subtle influence of the human element to make a great photograph of a subject like this.

Sure, one could argue all of it is human influenced. After all, people built this place. Certainly, that is the case. However, the presence of humanity is still missing from these other shots. It’s the presence of humanity that brings it all together and makes it special.

Map of the peninsula that makes up the city of Coquimbo, Chile.
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