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16 September 2022

Michelangelo Buonarroti, who even in the Internet age needs no introduction, sculpted a series of figures that were never finished to the polish of his David or Moses or Pietà. But we have always revered them as among his greatest works.

We first saw them as a high school graduate walking through the Accademia to see David. They were lined up against the wall on both sides of us.

Immense figures, powerful. In poses that suggested they were trying to break out of the marble that held them.

It's said of Michelangelo that he modestly proclaimed that as a sculptor he only carved away what wasn't part of the figure contained in the rock.

In this case, he stopped with the figures still contained by the rock. Which has led some critics to call these unnamed pieces prisoners or slaves.

We prefer to think of them as slaves. The innocent enslaved. Rather than prisoners, who may have gotten what they deserved.

Because Michelangelo graces them with some dignity, chipping away at them with obvious sympathy.

So when we saw what had become of the ivy-covered chain-link fence along Portola that we have walked by for 19 years, we thought of those slaves.

Ivy is, of course, a haven for rodents. We used to have a bed of it along our back fence. But when the neighborhood cats disappeared (which was right after the coyotes started taking over), we got rid of it so there was no place to hide.

Still, it's hard to imagine what prompted this debauchery.

We visited the scene of the crime several times with different gear trying to find a better way to capture how we felt about the pruning. We waited for a foggy day, we tried a longer focal length, we facilitated between preferred apertures, we considered color vs. monochrome.

In this version, we settled on a 50mm f1.4 Nikkor with f2 and f8 captures, reduced to black-and-white on a foggy day.

We wanted to separate the stumps from the neighborhood. Hence both the fog and the wider aperture. The monochrome helped emphasize the texture while it minimized the new growth, a tradeoff.

We liked the color versions too. You can see the difference for yourself.

We know we haven't got this quite right yet. We'll return. On another foggy day. Close the aperture down a bit. Get different angles. Back up a bit.

We seem to be, you might say, enslaved ourselves by these images, trying to break through to something we can admire about this odd urban display.

At least our hands are free.

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