Yesterday I took a much-needed break from my routine to shoot some photos at the North Carolina State Capitol. The State Capitol is the former office for the General Assembly (i.e. legislature), Supreme Court, and State Library of North Carolina. All of those government functions long ago moved to other far less interesting buildings and the State Capitol now stands as a historical site for tourists and Dudes with Cameras.The Capitol is a rotunda with a 40+ foot rise through two mezzanine floor levels to an ornate domed ceiling with a circular skylight. And at the bottom, bathed in natural light shining down from the skylight, is this statue of George Washington. The statue has obviously been given pride of place, yet it's not even the original artwork. The original marble statue was destroyed in a fire not long after it was made and the one sitting in the Capitol is a plaster recreation. Regardless, the statue and its setting are very impressive.
If you're like me, you're probably thinking, "Why is George Washington dressed like Caesar?" A few hundred years ago, it was a thing in Europe to sculpt national heroes as ancient Roman statesmen or generals. It was part of the Neoclassicism movement that was big at the time. You'll see a lot of statues of Napoleon like this in Paris, which I originally assumed he had commissioned and demanded to be depicted this way to appease his infamous ego. But no, that was just how the Neoclassicists did things. There's a lot of Neoclassic art that I love (like this one in the Louvre, for example) but I find this particular convention very amusing. First, it's just bizarrely anachronistic. Second, the subjects' accomplishments are usually grand enough that they really don't need to be pimped out with tunics and gladiuses.
Interestingly, after the Revolutionary War, Washington was offered a role in the new nation that would have given him sole rule over the country – effectively making him dictator. The sort of position that Julius Caesar and Napoleon created for themselves. Washington, being an early American sort of hero, turned it down, wanting to return to his life as a gentlemen farmer in Virginia. But he was convinced to run for the first Presidency, which as everybody knows is limited to 4-year terms by the Constitution. All of this makes me wonder what he thought about being depicted as a Roman general. The original statue was commissioned after he'd died, but there's a famous bust of Washington by Ceracchi in this style that was completed while he was still living so he had to know. I'd like to think he wasn't comfortable with it, but acquiesced to appease the people and the times. You know, when in Rome...
Anyway, it's an great subject, in an great setting, with great lighting. A trifecta of photographic opportunity. And I love the perspective on it looking down from the mezzanine level.
My time at the Capitol was a good workout for the Tokina atx-i 11-20mm, which other than a lot of test shots, I haven't done a ton of shooting with yet. I'm happy to report that the 11-20mm performed extremely well in this real world scenario. It was sharp, fast, and predictable. Out of about 50 photos I took with this lens, I had a 100% keeper rate in terms of technically sound images. I elected to toss one because it was overexposed (user error), and several others because they just didn't make the cut in terms of composition. But the lens did its part perfectly.
The 11-20mm replaces the older model Tokina 12-24, which served me well for a decade and was the lens used for a large portion of the landscape images on this site. The new lens is better in almost all respects. It’s brighter, sharper, has less distortion, and focuses more quickly and quietly. It looks nicer too. One area, however, where the old man bests the youngster is in reach, which is impactful because of where it lies. On APS-C, 24mm is the perfect “environmental portrait” angle of view – enough to meaningfully include your subject’s surroundings, but without exaggerating perspective. It’s darn handy having access to that by turning the zoom ring instead of having to switch lenses. The new lens is a bit short of that, but it’s not a dealbreaker.
[Oh, and in case there’s any doubt whatsoever, the title of this post is not calling George Washington a big dick, nor is it suggesting that he was endowed with one. There is no disrespect implied or intended. If you read my post it should be really clear I hold Washington in the highest regard. In fact, I think we desperately need a leader like him today – someone whose sense of duty to our nation’s best interests outweighs their desire for self-advantage. It’s just that seeing a founding father venerated as a Roman general made me think of the old Monty Python skit, and sometimes I like to give my posts silly names, that’s all.]