An Ordinary Day, an Extraordinary Photograph

NYUAD student Zane Mountcastle took this striking image of fellow classmate Annie Bauer during a spring break trip in the Czech Republic. The photo was featured at the 4th RAK Fine Arts Festival.

This black and white photograph by NYU Abu Dhabi sophomore Zane Mountcastle was selected as a feature piece at the 4th Annual Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival.

Where was this taken?

The photo was not posed. It was taken over spring break during my freshman year. A few friends and I were exploring a national park a few hours outside of Prague in the Czech Republic. I was walking down a hillside and Annie was behind me. I turned around and in that moment, the lighting was perfectly illuminating her face and her scarf that was wrapped around her head like a hijab. I asked her to pause for a photograph as I had done numerous times that day and although I could only see the photo on the tiny camera screen, I immediately knew that it was special.

What feelings do you think this image evokes?

Her eyes stare warmly into the camera’s lens pulling the viewer in. Her lips are slightly pursed as if just about to smile evoking a feeling of anticipation in the mind of the viewer. Her ethnic ambiguity coupled by her veiled head, in the context of the UAE, becomes a commentary on the cultural dichotomy that exists throughout the country. The country is both conservative in some ways and progressive in others; there is constant conflict between the old and the new — a trait that gives the country its unique character. This is why I submitted it to the RAK Fine Arts Festival in particular.

I asked her to stop for a photo in that moment because all at once her face was perfectly framed by her scarf — her beauty was concentrated enough to fit in a single frame.

Zane Mountcastle, photographer, Class of 2018
Zane Mountcastle award winning picture

How do you think a single image can tell a whole story?

Images don’t tell a whole story, imaginations do. Images just guide the way. A single photo — like any piece of art — can only be interpreted properly in context. Without context, the viewer’s imagination is free to build a story — plot, characters and all — within his or her mind. A beautiful photograph to me is one that encourages an honest and deep emotive response. Sometimes, like in the case of this photo, it is best to consider the photograph out of context as an independent piece of artwork to free the viewer of any expectations that may guide his or her reaction.

I was lucky enough to capture the photo at the brief moment in time in which the lighting, the subject and the surroundings all were in sync.

Zane Mountcastle

How many photos did you take before landing on this one?

In fact, a better question is, ‘how many photos did I take after this one?’ This was the first photo I took after turning around to see Annie behind me in the light. When taking the photo I forgot that my camera was still shooting in monochrome. After I took the photo and realized that it was taken in black and white, I tried to recreate it in color. I must’ve taken over two dozen photos in color to try to mimic the same emotion, but none was quite right. Maybe it is the black and white coloring that makes the photo as powerful as it is, but I believe that I was lucky enough to capture the photo at the brief moment in time in which the lighting, the subject and the surroundings all were in sync.

Why do you think this art, and not just another photograph?

Before I can answer that question, I must first define art. To me art is that which evokes emotion. Much can and does fall under this definition, yes, but to me art is in the eye of the beholder. If something can evoke genuine, honest emotion — good or bad — to me it is art.

Some people may define this photo as art because the ‘artists’ at the Al Qasimi Foundation seem to think it is, but I think this photograph is more than that. It is art because it can capture the viewer’s attention even if for a brief moment and make him or her feel. The photograph invites the viewer to pull back the layers of cultural red tape and — if nothing more — appreciate the unique beauty of the subject for an instant.

What kind of camera/software do you use?

This photo was taken on my Canon EOS 6D, using a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens. It was shot in black and white and lightly color-corrected with Adobe Lightroom.