Hohenzollern castle

Castles, cathedrals and massive tomb relics. I’ve spent some time looking at these lately.  The treasures in them are beautiful and I can spend hours looking at the delicacy of the carvings, the beauty in the paintings and the lovely design of the brickwork.  The construction itself is amazing – my mind boggles at how many people worked, or literally slaved, to create these very beautiful edifices.

Strasbourg Cathedral

I have enjoyed the beauty and artisry of these buildings very much, but there has been something lacking in them for me.  When I wander through them, looking at the grand rooms, raising my eyes to the heightrs of the gloriously arched ceilings, I have felt awe, I have felt amazement.  But I haven’t felt a connection to the people; I haven’t felt any relationship to what occurred in those fantastic buildings.

It seemed to me that the cathedrals weren’t about any connection to God or a god, but rather were constructed to create awe, demonstrate power and create a touch of fear in those coming to the buildings.  The castles were, again, not about relationships or connection, but about power and control.  These buidlings seemed to me to suggest separation and division.

The fascinating tombs of Chinese emperors and their familes are similar in their lack of connection and relationship to the people in the country around them.  Size mattered, numbers of things sent to the afterlife to keep the rulers in comfort and power mattered, beauty of objects mattered.  Connections and relationships had no place.

Workers, builders, labourers, brickies, artists, sculptors – all of those who created these beautiful relics of the past were not important.  The tombs celebrated teh individual – but only the individual with power.  The castles celebrated the ruling families, but not those who built or worked in them.  The cathedrals were presumably designed to create a space for people to connect in a spiritual context.  But in none of these magnificant places did I see or feel a human touch that would bring people into connection with the rulers, or the gods.

However, in the Xi’an Museum I finally found a connection between that which was created to celebrate others, and the creators, the workers.

I was here

This handprint from the Tang Dynasty tells me that at least one worker saw himself as important enough to leave his mark.  One man was sure enough of his place – no matter whether he was a slave, prisoner, craftsman or indentured servant – to make a connection with what he was building and himself.  Nearly 1400 years later, I can see this person’s individual spirit, his human touch in the bricks that made up the tomb.

Did it detract from the beauty of the structure – probably not, it was probably hidden deep inside walls, layerd over with other bricks and maybe limewash and murals.  But his spirit is there, no lost in awe of the emperor, not disconnected from what he is doing.

How often do we remove the ‘human touch’ from our photographs in order to create a less connected beauty?  We smooth skin for models, clone out small pieces of rubbish floating in the water or lying on our otherwise pristine beach scene, disappear blemishes on our strong coloured walls or blur the crowd scenes to focus more directly on the market.  We look for perfect beauty in our images, without realising that we may be losing that tiny touch that is a shared connection, that speaks to others, that makes our images more human.

While still appreciating the soaring cathedral, I’ll be looking for more of the human, looking to make a connection.