Scene III - Slavery at Borsippa
>> Italian version available here
Scene III: SLAVERY AT BORSIPPA
The scene in the poem: Mother Anh is detained as a slave at a workshop in Borsippa, a town beside the Euphrates river near the abandoned city of Babylon in the Parthian Empire (present-day Iraq). She’s tasked with making war implements including swords and daggers, like the one that Parthian warriors used to kill Master Quyen.
The image: Mother Anh works a “pugio”, a dagger that she later takes secretly as her own weapon. Years later it becomes the sacred dagger in the hands of her daughter Venus Anh, the Roman goddess of women’s rights. In this image, I wanted to focus on Mother Anh in isolation, apart from her fellow slaves and captors. I wanted to show the character of this woman, so resilient and focused on working diligently despite being restrained and isolated in such a perilous situation.
The making of the photograph: Taken at the Castle of Tassara, Italy. Just by chance, we found the perfect props (the old wooden table and rusty chains) in the very spot the photo was taken. The tools were scavenged from an adjacent workshop at the castle. The dagger and scabbard are Spanish-made props that we ordered a few months before the shoot – they’re accurate replicas of designs common during the late Roman Republic era. Regarding lighting in the photo, we used natural daylight, mid-morning sun, coming from the left side of the image. Ignazio set up a large (2m x 2m) butterfly diffuser off the left side of the frame to soften the light across the image.
This picture in Scene III has quite a flat, two-dimensional composition with an arrangement of rectangular shapes, and is relatively monochromatic. My inspiration for this style comes partly from historic paintings such as James McNeill Whistler’s portrait of his mother – titled Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1. There is a wonderful article by Daniel E. Sutherland (Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas) on the significance of this image and the woman represented in it; his article is linked here.
Dr. Sutherland’s description of the mother in the painting notes that she exhibited, throughout her life, certain qualities including “perseverance and patience”, much like those of Mother Anh in this epic poem of Venus Anh.