At the ancient city of Ephesus on the Aegean Sea, in the years before Christ, the Romans built large condos from carved red sandstone and red bricks. In 2019, our guide led us up stairways to see the different floors, many decorated with intricate and stunning mosaics. We could distinguish upper class Romans, who enjoyed multiple mosaics in their homes, from the poorer people, who commissioned elegant designs of birds and flowing vines to be painted on their walls.
On the upper levels, we walked on thick, scratched glass or Plexiglas (or some combination of the two), along designated paths, to see excavations happening below us. At the same time, we were permitted to explore some of the rooms at eye level. Not fully excavated, the living spaces, some huge and some small, lingered in half tumbled-down states. The digging continued, even as we walked.
When the tour guide stopped to let us wander a bit, the people in my group came and went at random and I became fascinated by their shadows cast on the glassy floor. I photographed their ghostly forms reflected on the glass, which seemed dull and indistinct at the time. But I loved shadows in general and couldn’t help myself.
Days later, I began to play with these photos on my computer. I discovered that when I used the “clarity” button on the shadows, the mosaics on the floor below our feet became much stronger than they’d really been at the site. All the shoveling and sifting around us had layered the mosaics with coats of dust. I longed for a scrub brush to scour them so I could see their full glory. When we had squinted, trying to see through the murky glassy substance we trod upon to the sandy murals below us, the images remained frustratingly obscured.
But the computer-clarified shadows, oddly, became a lens, allowing me to see through time. One person in my group, Geoff, happened to throw his shadow to perfectly illuminate a gorgeous mermaid on a horse pulled by Poseidon.
I had no idea where Geoff’s shadow-head went, poor guy. But I found his pointing finger a source of pure joy, a quirky and mysterious gesture. Looking closer, I realized the extended finger made a lovely diagonal compositional line in relationship to the long arm the mermaid rested upon, spatially and spiritually pulling them together in spite of the two thousand years between them.
An ancient rich Roman provided me with hidden treasure. She had purchased magnificent art for her fancy villa that I was privileged to enjoy through modern optics combined with Geoff’s odd shadow.