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How the Pyramids Were Built

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In 1939 Erich Lessing took the photograph, The Pyramids of Giza, using an early color camera. Lessing took the picture the same year he fled his home country of Austria due to his Jewish heritage. As stated in the title, the photograph depicts the three Pyramids of Giza: Mycernius, Chefren, and Cheops, in the Egyptian desert. To summarize, Lessing’s photograph, The Pyramids of Giza depicts three Egyptian pyramids in the desert sun, shows a minimalistic use of color complemented by a compelling application of negative space, and represents the ancient past of Egypt during a time of political unrest.

To briefly describe the image, it consists of three distinct elements; the pyramids, the desert, and the sky.Three pyramids make up the mid-ground of the image, the middle pyramid serves as the main focal point of the photograph. The foreground and background are both rather minimalistic. The foreground is composed of a flat, reddish-yellow desert. This desert is completely barren besides an occasional tire mark. The cloudless, pale blue sky in the background provides a backdrop for the pyramids helping to better frame them. Overall, the photograph takes a part of Egypt’s ancient past and captures it for the entire world to see.

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In analyzing The Pyramids of Giza, the dynamic use of shape, color, and space, shows the true genius of Erich Lessing. Situated in the middle third of the photograph are three pyramids, the focal point of the image. The overlap of the pyramids, as well as the warm colored foreground fading into the cool background, creates a sense of depth in the photograph. This helps keep the photograph from feeling two-dimensional. Lessing’s intelligent use of the Rule of Thirds in the image is very apparent. When it comes to the Rule of Thirds, “The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally”. The pyramids sit just above the lower third of the picture, a perfect area to place the focal point of an image. The lower third of the picture consists of a barren desert. This desert paired with the empty sky in the upper third of the image come together to create a large amount of negative space as well as a dynamic contrast of color. The plainness of the sky and desert also help to emphasize the remote location of the pyramids. As a whole, Lessing’s use of space, shape, and color unite to capture a remarkable photograph that has truly stood the test of time.

Many things were happening behind the scenes in Egypt when Lessing took The Pyramids of Giza in 1939. World War Two was impacting the entire world, and Lessing was no exception. Lessing is Jewish, and sadly “his mother and grandmother were murdered in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.” Their deaths may have been what led him to enlist in the Sixth Airborne Division of Britain’s Air Force. In an attempt to remain peaceful, Egypt declared itself a neutral country. Nevertheless, Britain voted to invoke a clause in Egypt’s self-governing treaty that would allow it to occupy Egypt during wartime. Farouk, the king of Egypt at the time, was actually in favor of the Axis Powers. “Farouk, in spite of his belief in Egyptian independence, refused to realize that the Germans and Italians would impose a rule far harsher on Egypt than the British”. Most people in the country at the time believed that Germany would win the war, even though Britain had forced them to join the Allied Forces. Lessing’s intention in taking the photograph is unknown; however, it seems to evoke a feeling of peace in Egypt. The image he captured demonstrates that even in a country directly affected by a war, there are still places of peace.

The Pyramids of Giza appears to be a simple, straightforward photograph; however, truly analyzing it sheds light on the smaller details. Lessing’s knowledge of space can be seen from his competent but simplistic use of the rule of thirds and the empty background, which emphasizes the pyramids. His use of color should also be noted. The colors used in the photograph may appear rather simple; however, the minimalistic palette actually improves the viewing experience with its restraint and calming tones. Overall, the photograph represents a peaceful moment during a time of global conflict. Ultimately, Lessing’s photograph The Pyramids of Giza, shows how a simple picture of pyramids can have so much thought behind it, and a much deeper meaning than there appears to be on the surface.


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