I’m shivering in the pre-dawn cold of Stonehenge, my poncho slicked by drizzling rain.  An hour ago, warm and under shelter across the road, I was enjoying tales of Druids and drinking hot tea with the site custodians.  Now, alone with the circle, I’m a world away, and uneasy.  Ominous black masses, felt more than seen, loom above and around me. 

For three days rain has fallen relentlessly on the Salisbury Plain, sapping its color.  Staring into the dark eastern sky, I mutter a wish for some respite.

As if in response, a barely perceptible bloom of gray quickens to pale orange.  Within minutes I face a rising sun, burning through the mist to transform the landscape and charge my senses.  Before me the megaliths have become animate silhouettes rimmed with hot coronas.  Turning, I see splashes of pink, green, and lavender shimmering and mingling with the sunlit yellow of the rain-wet stones, impossible colors never seen on dry rock at midday.
For the next two hours my heart races as I’m filled with the primal energy of the architecture and the spectacle of the changing light.  I move silently among the towering stones and through the archways, photographing, sensing, aware that much of the magic may evaporate with the rain as the sun rises into a clearing sky and the first tourist buses arrive.--Corson Hirschfeld


In the outskirts of London a black beetle-back taxi disgorges me, a friend, and three cases of photographic equipment in front of an innocuous brick building, an unmarked outpost of the British Museum.  Only an imposing steel door, intercom, and video camera above hint at the treasure within— not swashbucklers’ gold, but treasure of a more subtle and intriguing nature.

A conservator enters a room wheeling, slowly, a gray metal cart.  Upon it is a wooden object about three feet from end to end.  The object is not heavy.  To the contrary, it is light as a feather from a century of aging, but too fragile to risk carrying by hand.  This rare artifact is a crescent-shaped rei miro pectoral from tiny Easter Island, in the remote South Pacific Ocean.  It was once worn as a chest ornament, probably as a secret badge of office.  Bearded faces, the profile of each a small crescent echoing the larger form, are carved at either end, their white shell-inlaid eyes staring upward emptily.  At center are two incised figures of the rare rongorongo writing, a mysterious script that never has been deciphered.

Possibly carved from burl of the nearly extinct toromiro tree, the rei miro had been burnished to a lustrous sheen through years of handling by respectful priests and chiefs.  Today, with no less reverence, the object is lifted from the padded cart by white cotton-gloved hands and placed gently before my camera.

I photograph the rei miro against a black velour background.  This straightforward photo will appear in a new book on Easter Island and in a British Museum monograph.  Later, one cold winter evening in Ohio, I photograph a thin sliver of moon, composing it into my original photograph by superimposing 4” x 5” photographic negatives (created before the shortcuts of Photoshop and digital printing) centered above the cradling arch of the wooden crescent.  The addition is tiny but significant.  Now the background cloth is transformed into the void of the night sky and the eyes of the male figures look up to a female moon, the juxtapositions echoing a Polynesian myth.  The symbolism is ageless.  The rei miro (printed via the time-honored process of wet darkroom chemistry and toned with gold and sepia on large 20”x 24” gelatin-silver paper) has now become my own.--Corson Hirschfeld