Barry Brukoff’s passion for architecture, archeology and photography has taken him to Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, Cambodia, Greece and, most recently, to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras for his latest book, Royal Cities of the Ancient Maya.
“This is architecture and design going back 3,000 years,” he says, “and there’s an incredible richness of form, shape, color, complexity, craftsmanship and artistry. This is a history of civilization; these [Mayan] ruins reflect a culture, thought process and beliefs, and the mystery of how they accomplished these structures.”
Barry made seven trips to Mayan cities in seven years, with the locations largely suggested by the book’s author, Michael D. Coe, who is also author of The Maya andBreaking the Maya Code.When he presented Barry with a “must be in the book” list of locations, the photographic roadmap was drawn.
Every image in the book is important because of the significance of what it depicts, but as a photographer Barry will tell you that ultimately every photograph is about light, and he always attempts to take advantage of the best and most dramatic lighting. “I’m up at dawn and I shoot ’til sunset and beyond," he says. “Every trip I’ve made to ruins in the past 35 years has involved checking when the full moon is going to show itself.”
My intention is to convey what it felt like standing in those ruins. That’s the whole game.
He strives for images that are far beyond mere archeological records. “My intention is to convey the emotional content that I experienced, what it felt like standing in those ruins. That’s the whole game.”
What he captures in the camera is the key to that content, but it’s not the whole story. “I’ll get home and view the photos and remember exactly what the light looked like, what the feeling was, and to convey that I often have to control the final image to recreate what I saw and felt. I want the picture on the page of the book to communicate as much as possible what the experience was like.”
For this book his “lifesaver lens” was the AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED for its versatility and wide-angle view. Equally important was Nik software. “I used Nik’s Viveza software on every image for its precise control,” he says. “It’s amazing for its ability to show texture in stonework and bring out structural details. What it does is actually bring the photo closer to the reality of the scene.”
Perhaps one measure of his success was a friend’s reaction to an early proof of the book. “Now I don’t have to go there,” his friend said. “What are you talking about?” Barry said. ”The book is supposed to make you want to go there.” But his friend had a different take: “I’ve seen more in this book than I'd ever see if I went there."
“Okay," Barry says, “I’ll accept that as an indication that I often see what most others don’t.”
Angle of View
The photograph at left, of the structure built above a 30-foot-tall building, took a bit of ingenuity and daring to accomplish. “Even with the 12-24mm lens at 12mm, there was no way to get it all in,” Barry says, “and from the ground you can’t get it all because trees block the view.” So he stood at the very edge of the top of the building below and with his guide holding onto his belt, leaned way, way back and photographed the lower half of the structure. To get the top part, he raised the camera over his head and fired off a series of Hail Mary shots, checking the LCD to gauge his results. Back home he made a seamless composite of the overlapping images.