The phrases ‘ low key’ and ‘ high key’ are not as popular as once they were, but they are still valuable. They do not mean ‘muddy and murky’ and ‘totally blown’, though. The best of both will normally have a full range of tones from the deepest blacks to the brightest whites, but not evenly distributed. In a low-key picture such as this, dark tones and blacks predominate, while in a high-key picture, light tones and white predominate. Both lighting and processing are important: I do not know, but I suspect, that this is quite flatly lit, with the contrast added in processing. Something else I don’t know is whether Lea shoots film or digital, but nor do I care very much: the final image is what matters.
Low key and high key are normally used to create mood, though low key need not necessarily be as sombre as this: it can also be used to convey gravitas and historicity. If that sounds pretentious, think of solid, worthy 19th-century pictures of Eminent Victorians or of exotic locations such the The Holy Land or Darkest Africa.
A Picture For The Ages
Then I realised: here, Erik and Lea combine the latter two. And indeed a third strand: the rich, dark, doom-laden engravings that ornamented so many 19th-century Illustrated Bibles. This is very much a Picture For The Ages. I use capital letters so freely because the Victorians, including our Dear Late Queen-Empress, were Extremely Fond of them.
The theme of the Pietà, the Mother of God cradling her crucified Son, apparently dates back to about 1300; the most famous is Michelangelo’s of 1498-1499. Here, Lea, as the Blessed Virgin, is a conventional mediaeval interpretation of a biblical figure, but Erik as the Christ figure is black. Then there are the chains.
One of the theories of what makes outstanding art is that we can bring to it what we wish. I will not insult (or seek to trammel) my readers by suggesting what they may choose to see in it. Some will find it shocking; some, perhaps even blasphemous. But for my money, it is outstanding art.
If you’d like to see it better reproduced than is possible here, it’s one of nearly four dozen pictures in a slim volume (16x24cm, 46 pages) called Sedamon, available from www.lealund.com for 10 plus postage. Be warned, though: if you do buy it, the other pictures may inspire you to see even more layers of meaning.