What is a Gargoyle?
A "gargoyle" by definition is "a spout in the form of a grotesque human or animal figure projecting from a roof or gutter to throw rainwater clear of a building". If the figure isn't actually a spout then it is called a "grotesque".
When I go out to photograph "gargoyles" I am actually going to capture images of gothic, neo-gothic or gothic revival style carvings that are incorporated in the architecture of a building. These carvings won't always be "gargoyles" or "grotesques". I also like to photograph statues, angels, cherubs, chimeras, mythical figures and religious figures. If they are part of a building's architecture then I feel that it is a subject for my camera.
I love romanesque, gothic and gothic revival architecture. I have since I was very small living in Collingswood, NJ. I lived on Conger Ave. near Cooper River. My friends and I would walk along West Park Blvd to get to Roberts Pool. On the way we would visit these stone "castles" in the woods. The favorite of these was called "Robin Hood's Castle". It was located where E. Knights Ave. terminated because it was too steep to reach the Blvd. Below the street, on the steep hill, was built a stone "half" round tower and had a set of steps running around both sides up to the street above.
This spot was magical to an eight-year-old. I also was baptized at a Swedenbourg Church call "The Church of the New Jerusalem" at 22nd & Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. I attended this church for the first six of seven years of my life. I can still remember this church and some of the people in it. This is no longer a church, however, the people that are in it now, Physicians of Dentists, I think, have left the church in its original, magnificent state. I plan to visit it and take some shots.
I also attended Collingswood Presbyterian Church. This was a big, old "gothicky" stone church with secret doors, hidden compartments, and plenty of places for a ten-year-old to go where he wasn't supposed to go.
I was never discouraged from daydreaming about knights and dragons. When I graduated from highschool my parents took my sisters and me to Ireland. I can still remember walking around castles with a constant chill running up my spine. I even got involved with renaissance faires where I eventually met my wife. She and I also ventured to England and to Germany.
In Ireland, I remember crawling around on a wall in an abbey when about 10 monks in robe and chanting came into the ruins. I thought for a second that I was dreaming and almost fell from my perch. In England Lisa and I visited Stonehenge and Salibury Cathedral. Unfortunately the camera bug didn't bite me yet. Nothing compared to that experience until I visited Westminster Abbey. This is without doubt one of the most beautiful building I have ever been in. More recently, Lisa, Anna and my whole family visited Italy for a week. The gothic highlights were the breathtaking Duomo in Milan and the Duomo in Florence. Both of these cathedrals are beyond description.
I purchased a book called "Nightmares from the Sky". It is a book about gargoyles. I purchased it several years ago before I was bitten. This book features text by Stephen King and pictures by F-Stop Fitzgerald (a wonderous combination). You haven't experienced a gargoyle until you read what one means to Stephen King. This is an amazing book and will do to you what it did to me. You suddenly start looking at the top of buildings. I have been in and around the city of Philadelphia for quite some time now. One learns that when you walking in a city like Philly you either look strait ahead or down at the pavement. Don't make eye contact and don't... for any reason... look like a tourist. Please don't get me wrong, Philly loves tourists. Just be careful how you act in certain parts of the city.
I was good at the city walk. Until I was bitten by the shutterbug and by the gargoyle. I can't go into cities anymore without looking like I am starstruck. It's bad driving in the city and trying to spot gargoyles at the same time. But it is also fun to point out a gargoyle to someone that didn't know it was there. A few people came up behind me one time to see what I was taking pictures of. I told them "gargoyles" and they started to walk away and then came back to take a closer look. They were amazed. They walked off talking about having seen a gargoyle in the city when they were children.
It's funny that we take architecture for granted. I did for many years. I don't anymore. A childlike fascination has returned to my life. The cities are full of gargoyles, waiting to be discovered by the child living in each of us.
For a really cool, really interesting and complete glossary of medieval art and architecture terms please visit Pittsburg University's Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture
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