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"The Ankh Within." Original Photograph Revealing a Universal Symbol Found in Watts Towers.
"The Ankh Within." This original signed print of a section of the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia, reveals a universal symbol that I am sure Rodia did not construct on purpose, but, somehow it found itself in his work.
The support and connecting rods between two of the tall towers were formed in the shape of an 'ankh.' This connecting image to some deeper spirit running through humans for thousands of years is known as “breath of life,” the key of the Nile or crux ansata (Latin meaning "cross with a handle"). It is an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic character that meant "life." It is often interpreted to mean eternal life. Many still utilize the Ankh to symbolize the same tolerance of diversity of belief and common ethics as it did in Ancient Egypt.
The fisheye lens utilized for this photograph allowed the photographer to capture both the Ankh figures in the towers but also a strong shadow generated by late afternoon bright sunlight. Waiting for human figures to pass and add motion and life to the photograph was the hardest part.
Ron Sterling captured this image on 35mm B&W film in August 1972 during the 6th Annual Watts Summer Festival and just before the legendary WattStax** concert held at the Coliseum in Los Angeles as the finale to the Summer Festival.
The artist, Simon Rodia, spent 30 years (1925 to 1955) building and sculpting his complex set of 17 separate pieces on a residential lot in the community of Watts. Two of the towers rise to a height of 100 feet. The sculptures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh, coated with mortar, and embedded with found items of porcelain, tile, shells, and glass.
** WattStax is often referred to as the Black Woodstock. A documentary of the concert exists in two different versions. I recommend the version that includes Richard Pryor doing commentary about every 10 minutes that is classic and very smart Richard at his best. The "Stax" part of WattStax refers to what then was one of the best black recording studios of that time, rivaling Motown. The artists appearing at WattStax included The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Albert King, Luther Ingram and Isaac Hayes. In those days, the Coliseum could seat over 100,000 and WattStax kept it at standing room only for the entire 12 hours of music (112,000).