The Gates of Hell

The portal to The Inferno.

Through me the way is to the city dolent;

Through me the way is to eternal dole;

Through me the way among the people lost.

Justice incited my sublime Creator;

Created me divine Omnipotence,

The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.

Before me there were no created things,

Only eterne, and I eternal last.

All hope abandon, ye who enter in!.

- Canto III, The Inferno, Dante Alighieri

Part one of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, known more affectionately by those who have read it as "The Inferno," was something close to required reading for college students at The University of Chicago. Dogeared copies of the most recent verse translations were a staple of tables throughout the library. As far as I could tell, every humanities course (a requirement for all students) included at least part of this master work. Much discussion as to its literary merits and political references surely followed, but I think what connected with students was Dante's vision of the deepest, darkest levels of hell as miserably cold rather than blazingly hot. To an undergraduate facing finals in the depths of January's arctic grip, this vision of a cold hell continually resonates. So much so that, during my ten years on campus, I could always spot a college student sporting a homemade t-shirt with the slogan "University of Chicago - The level of hell Dante forgot," or "Hell does freeze over." Beyond the delightfully geeky literary reference to Alighieri, these shirts were also remarkable for displaying a table of temperature lows for the dates of the winter quarter.

Such a table for the temperatures on Stanford's campus through the corresponding period of time would paint a far sunnier picture. Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that the Gates of Hell are actually on the Stanford Campus. The Gates of Hell is a massive sculpture by Auguste Rodin inspired by the famous poem; it, and many other of Rodin's works, is a fixture of the B. Gerald Cantor Rodin Sculpture Garden. The illustrious sculptor worked to create this masterpiece over the course of nearly four decades, until his death. The word massive fails here to convey the size of the gate - it stands at nearly twenty feet tall and over thirteen feet wide. It is imposing without being utterly frightening. Rodin included some of his most famous sculptures within The Gates of Hell - notice the thinker jutting out at you far overhead at the center of the doors. He also included some unexpected things, like The Kiss within the doors and perhaps that little bit of romance and sweetness is the reason that we are not terrified of this massive vision of Hell's Door.

112 megapixels of The Gates of Hell.

The Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell

Click the image to be transported to the full-resolution version. Warning: large file.

I created this image as a massive panorama for two primary reasons. One, because the sculpture defies the small-format photographer to capture its essence and requires a high-resolution approach. Two, because I have been working diligently to produce a workflow of image capture and processing that I will call "Large Format DSLR Photography." You will notice that the above image isn't just properly exposed and very high-resolution, but it is also perfectly corrected for perspective. Look at the gates, follow the vertical and horizontal lines - you will notice they are all perfectly parallel to the edges of the frame. The door doesn't shrink at the top where the subject is further from the camera, and it doesn't expand at the bottom. All this is possible thanks to a very special tripod head (more details on that later) and some careful computation. You'll be seeing more high resolution images like this and learn more about how to make "large format" digital images like this in the coming weeks and months - stay tuned. I've also included a smaller version of the image below so those of you who like to see the whole image all at once can do so. And if you were looking for another indication of scale here - that placard on the right of the frame is about four to five feet from the ground.

The Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell