The Chapel of St. Basil – Phillip Johnson – Houston Tx

DSC05650My stay in Houston revealed many great works of architecture, and I wish I had more time, and better weather, to visit them all. When researching places to visit, many were located on St. Thomas University. This made easy work for me. My first and primary stop at St. Thomas University was The Menil Collection building designed by Renzo Piano. More on that later. St. Basil Chapel was not my primary mission on my adventure, but it proved to be a great find. The day ended up being overcast and scattered thunderstorms, but I was glad I went forward with the trip.  I love meaningful, poetic architecture. Designed by Phillip Johnson in 1996, St. Basil is full of symbolism and poetic spaces. The chapel is composed of 3 elements, a cube, sphere, and plane. DSC05631The cube represents the body of Christ, the sphere is the Kingdom of heaven, and I believe the the plane is our earthly existence, black sybolising death, the penetrations near the ground are an echo of the two story dorm doorways that line the courtyard beyond. The entrance the the chapel is through the “tent flap” in the cube. This clearly references the tent of the tabernacle in the old testament. The casual nature of the entrance is quite masterful. The chapel “allows” you to enter, it does not summon you. You must also, kind of “slip in” as an individual, as you can not enter side by side or in a group. Spiritually this reminds you of your personal relationship with God, not with a group or a significant other.  The sphere/dome is placed above you as you enter though the slit. DSC05697-1The second photo is taken from just inside the slit. This area is still an exterior space. The placement of the dome is important theological statement. I feel that this placement does two things. First it makes the kingdom of heaven accessible (metaphorically) by including it in the exterior space. Secondly by being partially revealed outside it draws the viewer to enter. Entry to the chapel is through the doors located in the black plane. Once inside your are instantly transported into a very sacred feeling space. The acoustics of this building are great. Once inside every sound you make fills the chapel. Its spaces like this that make you very aware of your own existence. For being such a dreary day, there was a surprising amount of light inside. Again, I found my 24mm to be just a bit long to capture the volume of space here. I could barely get a full straight on elevation of onDSC05676e of the walls with my trusty 24mm, so I had to get creative with my upward looking compositions. I brought a geared head for my tripod, so that made making fine adjustments much easier. I love how Johnson uses the black granite wall to bring in the exterior motif of the campus into the sacred space of the chapel.  This union of mortal and sacred space is what makes St. Basil Chapel so intriguing. There are many interesting facts about the chapel that I wish I had time to digest while I was there, but my visit was limited by the clock, so I had to leave. Other notable points of interest include the crucifix hangs off center on the wall, (Drove me crazy trying to compose a symmetrical photo) the bells on the exterior belonged to St. Basil in the 4th century. The library is on the opposite side of the courtyard symbolizing the need to balance spirituality and knowledge.

 

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Houston Tx – Walkabout

DSC05460-1Anytime I visit a new city I try to spend a few hours walking around looking for photographic opportunities. Its a way to refine my compositional vision. Our trip to Texas was a first for our family, so we had to get initiated into some local Christmas customs. Tequila tasting, Brisket smoking, and fireworks made for a unique Christmas experience. I managed to remove myself Christmas evening to stroll Houston looking for some good architectural opportunities. Houston, being the 4th largest city in the US was surprisingly easy to navigate. I decided to make my journey on Christmas day because I knew the city would be less crowded. My expectations were correct. The city was nearly abandoned. It was kind of eerie.DSC05484-2 I was able to find a parking anywhere I chose. This allowed me to walk the streets freely and get shots from the street that would have been impossible on any other day. I started my walk at the Chevron buildings. I rarely feel the need to have a 17mm lens, but this was a situation where it would have come in handy to get the whole building in one shot. I marched on with my 24mm. After spending some time at the Chevron buildings I noticed I only had about 30 minutes before sunset. I made my way uptown to get some shots of the Pennzoil building. Working against the sun is always stressful, but it keeps you on your toes. I knew I was trying to cram too much into an evening, but I wanted to experience as much of this city I could given my short encounter. I parked by the Pennzoil building and looked for an interesting composition. It was getting dark fast and the Pennzoil building is already very dark. I wasn’t feeling exceptionally good about my location so I followed the sun west and noticed the lighting on The Jesse H  Jones Hall for the Performing Arts . I managed to get into position at just the right time to capture this shot as the sun set behind me. DSC05521-6I love how the lighting on the building contrasts with the blue sky.

 

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Hoover House

Last week I had the chance to photograph a new friends recently finished home in German Village in Columbus OH. I was shooting this as a favor, and did not have a full day to shoot a full set, but I decided I would get at least one properly set up and lit “hero” shot. dsc04809-capture 1I wanted to show as much as possible in one photo. The home was a typical small “read tiny” German Village home that was completely renovated by artist Darrin Hoover. When I approached the home it was one of the smallest homes on the street. After walking in the house seemed much bigger. It was the biggest little house Ive ever been in. I knew I needed to capture that feeling. There are several things about the home that give the occupant the feeling of bigness. The most obvious is the control of natural lighting. By opening the ceiling above the kitchen, light fills the home and really brings the textures and details to life. Attention to every detail in the home also makes this home feel big. There is a story behind everything. Every chair, painting, book, light fixture, and reclaimed board has a life dsc04845-capture 1of its own. For the hero shot, I placed the camera in a location to show the full frame of the house to give scale to the project. I also liked the one point perspective that gives depth to the image. I used the ladder on the right of the image to help frame the image. The umbrella served as another stopping point for your eye to redirect left along the structural steel tension rods. These rods were installed to replace the tensile function the joists once served. After working out the composition, and setting a few lights to bring out some texture, and help create separation, I needed to add some life to the image. The house feels so livable, so the hero photo would not be incomplete without telling this story well. Darrin’s dog Arthur was so well behaved and fit the color pallete so well I had to use him. dsc04842-capture 1I placed him at the center of the one point perspective. There was a lack of horizontal elements so I used his gaze to direct attention to Darrin in the kitchen. Im very pleased with the results of the efforts put forward to capture this image. This image is also on my official architectural photography website.

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