In January, I took a visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory. This trip was an attempt to try some new techniques in night time photography. I arrived right before sunset and planted my camera dead center on axis with centerline of the entrance. The composition required many precision adjustments to get everything perfect. The temperature that day was about 10 degrees with a pretty strong wind that dropped the wind chill to about -10 degrees. I took several photos, as the sun set, to ensure I captured the perfect balance of ambient and interior light. Considering this image was roughly 15 second exposures it strong wind, the result was very sharp. It is times like this where having a very solid tripod pays off. Below are 100% crops of the image above. Post processing was pretty intensive on this image. I ended up investing in a new Eizo hardware calibrated monitor. The difference this has made in my color workflow is considerable. I may write about this in future posts.
In 1987 I was in 10th grade, halfway through my first drafting class in High School. A friend of mine, who was a year ahead of me was working on his final project. A custom house design. I was hooked. Looking back, the house was mediocre at best, but I was fascinated with the design process. I remember the feeling of empowerment knowing that I could create architectural space if I could get my ideas on paper. The same year in Houston Tx, the Menil Collection was featured in Progressive Architecture. The front cover showed strange louvers that I admittedly had no idea what they were for. After reading the article, my mind was officially blown. There was a simplicity and complexity to The Menil Collection building that was just pure genius. It was engineering for a quality of space, not just bathroom placement. This might have been my first realization about how deep the mind of genius can go. Mind you, I’m a 10th grader at this point. My mind was blown easily. But this was the real deal. I eventually pursued my degree in Architecture at The Ohio State University, where I graduated with honors. I still have all my Architecture magazines filled with those inspirational photographs that fueled my imagination all those years. Many times Ive had the need for space and considered throwing them out, but they mean too much to me. A photograph can transport you to places you may never see. Its the next best substitute for experiencing the space yourself. When I found out this building was within 40 miles of our family trip to Houston, I knew I had to photograph it myself. The act of photographing a building is becoming more methodical, and purposeful. A relationship starts the moment I enter its space. I need to walk its boundaries, and sense its presence. I need to know what its intentions are. The day I visited the Menil Collection building, it just wanted to sleep. It was a very grey day and this building was designed to transform light. I knew as soon as the “sun” rose that morning I would not be getting any great “action” shots of the louvers converting daylight into museum light, but there were other stories it had to tell. The thing that struck me the most was just how well it fits in the old residential neighborhood. Resting among the Live Oaks, it is right at home, and welcomed by its neighbors, and regarded as “the Jewel of the Neighborhood” as one resident put it. There is another aspect to the design of the building that doesn’t come across in any photos. The entire building is clad in aromatic Cypress wood. The building smells great. Its not overwhelming at all, its just a hint of aroma that connects with you on a very sensual level. Completely unexpected, but very welcome. I walked the neighborhood a bit to find a good location to shoot the neighborhood context shot. The sun broke through the clouds for a whole 30 secs, but it was just what I needed. The next set of shots, I wanted to highlight the two large trees that coexist with the building. The inclusion of the trees creates an interesting dynamic. One of modern architectures premises is to blur the boundary between inside and outside space. Traditionally this is done with large expansive glass that allows the outdoors to visually come indoors. The “front porch” of this building is physically taking the inside structure and pulling it to the outdoors. There is also a contrast in the timeless growth of the tree against the high tech architecture.
My 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. The 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. The 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 one 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.
Anytime 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. 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. I love how the lighting on the building contrasts with the blue sky.
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. I 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 of 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. I 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.
I set out today to scout out a location for a future shoot of the Huntington building, but was drawn in by the new holocaust memorial by Daniel Libeskind. There is a great story engraved on the two large masses. The mass is divided by a void in the form of the Star of David. It breaks though even though it is lacking mass or proper form. The star is never complete, and no matter where you view it from, it is always broken, but you still find yourself trying to align your perspective to make it whole. It’s a strikingly simple gesture. But very powerful.
I have been studying Julius Shulman recently, and have gained “some” insights into his compositional techniques. I have become very conscious of my process recently. If I have learned anything from Julius Shulman, its that the architecture has to inform the photographer on how it should be photographed. It’s like the relationship between a photographer and model. You have to understand what the architecture is trying to say if you have any chance of communicating it visually. Photographers use light dark values and leading lines to control the conversation. In the Holocaust photo, I want to show the strength and fragility of each form. There is a forward motion to the star that seem to break the mass apart.
It was quite cold that day and it started to snow, so I decided a interior shoot might be in order so I popped into the State House to see what might come of the visit. I wanted to work on some compositional techniques. Mostly what I was working on was finding good leading lines, strong graphic composition, and defining perimeters. The state house proved to be a great subject. My biggest challenge shooting this was hand holding my camera perfectly level and centered in the space, in a fairly dim environment. If I was off by half an inch the symmetry was blown. Tripods are not allowed here as the guard informed me. Very friendly guards by the way…. The last shot of the day was walking down High St. when I saw the large neon sign. I knew it would create a nice visual entry point for my image and had strong leading line down toward the doorway. I framed it up with the mullions on the left and the treeline and trash can on the right. and I waited for someone to enter the space underneath the sign. I would have preferred someone wearing white, but I realized at that moment I was parked in a tow away zone, so I called it a day….all in all, pretty good day.