On a recent road trip I reconciled a significant disparity in my personal conflict with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. As is frequently the case, understanding the root of the problem is an important perspective to know.
I had told friends about my upcoming trip to Oak Park Illinois to visit Frank’s home/studio & explore some of his early work. They told me of one of his Usonian homes in Oberlin Ohio, which was on my way. That brief stop to begin my journey proved to be very worthwhile.
The Weltzheimer/Johnson House itself had the strong horizontal & vertical lines I see in much of his work. Designed with floor to ceiling windows they reflected the outside world. The result, along with the other dark earth tone materials, integrated the man-made structure with nature. This reinforced of a trait of his that can be seen in Fallingwater and the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Unfortunately my schedule & visiting hours of the interior did not sync. I only got to walk around the spacious lot.
It is my distaste for strong lines & 90 degree angles that is a symptom of why I am confused about being inspired by his work. The remaining miles to my destination outside of Chicago gave me time to ponder more deeply about why I always try to soften angles when framing a shot with a camera. Form is a major inspiration for my photography. Sailboats & dance being two examples of subjects with few harsh angles I always want to explore.
After, arriving at my B&B I walked around the neighborhood to stretch my legs & find a place to eat. The architecture of the homes in the community was grand. While none of these homes were designed by Frank, that was in another part of town, they were spectacular with significant landscaping featuring old trees. Many had wonderful large porches & lots of detailed accents. It wasn’t hard to see the Prairie Style in much of the accent work of many of the homes. It was obvious I was in a community where the homes reflected a different era. The Chicago Fire of 1871 motivated the move of families to the outskirts of Central Chicago. Frank & his new bride moved there where he designed & experimented with his own living space. I found it interesting that within 1 block of his home many neighbors hired him to design their homes. The influence of one person can be dramatic.
I had a full day of immersion touring his home, the Unity Temple & doing a walking tour of many of the houses he was the architect for. The diversity caught me a bit by surprise. This is where he was developing his unique ideas, some of which became known as the Prairie Style, which is somewhat synonymous with his name. I also became much more aware of how he incorporated natural light into his plans. In Unity Temple the high windows as well as stained glass windows in the roof bathed the interior of the building with soft light. Additionally the 4 tiers for the congregation were a bold layout I had never seen in any meeting place. I really appreciate that in his home & the temple photography was allowed. Thank you to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
It was on the lower level seating of the church as I was thinking how I could crop the image in my viewfinder that all of the pondering I had done came into clarity. My challenge with Frank’s lines was because I was always working within the Horizontal and Vertical lines of my camera. Those were boarders I couldn’t soften & I recognized they conflicted with his lines. I remembered a critique of my work which was to make the shot wider. Thank you for the simple advice Marth Rial. When I try to put a tight frame around a design or detail of Frank’s it diminishes the power of the image.
When I reexamined the original subject of my inspiration it was plain as day. The boarders of the image need to be away from his work. I can’t let my lines compete with his. With much of his work the natural world offsets the harsh lines of the structure. The space around the subject can be an important part of the visual story.
I believe his work needs to be experienced in a context where the viewer is in the actual environment. Hmm. Sounds like the next chapter in Chasing Frank will be an overnight stay at one of his homes in Polymath Park.
In addition to my epiphany about Frank I also got to spend some time with friends in Chicago & family in Waukesha. Road-trips are good!