A Better Understanding

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.

Welzheimer/Johnson House Oberlin Ohio

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.

Fallingwater Ohiopyle PA

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!

Urban Inspiration

Walk around any city & you’ll find public art. Some statues or murals may be commissioned or you may see the work of an illicit painter’s creativity. Even some marketing signs have an artistic flair. Whatever the intent, these visual distractions can make a mundane environment more interesting.

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The symmetrical sharp shapes of these windows with multiple panels are softened with the colorful arched design that surrounds them. The static pattern of bricks has almost disappeared into the background with the outlined form of columns. The artistic accents incorporated onto the basic form of the structure add to the character of the old building while giving a hint to what is inside.

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The sides of buildings where a parking lot has been squeezed into the empty space provide an opportunity for many types of murals. Usually work done in these spaces provide vivid color to an otherwise drab wall.

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Statues of Ancient Greece represented gods while some rulers hoping to immortalize themselves had their likeness carved in stone. In this country many of our civic monuments pay tribute to important individuals. No form of art is ever static. In the recent past objects, forms & surrealistic sculptures began to appear in public spaces often representing ideas. Empty Suit by Erwin Wurm in St. Louis fascinated me. Humanity has been removed from a typical form on a pedestal & the color demands your attention.

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Not to far from Empty Suit I found a sculpture commonly know as Hollow Head or just plain Head. I later learned its official name is Eros Bendato sculpted by Igor Mitoraj. Initially I enjoyed the absurdity of the work but discovered that Eros is the Greek God of love & desire. By making me smile when I first saw it & later thinking of what the artist may have been saying, this public art did it’s job.

05 copyWhile this wall in Mostar, riddled with the bullet holes, is definitely not the work of an artist. It does speaks to me in a more powerful way than any urban environment I’ve ever been in. During the war in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990’s, this city, which had been a beacon of coexistence between a cultural, religious & ethnic population, was laid siege. Centuries of cooperation & tolerance eroded into an atmosphere of distrust & anger. It is a constant reminder of the the lasting scars from the savagery of war.

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Translation…I am Fidel. My trip to Cuba was 2 months after Fidel died. One of Castro’s last wishes was for no monuments to be erected in his honor to avoid a cult of personality. The few murals I saw were of faded revolutionary icons. During my 2 weeks on the island I saw very little graffiti. I found it odd that with Cuba’s rich artistic culture I did not see more art in public places. 07

The attempt to brighten up an alley in downtown Denver with a dramatic work of art seemed like a good idea. However, the alley will always be a place for garbage dumpsters. The stark reality of the graffiti tagged container defines the superiority of function over form in this environment.

08This mural alongside a parking lot in the Strip District of Pittsburgh is also an advertisement for the business inside the building. Getting your attention is a shared goal of art & marketing. Both the design & the message are simple. In my mind’s eye that harmony helps to make it effective without being offensive. It also has balanced proportion with the cars in in front of it.

09Anyone with a bit of technical knowledge about video will immediately associate the color bars in the mural with TV. The iconic Apple logo requires no further explanation. Yet again it is on a wall beside a parking lot. In this case, the enormity of it with the stark design I find irritating. I’m not a graphic designer but somehow I think Apple could have used the space with a more creative brush. Just because it looks good on a monitor doesn’t always translate to the environment people will see it.

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On Beal St. in Memphis businesses uses unique signs to get tourists attention to lure them in & spend money. A clever name or a creative sign are the norm. One sign that grabbed my eye was the Pepsi Sign. The artist credited is Mark Davey. I can’t say for certain but this seems to be his unique expression of creative promotion not a Pepsi campaign.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital era urban art now includes video sculptures. At Millennial Park in Chicago, Crown Fountain displays dynamic images along with LED lighting presentations. The 50 foot tall screen can be overpowering when it shows the faces of about 1,000 faces of people from Chicago. The images of the faces are not static. Periodically a stream of water will shoot out of the subject’s mouth. From the appropriate distance it speaks to the diversity of humanity.   Hopefully it will never be used for advertising. In my opinion mediocre art is superior to most marketing eyesores.

Urban Photography

I enjoy street photography but the bigger picture of URBAN photography is outside my comfort zone. However, since my career involved a significant amount of travel to NFL cities I attempted to keep an open mind/eye. When I wandered I occasionally found a few results I was pleased with. The “Cliché” shots in many places, Pittsburgh included, aren’t what I look for. Occasionally I try my perspective at a “Scenic Icon” or I just can’t pass the opportunity. In my travels I complained all I saw traveling were airports, hotels & the loading docks where I worked. I can’t complain about my career. However, if I had it to do over I would take more time to wander.

CVG 082I’ll get the Cliché shots out of the way first. River towns, no matter the size, have a unique perspective of balance with the natural world that landlocked cities can’t offer. The historic Roebling Bridge & the barge offer a foreground helping to define the city of Cincinnati.
ORDAlthough this particular image isn’t a signature shot of ORD, if you go to DT Chicago you should go to Cloud Gate aka The Bean. This selfie/fun-house-mirror shot took me about 15 snaps. At first I tried time the reflections of people in the frame. I soon realized shadows of were also a dynamic component.
DET 52nd Floor 083Normally I wouldn’t consider fireworks a worthy subject. However, when you are on the 52nd story and the display is just outside your window at eye level or below you reach for the camera. The Detroit River provides a backdrop for the fireworks & a foreground for Windsor. Sometimes…life is like that.

DFW 080Over the last 20 years of my CBS/NFL career I worked a lot of games in DFW & spent many a Thanksgiving  with the best crews anybody could ever dream of working with. This view was returning from Cowboy Stadium & one I had seen dozens of times. One particular ride to the hotel, when the sun was bright with a big blue Texas sky I realized this could be a nice shot. However, after a couple of attempts, I found the overcast sky was a better backdrop for the ribbons of concrete & steel.

ATL 081The 1st Ferris Wheel was in 1893 at the Colombian Exposition built by a man/business from PIT. Now they are urban “Trendy” aka cliché. I look at this geometric machine in relation to its environment. After a 360 walk-around of this wheel in ATL I came up with a diverse assortment of relationships.

I didn’t see the “Wheel of Light” at the 15 PIT Regatta but imagine it could have been a nice temporary addition to our World Class Vista. Surprisingly, a quick Google did not produce any images of Mr. Ferris namesake invention in Pittsburgh. I did however stumble upon a photograph of a prototype of the wheel in Pittsburgh taken in 1885. It was on display at the Photographic History Museum on the North Side just a few doors away from Bernie’s. It is well worth your time to visit if you have any interest in how photography has evolved.
Birmingham UK 076The next 3 images are from across the pond in the UK…Birmingham, Liverpool & London. Although I was surprised when I found canals in Birmingham I shouldn’t have been. The British were leaders in the Industrial Revolution & of course their seafaring skills in which Britannia ruled the waves. It makes sense water transportation would be a part of any major urban area.

Liverpool UK 077I expected docks of Liverpool to be a worthy subject because of its historic nature combined with a recent transformation. I didn’t expect my favorite shot to be of a newer building with a corner like a prow of a ship. I’m sure the “photo bomb” by the seagull influenced my attraction to this image. Anyone watching from lifeboats would have seen the name of this port as the stern of the Titanic sank below the surface of the cold Atlantic. Although not built there, White Star Line, was headquartered in Liverpool & the woeful ship was registered there.
Canary Warf London 079The evolution of Canary Wharf on the Thames from one of the world’s busiest ports in the early 1800’s to an international finance center in the 21st century speaks volumes as to the roles of commerce, capital & location. The blue-collar longshoremen with their hooks scampering around the docks have been replaced with pin stripped business people with laptops.
STL 085This shot I stumbled upon searching for a store in South STL to buy work gloves. No matter where you travel in this wonderful country you can find a barbershop. I’m not sure if the price is accurate, but I do believe if I walked in with a full head of my wild hair the barber would re-negotiate before starting to clip my coiffure.

If anybody has made it this far, please tell me if 9 images are too many on a single blog.