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!

Revisiting Motivation

I’ve taken shots that caught me eye with no real idea why I snapped the shutter. Examining these shots I’ve not looked at for a few years was an interesting self-critique.  The close ups, details & perspectives are examples of my evolution with a still camera giving me clues to understanding my personal vision.

01By reviewing this shot I realized the fractal forms on this rooftop is what originally grabbed my eye. Recognizing my attraction to the pattern of the subject created an inspiration to explore the world of “Digital Art” Although this isn’t a genre I wish to spend much time with I did realize more about my initial attraction to the subject. This modification retains the strong structure while the added color & highlights have added a dimension non-existent in the original.

02 Bubbles.2I’ve always liked this shot as just a snapshot. The abstract quality disappears when your mind interprets what you see. The ½ sphere shapes are clues to realizing you are looking at bubbles on the surface of water. My latent photojournalist ethics of Photoshop no longer keep me from modifying an image. Enhancing the red & blue reflections added a separation creating a subtle juxtaposition while emphasizing the forms.

03How close is to close? Originally I was looking at the bees as the subject. But, as I was slowly approaching this nest to get my shot I was fascinated with the detail of the hive. Realizing that I didn’t want to be close for an extended amount of time I recognized a medium close up showing the bees & the contours of the structure they created was a more interesting image than just isolating the hole with the bees.  I’m slowly realizing a wider shot can be better story. I admire the collective ability & dedication of these sometime annoying creatures.

04 old oakUnless you are aware of the Fibonacci Equation or The Golden Spiral, this image of a 600 year old oak log is not all that interesting. Wandering thru the boatyard at Mystic Seaport the form in this cutaway screamed at me. If you take the time to look you can see some amazing things created by nature.

05 iron workHuman beings can also do some amazing things. The smelting of metals is ancient. Centuries ago the structural strength of iron was formed into security for doors & windows. Past generations have enjoyed the artistic as well as the pragmatic function of this medium. I suppose that somewhere a 3D printer is in the process of producing 21st century wrought iron railing. I’m not usually a fan of symmetry but this work is an exception because of the seemingly soft details on a hard material.

06North MeadowThe most challenging previsualization for me to grasp is with my wide-angle zoom. A close-up/wide shot is not something my mind’s eye can easily envision. This is one of the few times I did indeed make the most out of the optics. Lying on the ground in the North Meadow of Yosemite I was thrilled to find this back-lit flower & create an image I had seen in my mind. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the distant mountains softly out of focus since I was shooting at f16.

07 coat of arms montenegroThis 2-headed eagle is a symbol of Montenegro on their flag & coat of arms. We mostly think of crests like this being from centuries ago. It is an ancient visual representing  power & dominance. This version was formally approved by this Balkan nation in 2007. The 2 eagles holding religious symbols in their talons symbolize the close connections between church & state. The detail of the work enhances the power of the image.

08 rails londonAs a visual metaphor, train tracks have a history as an example of A Vanishing Point as well as Leading Lines. In my mind, the curving merger of 2 primary tracks is not as cliche. My initial reaction was the foreground flora interfered with this somewhat distinct view of a common subject. However, the color & the organic structure are a juxtaposition to steel rails which I now feel are an important part of the image.

09 Blood ChainI have seen a lot of rust which has interesting texture with deep brown blended with dark orange. This “Blood Rust” chain I saw really caught my attention. Could it be minerals in the rocks or salt from the ocean or a combination of both created this uncommon color in the old chain? Or is it because of the chemical make up of the steel that gives it a unique hue? It was with further examination I understood it was the hue that drew me to snap the shutter.

10 grasshopper

In my opinion, the challenge of getting a close-up or macro shots of insects usually is not worth the effort. When I saw the grasshopper on the stark background I was motivated to try.  It was also convenient that I had my 100-400 on the camera.It also is a reinforcement of the need to look down at the ground for interesting subjects & angles.

11

I was on a location scout for a possible documentary about a historic Federal style home. It would have been a nice project but never moved forward. Initially, I was just looking for window lighting & backdrops for interviews. Then I noticed the wallpaper.  Alice in Wonderland gave a clue to the last time this room had been redecorated becoming a visual part of the historic story of this home. Details can be enlightening.

Motivated by a New Opportunity

01I don’t consider myself a competitive person. However, I enjoy the challenge of capturing compelling images of others in sporting events. Mud on the Mountain at Seven Springs seemed like it would offer a variety of new opportunities for my mind’s eye.

02 copyThe weather was cooperative & the runners were enthusiastic subjects. Unfortunately, I had not done enough planning to know where the Mud Pit or other messy locations were & missed one of my primary goals of photographing tight muddy faces.

03A wide perspective the scale of the challenge, an important part of the story. It sets up the impact of tight shots. Atop the Laurel Highlands, I found this migration of competitors that reminded me of images from the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s a different environment & perspective from climbers in single file hiking up a snow-covered pass. In my mind, the push of human endurance was a common element. I also imagined the stark contrast when the terrain was snow covered with skiers speeding in the opposite direction.

04This is my favorite tight action shot of the event. I had spotted her with the war-paint mask as a flight of runners was preparing to start. I immediately noticed attitude & knew if I saw her on the mountain she would have emotion & character on her face. I had found a good position with minimal distractions in the background as runners exited wading thru a lake. She was one of the 1st runners thru after I was in position. Her determination is profoundly obvious.

05In addition to the 7.7-mile run/hike up & down the mountain, there were 30 obstacles. I had zero experience with this type of event from a visual perspective. I wanted to explore perspectives. Although there were “elite runners” competing to win, I believe most of the athletes had a personal goal or focused on just finishing. I did see teamwork as well as athletes helping others beside them. I recognized Mud on the Mountain was as a true personal sporting challenge where collaboration met compettion.

06I’m not sure when or why the Halloween tradition of costumes seeped into many large events. These are not the typical outfits of the competitors. However, they do stand out! Full disclosure, I knew they were a trio of characters but I really had no idea who they were from. When they told me they were from Super Mario I felt foolish for my lack of gaming pop-culture.  My gamer engagement ended at Pac Man. If you don’t know ask.

06a copyI had walked around this climbing challenge 360 degrees before I found a position where the background was clear of distractions. Each runner found a unique way up, over & down. I had good framing with the lines of the wooden structure & the blue sky. Now all I needed was somebody to insert something other than their butt into the frame. Until I sorted the images I had no ideas she had stuck out her tongue when I pressed the shutter. It certainly wasn’t a reaction I anticipated. I knew the elements were in place for a good shot & her expression made it a winner.

6b copyEven though I never made it to the muddy challenges, this shot comes close to what I had seen in my mind’s eye. In this image, there are many stories on the face of this athlete. I find it interesting how the curving contrasting double necklines & the hint of the Batman logo set up his face while the horizontal orange headband divides my attention. A bad hair day can be a strong element. This is another one of my favorite portraits.

6cI believe it is rewarding to put challenges in front of you & attempt to go over them. It can be physical challenges like this event or exploring your creative skills outside of your comfort zone. That is what motivated me to go to this event with my camera. I might go again but if I do I will make sure I do the necessary planning to get to the muddier parts of the course. I can’t speak for any of the competitors that were on the mountain on that glorious spring day, but from my perspective, this runner is a good example of what this event is about. Giving your best attempt at doing what you set out to do.