Sunday, June 1, 2008

I work at a state university, and like many public universities, beautiful architecture was not a priority as it was built. Particularly, it seems, in the 60's and 70's, when bunker-esque concrete blocks were popular.

There's lots of great things about the university, but I'm not a particular fan of the architecture/campus (spoiled as I am by a private college that cared deeply about good architecture) But, I firmly believe that even atrocious architecture can have a good picture hiding somewhere, if I just hunt hard enough. So, leaving work on a beautiful early summer sunny afternoon, I brought out my camera.

The universities PR photographers tend to either focus on the more graceful, older buildings or to strategically include trees or plants to soften the angles. I didn't want to take those shots, though, I wanted to see if by embracing the angles, I could get a photograph.

black and white photograph concrete building

Some judicious cropping, the wonderful instant-elegance of black and white, a bit of contrast and, yes indeed, something interesting out of those institutional buildings. Now, these aren't my favorite photographs ever, but I'm feeling pretty happy with them, all things considered.

The trick to taking photographs like this is to be able to sort of squint your eyes and see not a building, but a collection of lines, shapes and angles. This is not unlike what painters do, reducing a scene to it elements of shape and color to be able to reassemble it on their canvas.

With the first one, it was seeing that the odd squares and windows on this building form an orderly geometric composition. If you look at it long enough, all that order is feels sort of calm.

The second, plays upon the sheer bulkiness of some of these buildings. And makes a virtue of a fault. Particularly in this high contrast arrangement of deep black shadows and strong verticals, it gets a sort of art deco/film noir/comic book feel. (I think the comic book part of that is the deep shadows mess with your sense of perspective and how the building fits together. ) In any case, this is an ironic result of post-processing, especially the black and white conversion. I originally took this shot because the concrete faces of the building were catching the golden light. That intent didn't work out, but this version was a bit of a pleasant surprise.

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