Call me unsophisticated in art and architecture but I expected something different when I visited the Chicago Architecture Biennial last December. Chicago, you see, is one of the great cities for architecture in the U.S., the birthplace of the skyscraper and home to Frank Lloyd Wright, one of America’s greatest architects. I noticed this event as I photographed the downtown streets. An architectural exhibit in a great architectural city, how wonderful.
I was expecting an intellectual yet understandable presentation of architectural trends. Perhaps a history of old to new Chicago. An exploration of design from a variety of global styles. What I found appeared to be theoretical and beyond my comprehension. It was like architecture as art in the most bizarre way. It reminded me of why I tend to dislike art museums in general. Too much theory divorced from reality.
Call me overly pragmatic. Too literal or too closed minded. I like innovation and creativity within certain parameters. My disappointment in the exhibit, however, was offset by its magnificent venue. The Chicago Cultural Center, originally the city’s central library, unfolded its richness as I climbed the stairs. The exhibits fell away, dominated by the container, rather than the contents.
I’m not necessarily a fan of ornate, old-world architecture. I appreciate simple and pragmatic forms. A well proportioned modern structure may delight me just as much. However, I found this building particularly beautiful and exquisitely maintained. It’s the kind of structure you don’t see in an overgrown frontier town like Austin. No, this is old world lavishness when vast sums were spent on city infrastructure.
I shot all photos with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which uncharacteristically, was the only camera I brought on my trip. The Olympus 9-18mm compact wide-angle lens was the perfect companion. All were shot hand-held at 1/10 to 1/25 of a second. The in-body image stabilization and wide-angle allowed me to slow down the shutter and thus lower the ISO. Consequently, none of the images were over ISO 1250, which kept the image quality high.
The micro 4/3 sensor gives me greater depth of field, which works well for these subjects. Would a full-frame camera work better? I’m not convinced, especially handheld and at these slow shutter speeds.
I often shoot dead on to my subject and attempt a symmetrical composition. You see that in several of these shots and I find them extremely challenging to frame. Easy in concept, of course, but tough for me to master. To do these properly, you need to be perfectly level, perfectly perpendicular to the subject and frame symmetrically. Doing this without a tripod makes it more difficult, not because of the shutter speed, rather, getting the minute 3D positioning correct.
Architectural perfection like this begs for perfect framing. Something that I didn’t achieve but hopefully beautiful nevertheless.
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