Theory wrapped in beauty, grand Chicago architecture captured

Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois

Interior, Chicago Cultural Center – Chicago, Illinois

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.

Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois

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.

Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois
Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois
Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois

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.

Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois
Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois

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.

Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois

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.

Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois
Interior, Chicago Cultural Center - Chicago, Illinois

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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5 thoughts on “Theory wrapped in beauty, grand Chicago architecture captured

  1. Well done Andy, the only presentation I need to understand this architecture are your photo’s! Say no more, the old cliche, “A photo is worth a thousand words”. The Olympus combo did a magnificent job, I’m a stickler when it comes to angles in architectural photo’s, sometimes it’s not always possible to have vertical’s perfectly vertical and horizontal’s perfectly horizontal, it is what it is.


    1. Thank you, John, for the compliment. I’m satisfied with the photos, overall. I don’t think the slight asymmetry takes away from the photographs.

  2. Architecture is challenging for me, too. Unlike landscape pictures, it isn’t “natural” for me. It requires planning and thought, not my strongest suits. I wanted to thank you — again. I got the Olympus OM-D E-M5 today. Not, not the “II” … the original. Refurbished. From Willoughby. I was never going to have the money for a new one and I didn’t see huge differences between this model and the newer one … and I could afford this, so … it’s mine. And back I came to your site to remind myself how to bring up the super menu. Got it. I think I’m going to have to actually read the manual on this to get it to work the way I want. It is also a LOT heavier than my PL 5 and 6, especially with the 14-150 lens on it. Quite a little brick. I may switch and use the 25 f1.8 as the “walking around lens” … just for the weight reduction. Still, I like the range of the 14-150, even if it is heavy and rather a bit slower than I like. I’ll have to experiment and see. I’m glad it’s spring and I’ll be able to get outside to shoot. New cameras go with new flowers and leaves in the spring. Hope all is well with you.

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