Tag Archives: architecture

Palacio De Bellas Artes, Mexico City

PalacioBellasArtesSol

The last time I wanted to photograph the Palace of Fine Arts, the weather was not so accommodating and the skies were hazy and smoggy every day. This trip, the weather cooperated and you can see the glory that is the Palacio. The domes of the Palacio are so iconic a symbol of Mexico City, they’re even on the Starbucks mug! Next time I’m back, I’ll have to go in the Sears across the street and see if I can get a good shot out one of the third or fourth floor windows.

The interior is every bit as spectacular – The entrance lobby is a glory of Deco Mexicano – very much Art Deco, but with a distinct Mexican cultural twist – you can feel the stirrings of pride in indigenous Mexican heritage that were finding expression in stylized Aztec and Mayan motifs and the murals of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros and Jose Orozco that adorn the walls of the lobby.

BellasArtesDomeInteriorUp

I feel lucky to have pulled off this shot, as I had to point the camera straight up, and hold it still for 1/15th of a second (I think it was a 1/15h, might have been 1/8th). No small feat when your camera is as big and heavy a brick as my Mamiya RZ67. I must say it has an extremely well-damped mirror that doesn’t cause camera shake – while it isn’t quite as smooth as my Rolleiflex, which has no mirror movement at all, I can hand-hold it down to 1/15th or 1/8th regularly (the Rollei I feel pretty confident to 1/4 second, and have been known to pull off 1 second exposures hand held).

Mexico City, in Black and White

This was a return trip, just a quick three-day weekend over the Veterans’ Day holiday, so I only shot four rolls of black-and-white and six rolls of color (to be processed today). Here are some highlights.

I took a trip to the UNAM (Autonomous National University of Mexico) campus, which is famous for its 1960s architecture (it’s the site of the 1968 Olympics, and the Olympic stadium which seats some 80,000 (if I recall correctly) is across Insurgentes Boulevard from the campus). My partner is in law school at UNAM, so we met up after class and wandered around a bit. These images are from the Architecture school buildings, another program that UNAM is famous for.

UNAMArchitectureStairs

AngelUNAMArchitecture

You may be wondering- what’s with the rectangular images? He almost always shows us square photos! Well, I traded in some gear I wasn’t using and got a Mamiya RZ67 and a trio of lenses for it. The RZ67 is effectively a Hasselblad on steroids – unlike my Rolleiflex, which is a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex), the RZ is an SLR (Single Lens Reflex). The advantage is that with an SLR, interchangeable lenses make a lot more sense, since you only have to have one of them per focal length. The RZ also shoots 6x7cm negatives on 120 film (NOT 120mm!!! Pet Peeve alert – 120 is the film size, not 120mm. 120 was a Kodak internal designation for the format that became universal, kind of like Kleenex). The RZ solves the problem of having to rotate the entire camera when switching from horizontal to vertical by instituting rotating backs. This of course makes the camera bigger and heavier. It’s an additional challenge when traveling, but I think the images speak for themselves.

Back in the city center, I was wandering around on the street where my hotel is located, Calle Londres. Down the block are a pair of markets – the Mercado del Angel, which specializes in antiques, and the Mercado de Artesanias which specializes in modern handicrafts of all varieties from wood carvings to ceramics to sterling silver jewelry. The Mercado de Artesanias had a Day of the Dead altar still up in their entryway.

DiaDeLosMuertosAltar

DiaDeLosMuertosAltar2

You can’t tell it in black and white, but those pumpkins on the ground were fluorescent purple and pink. I like them better in b/w, don’t you?
BronzeDoorsLondres

Also on Calle Londres, these bronze doors can be found. I’m still not sure what they belong to, but they’re quite impressive.

 

GaleanaMonument

Another aspect of the trip was to take in some of the exhibits of FotoMexico, a nation-wide, three month long photography festival that covers some 600 exhibits around the nation. The headquarters for the program is the Centro de la Imagén, located inside the Biblioteca México (I’ll have more to say about FotoMexico in another post). The Biblioteca México is located in an 18th century tobacco factory-cum-military facility that was used as a prison during the waning days of Spanish colonial rule. This monument is in the park in front of the Biblioteca, commemorating Jose Maria Morelos, a Mexican general who led a valiant 40 day resistance against colonial authorities at Cuautla, after which he was taken prisoner, held in the jail in the Ciutadela (now the Biblioteca) and then executed for treason.
ParkSweepMexicoCity

The cart and broom of one of the caretakers of the park.
MorelosMonument2

Another view of the Morelos monument. It was erected in 1912, as part of the centenary commemorations of Mexican independence from Spain, and coincidentally the Mexican Revolution of 1911 which overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz.
GlorietaInsurgentes

Last but not least, the advertising billboard structure in the Glorieta Insurgentes. The Glorieta is a major traffic circle on Avenida Insurgentes Norte, and is a transportation hub – the subway and express buses have stops in and around the Glorieta. I photographed the billboard structure because it has a look to it reminiscent of a Bernd and Hilla Becher photograph of industrial structures.

Palazzo Barberini in Color

Today the Palazzo Barberini houses another great art museum, home to two Caravaggios, a version of Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII of England, and Bernini’s bust of Cardinal Barberini among many other masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque painting. Here is the entrance facade as designed by Bernini, seen from the entrance courtyard with its central fountain.

Facade, Villa Barberini
Facade, Villa Barberini

A detail of one of the water jets in the fountain:

Fountain Detail, Palazzo Barberini
Fountain Detail, Palazzo Barberini

A staircase leading up to the rear gardens from the coachway underneath the palace. To the left out of the frame is the famous stepped ramp to the rear of the garden also designed by Bernini. Sometimes when you’re photographing, you get into this mindset of one type of image or another – for example, I had been shooting black-and-white film, and when composing this, I was still in the black-and-white headspace. I was thinking about the tones of the scene and the gradations from bright to dark. I don’t know if I even realized at the time I was shooting in color. When I was editing through my negatives, I saw this one and thought, “gosh, that’s likely to be a throwaway shot, but I’ll scan it just in case”. I wasn’t sure it would be sharp enough, because my memory of the space was that it was exceedingly dark and I winged it with a handheld exposure, roughly 1/4 of a second.

Well, you can see what happened. Not only was it sharp, but I seem to have mastered serendipity. The colors in the scene are beyond beautiful – the subtle blue from the cold light of the palace shadow seeping down into the stairway from the garden entrance to the rich golden hue of the paving stones and the plaster on the wall.

Inner Courtyard Stair, Palazzzo Barberini
Inner Courtyard Stair, Palazzzo Barberini

Poking around the grounds of the palazzo, I saw two massive carved stone coats of arms lying on the ground in a side service yard. One was the papal coat of arms of Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII. To be expected – this was his palace. This one, on the other hand, is a bit surprising – the papal coat of arms for Paul V – Camillo Borghese. During the years of their respective papacies, the Borghese and Barberini estates were neighbors, and Scipione Borghese, the Cardinal Nepotente to Paul V, was a friend and fellow art enthusiast with Maffeo Barberini. After Urban VIII’s death, the Barberini palace was seized and not returned to the Barberini family for some years, but neither the Pope doing the seizing nor the pope who returned it to them were Borghese. Both families (Borghese and Barberini) were one-papacy families, unlike the Medici with four, and the Della Rovere with two.

Borghese Papal Coat of Arms
Borghese Papal Coat of Arms

Architectural Abstracts – Color

If you recall my earlier posts of the World Health Organization/Pan-American Health Organization headquarters building, I like architectural abstracts. These are some color abstracts I shot on two different excursions – one down to the National Mall at sunset, and the other on my routine walk home from work.

The African-American History museum is still a work in progress – I think it is slated to open in 2016, but it could be 2017 or even 2018 before it is ready for visitors, even if the structure is finished (which it appears will be true sometime this year, from the look of it). The building design is made to look like a traditional African crown with three tiers of bronze-colored mesh. The repeating pattern of the mesh screening lends itself extremely well to abstraction, and the missing panels (from the architectural renderings on the signs outside the museum, they are in fact missing/uninstalled, and not intentionally empty) add a geometric counterpoint.

African-American History Museum, Lamp
African-American History Museum, Lamp

It’s nice to see that DC is finally getting some real architectural gems, and is not just filled with Classical-revival, Victorian, and Modern Industrial glass boxes. On a certain level it’s too bad the Corcoran was not able to get their financial act together several years ago and build the Frank Gehry addition to the school they wanted, as that would have been quite a striking change to the streetscape.

African-American Museum, Sky
African-American Museum, Sky

Although not strictly architectural, I thought the geometric forms of the crane against the solid blue sky made for a nice abstract and fit well with the overall theme; after all, it is a construction crane.

Miller-Long DC crane
Miller-Long DC crane

Far be it for me to accuse George Washington University of being architecturally avant-garde; most of their buildings blend in to the DC streetscape with an ennui-inducing banality. But their 1970s and 1980s brown-brick boxes do have some worthwhile details that break the monotony and catch the eye. Take this stairwell, for instance – the walls are blue, which pops out against the brown brick facade and dark bronze-color window trimming. And easily overlooked, the blue stairwell provides some continuity by breaking the space between the facades, each of which has a different styling for their windows. Without the stairwell, the contrast would be in high relief, and we’d think something went wrong during construction and/or they ran out of money and had to switch styles when they turned the corner.

Glass Stairwell, GW
Glass Stairwell, GW

This glass tower thrusts into the sky like the prow of an ocean liner, cleaving the plane of the facade like an Arctic icebreaker clearing the channel into Archangelsk through a wall of sea ice (ok, I’m being a tad dramatic but I wanted SOMETHING to say about it).

Tower, GW
Tower, GW

Architectural Abstracts in Black and White

If there’s one subject that never fails, it’s architecture. Twenty-four hours a day, it looks different. To the patient and observant eye, even the most seemingly bland box of a building can be transformed into a study of volume and texture with the careful observation and application of light.

Steel girders wrapping a facade for protection during renovation become a study of patterns and of contrasting textures – the rigid linearity and modernity of the I-beams highlights in strong relief the delicate brickwork and moldings behind it, and the strong shadows cast by the evening sun bring out geometric repetition.

Facade, Girders
Facade, Girders

The white crane above the girder wall catches the late afternoon sun, a thrusting line that divides the blank sky with dynamic movement that creates multiple negative spaces instead of unbalancing the image with empty information.

Miller & Long Crane
Miller & Long Crane

This image would be even better in color as there are patches of blue in the stairwell that repeat in a subtle pattern, drawing your eye into and up the stairs, but even in black-and-white, the repeated lines of the ascending structure draw your eye through the image.

Glass Staircase, GW
Glass Staircase, GW

I like the vertiginous vertical lines of the apartment tower as you look straight up it. Believe it or not this was shot hand-held, no tripod, no level, just very careful eyeballing and steady hands.

Columbia Plaza Tower
Columbia Plaza Tower

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a magnificent slab of white marble. Even the outside spaces are all grand and awe-inspiring, very much in keeping with the goal of presenting and preserving the performing arts. Here the roofline is a dramatic act in itself, like a set piece in an opera playing on the stage within. Wagner couldn’t have composed it better.

Kennedy Center Corner
Kennedy Center Corner

Another vertigo-inducing shot looking straight up at what I call the ships’ prow building. The facade is mostly flat, but this arced wedge bursts forth from the surface like a ship’s prow cutting the waves.

Ship's Prow Building, H Street
Ship’s Prow Building, H Street

World Health Organization Recap

A recap of the World Health Organization images I’ve made. There are more coming, but they’re on several rolls I haven’t had a chance to process yet (I’ve got to get a couple more shot to run a batch).

This first one is in some ways the most graphic of the bunch, if not the most abstract. In winter, near sundown, you can see this bare tree in front of the white marble wall on the end of the building. There’s the contrast between the black organic shape of the tree against the white rectilinear grid of the wall.

Tree, Stone Wall
Tree, Stone Wall
The rest of these don’t bear commentary because you’ve seen them before here on my blog. Go back and re-read the posts ( here, here, here, here, here, and here) for the details of my thoughts and ideas about the images.

Underneath the WHO
Underneath the WHO

Columns
Columns

Handrail
Handrail

Flagpoles
Flagpoles

WHO Column, Angle
WHO Column, Angle

World Health Organization Curves
World Health Organization Curves

Eaves, World Health Organization
Eaves, World Health Organization

World Health Organization, Thirds
World Health Organization, Thirds

World Health Organization, Cylinder
World Health Organization, Cylinder

PAHO/WHO Building
PAHO/WHO Building

WHO building
WHO building

WHO building
WHO building

Pavers, Reflection, Grass
Pavers, Reflection, Grass

More Architectural Details, World Health Organization Building

Outside the WHO building, there is a series of flagpoles, most in bronze, with a few at the far end that appear to be bronze-ish aluminum (probably modern replacements). I wanted to capture something of the receding-to-infinity effect of the line of them. All winter they’ve been barren, but yesterday for the first time I’ve seen them flying flags of all the American nations (from the US and Canada through the Caribbean nations to Argentina). I will have color images of that coming soon.

Flagpoles
Flagpoles

I think I need to go back and re-shoot the handrail, as the near end seems a touch out-of-focus when it should be totally sharp. Part of the reason for this is that I’m still getting used to my new-to-me Tele-Rolleiflex (it has a 135mm Zeiss Sonnar f4 lens on it, as opposed to the normal 80mm Planar f2.8 on my standard Rolleiflex). The Tele has a shallower depth-of-field, and it also has a relatively far minimum focus of about 7.5 feet.

Handrail
Handrail

Perhaps my favorite shot of this series- I love the repetition of the columns and the arc of the building with the related but contrasting vertical stripes.

Columns
Columns

A different view of the columns, from behind.

Underneath the WHO
Underneath the WHO

As a side note, I keep short-handing the name of the building to the World Health Organization, but in reality it is the World Health Organization/Pan-American Health Organization building, but WHO/PAHO is a bit unwieldy, and the full name even moreso.