Tag Archives: National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum

I’ve probably talked about this before – I have a genealogical as well as spiritual connection to the National Portrait Gallery. An ancestor of mine, Senator John Ruggles of Maine was a big fan of all things patent related. During his tenure as a senator (1830-36), he realized that the US Patent Office was in horrible disarray. They were housed in an old building in poor condition, and as such it was a terrible disservice to patent seekers, patent holders, and the nation as a whole – if it was hard to get or defend a patent, innovators would leave the country and take their industries elsewhere. As a result, he managed to wrestle a patent office reform and the allocation of funds to build a new, fireproof, patent office building out of congress. The building now occupied by the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum is that building. During the civil war, it functioned as a barracks and a hospital, and in 1865 it housed Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball.

The building was built not only as a warehouse and government office, but from the first it was open to the public as an exhibition space to come see the patent models submitted with patent applications. As such, it makes for a fantastic museum, complete with dramatic display spaces to showcase some sometimes rather large pieces of art. This niche is a perfect example – all it took was some velvet curtains and matching settee.

Theatrical Painting, American Art Museum
Theatrical Painting, American Art Museum

It has several of the most exquisite and dramatic staircases in the city, in my opinion. The following photos are of the main stairs that run from the F Street entrance up to the grand gallery on the third and fourth floors. There is another staircase that I can’t do justice to with the Rollei because it requires a wide-angle lens to show the sweep of the bannister and the giant mural of General Grant and his generals that spans the curved wall behind the stairs.

Staircase, National Portrait Gallery
Staircase, National Portrait Gallery

The brass and wood balustrade sweeps around in dramatic fashion. Wouldn’t you love to have a staircase like this in your house?

Rail, Staircase, National Portrait Gallery
Rail, Staircase, National Portrait Gallery

This chandelier is on the second floor landing. The window behind looks out into the courtyard of the dual museums. A few years ago, the courtyard was roofed over with a roof designed by Norman Foster. I was initially opposed to the concept of roofing the courtyard, removing the garden and paving the space with dark gray pavers. However, with time, I’ve come to love the space. They did keep some greenery, and made the space useable 365 days a year.

The chandelier is vintage mid-19th century gas adapted to electricity. It’s always a challenge to balance updating and modernization with historical preservation. I think they did an overall outstanding job with this building, and I’m thrilled to see it maintaining relevance and utility into the 21st century.

Chandelier, Staircase, National Portrait Gallery
Chandelier, Staircase, National Portrait Gallery

Finished!!!

After a LOONG weekend of playing with my printer to get it to cooperate (running out of four different inks @ $60/cartridge, figuring out how to solve problems with head strikes on my prints, running out of paper at $115/box thanks to the aforementioned ink shortages and head strikes), I now have my show completely printed. Eight prints are already framed and ready to go, the remaining 12 are going to be framed tomorrow, and the show hung on Tuesday after work. I’ve done shows before, and of course it’s always hard work, but this is the biggest show I’ve done in terms of volume. Even my biggest past Artomatic was probably 12 prints. I’m very psyched about the show. Here’s a recap for those who can’t make it to the opening (REMINDER: August 2, 7-10 PM, Mad Momos Restaurant, 3605 14th Street NW, Washington DC). This exhibit pays tribute to the parts of Washington I pass through on a regular if not daily basis. I want to show what this town looks like to a resident, as well as showing it in an unfamiliar way even to those folks who do see these things all the time. As I mentioned in my blurb about the reception, I love the way color distorts and transforms at night because we no longer have a single, unidirectional light source of uniform color and quality. I’ve started these photos with late evening/sunset/twilight and progress into deep night to capture the feeling of that time of day. I hope these photos express that sense of drawn out time and transformed space, be it through blurred motion or the interplay of lights.

Crane, Traffic, 14th Street, Dusk
Crane, Traffic, 14th Street, Dusk
Nellies Sports Bar, From 9th Street
Nellies Sports Bar, From 9th Street
Ghibellina
Ghibellina
Le Diplomate
Le Diplomate
Pan Lourdes, in color
Pan Lourdes, in color
Cavalier Liquor
Cavalier Liquor
U Street Evening
U Street Evening
National Portrait Gallery, Twilight
National Portrait Gallery, Twilight
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Vespa, 14th Street
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Vespa, 14th Street
14th & Rhode Island Avenue, Moon
14th & Rhode Island Avenue, Moon
Barrel House Liquors
Barrel House Liquors
Studio Theater, from P Street
Studio Theater, from P Street
Studio Theater, from 14th Street
Studio Theater, from 14th Street
Under the Whitehurst Freeway
Under the Whitehurst Freeway
Kennedy Center, Potomac River, Night
Kennedy Center, Potomac River, Night
Water Street, Georgetown
Water Street, Georgetown
Washington Harbor, Cherry Blossoms, Taxi
Washington Harbor, Cherry Blossoms, Taxi
Cyclist returning his Bikeshare, National Portrait Gallery, Sunset
Cyclist returning his Bikeshare, National Portrait Gallery, Sunset
U Street Platform, Oncoming Train
U Street Platform, Oncoming Train
Steps, National Portrait Gallery
Steps, National Portrait Gallery

If any of you have ever produced a photography exhibit, or any other art exhibit for that matter, you’ll have an understanding of just how complicated an effort this is. I’m lucky in that I am able to do my promotional work online for the most part (this blog, email blasts, internet forums, etc), and I already have promotional postcards printed from the last time I exhibited some of this work. It would not surprise me if I did a truly serious accounting of what it cost to put this show up on the wall and the bill came in somewhere north of $2500. I know the framing bill alone is in the region of $1100-$1200. Postcards? about $200 for good quality printing from Modern Postcard. Paper and ink? $300. And that’s just the obvious, not counting the two years it took to shoot the images, the film and processing, the editing process, the dinner bribe for my friend who helped with the editing, and all the hardware and software (21.5″ iMac, Epson V750 scanner, Epson 3880 printer, Photoshop CS5, SilverFast AI 8, Gretag-Macbeth EyeOne calibration software and hockey-puck). To say nothing of 20 years of accumulated experience required to produce images like these.

Anonymous Gentleman, by Brady’s Washington DC studio

Anonymous Gentleman, by Brady
Anonymous Gentleman, by Brady

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you know by now of my interest in images by Mathew Brady’s Washington DC studio. Here is another gem, in near perfect original condition. The sitter is anonymous.

I’ve seen enough of Brady’s CDVs now that I’ve noticed a pattern in the labeling – if you want to tell which studio produced the image, first look at the front – if it says Washington or New York on the front, that’s a 100 % guarantee of where it was taken. If it is not labeled on the front, look at the photographer’s imprint on the verso. The studio that produced it will be listed first: a Washington DC portrait will say “No. 352 Pennsylvania Av., Washington DC & New York”, whereas a New York portrait will say “Broadway & 10th Street, New York, & 352 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC”. Strangely, the Washington DC ones often list only “New York” as the second address, if they list it at all (I have seen it all three ways,”Broadway & 10th”, “New York” and no second address), but the New York ones seem to always list the full “352 Pennsylvania Avenue” as the second address. This of course does not take into account the E&HT Anthony CDVs, which do not list any Brady studio address, but rather state “Published by E & HT Anthony, 501 Broadway, New York” very prominently, and then include the following variations:

  • From Photographic Negative by Brady
  • From Photographic Negative in Brady’s National Portrait Gallery
  • Manufacturers of Photographic Albums
  • No Brady attribution or mention of photographic albums

I guess it makes sense for Anthony to plug the albums on the backs of CDVs, but they made a full range of photographic supplies from albums to chemistry and cameras. The name lived on in various forms for well over a century – they merged with Scovill around the turn of the 20th century and formed Ansco (ANthony & SCOvill), which then partnered with Agfa in the US to become Agfa-Ansco.

Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

Kogod Courtyard, West Facade, Night
Kogod Courtyard, West Facade, Night
Kogod Courtyard, South Facade, Night
Kogod Courtyard, South Facade, Night
Kogod Courtyard, Southeast View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, Southeast View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, West View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, West View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, South View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, South View, Day

Here are some views of the Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery. The blue lighting in the nighttime shots of the courtyard was for an after-hours reception being held at the museum. The courtyard used to be a fairly typical Victorian-era affair with a pair of fountains and some scraggly looking shrubbery, open to the air and more importantly, the weather. A few years ago they undertook a multi-million dollar renovation, ripping out the old landscaping and (non-working) fountains and enclosing it with a Norman Foster designed undulating glass roof. At first I found the interior design rather stark. It has grown on me, though, with the modern interpretations of fountains being just a thin sheet of water flowing in a rectangle across the floor. Of course the roof is the masterwork – it bends and twists like a piece of origami paper. The courtyard is now a very pleasant place to sit and just pass the time, reading a book or eating something from the museum cafe.

All photos were taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Kodak Portra 800 film. Also, for the die-hard photo geeks out there, I’ve been using the free light meter app for my iPhone to do the metering. I’d say it works pretty darned well πŸ™‚

Two More from Chinatown

Spy Museum, G Street, Twilight
Spy Museum, G Street, Twilight

This is looking West on G Street, across the street from the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum (they’re housed in the same building, the former US Patent Office, once the largest building in Washington, occupying an entire square block. Designed to be fireproof (although proven later due to budget cuts during construction to NOT be as fireproof as designed), it was home to Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball). If you saw photos of this street from 30 years ago you would barely recognize it – the entire neighborhood was in rough shape, and despite the museum’s presence, not a safe place to be. They wouldn’t let school groups wander beyond the museum – it was straight from the bus to the building, and back directly into the bus in those days. The whole neighborhood smelled of Eau de Homeless. Now, drinks at Zola are $10-15 each for bottom-shelf liquor, and dinner for two at Rosa Mexicano around the corner will routinely set you back $70-100.

Portrait Gallery Steps, Twilight
Portrait Gallery Steps, Twilight

As you can see, sitting on the steps of the Portrait Gallery is a popular pastime, although not as popular as it used to be amongst teenagers who used to congregate there in large numbers pretty much all year round. The downside was that they weren’t absorbing culture – they were there being teenagers, being rowdy and noisy, sometimes getting into fights, and other inappropriate behavior. So the museum installed speakers that play classical music. Beethoven, the ultimate teenager repellant!

More Chinatown at Night, Rolleiflex plus Fuji 800Z

More of my DC nightscapes- I was testing out the Fuji NPZ 800 that I had in my film inventory. A surprisingly good result from a film I’ve had sitting around again for the better part of a decade.

National Portrait Gallery, Twilight
National Portrait Gallery, Twilight
RedLine Pub, Chinatown
RedLine Pub, Chinatown
Legal Seafood, Chinatown
Legal Seafood, Chinatown

You can definitely see the grain in these images, but it’s nowhere near as pronounced as the grain in 400 speed 35mm film. It also handles mixed lighting pretty well, but it’s not Kodak Portra.

Oh, by the way, these were all hand-held. THAT’s why you shoot 800 speed film!