I keep shooting this building and the surrounding intersection because the architecture provides all kinds of graphical possibilities. Here, today, the drum in front of the tower looks almost like polished metal, whereas in reality, it’s coarse concrete. And a 25-second daylight exposure eliminates all but traces of traffic and the most immobile of pedestrians.
The 6×18 pinhole, when kept plumb, level and square, is virtually distortionless. I’m going to try shooting this scene again but from a low angle, pointing up, to see how curved it gets.
Now, with working with the pinhole, Kodak Tri-X has really turned into my go-to film because I really need the extra speed even in daylight. And the grain of Tri-X, in 120, and in contact prints/scans, really is a non-issue.
I’ve been photographing the World Health Organization building in black and white, regularly, because the architecture lends itself so very nicely to geometric abstracts. Here it is in color, to show a different take on photo abstraction and the creation of meaning in an image.
The building itself was designed by Uruguayan architect Roman Fresnedo Siri. In 1961, Siri won an international design competition with his arc and cylinder concept. Construction was begun in 1963 and the building opened officially on September 27, 1965. There are bronze plaques on the face of the tower representing each of the 29 member nations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A different view of the columns, from behind.
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.
A few more from the World Health Organization building. These I cropped more than I normally do for compositional purposes. I mostly compose and print full frame, but in these cases, including everything the camera saw didn’t match what I was thinking and feeling when I shot the image.
With the Curves image, I wanted the reflection of what’s across the sidewalk from the building showing in the black granite slabs, but I didn’t want much of the vegetation in the background to intrude and directly conflict with the geometry of the building. The grass in the foreground stays in because it is bordered and bounded by the curved lines that echo the shape of the building and the can lights above.
I was mostly interested in the organically shaped column supporting the building, and the dynamic angles of the superstructure it points to. Keeping in too much foreground robs the energy of the image, and including more of the superstructure overweights the top.
Two different takes on the WHO building downtown DC. This time shot in bright, strong, contrasty sunlight. Due to the geometry of the building I was aiming for geometric abstractions, composing so the context of the structure was absent and what is visible has to be taken non-literally.
Pointing the camera vertically to create these images really pushes the perception into unreality – you’re dealing with three texture sets, not anything particularly identifiable. Mid-century architecture like this is a rare commodity in DC – most buildings are either glass-and-steel cubes, neoclassical faux-palaces, or Art Deco boxes of varying degrees of interest and value, so this really stands out.
I previously posted some b/w abstracts of this building, taken on a cloudy, rainy day. Here it is on a glorious, cloudless sunny day. Yes, that actually is the color of the sky; no Photoshop trickery was used to create that.
I love the dramatic contrast between the clear, textureless blue sky and the geometric dynamism of the brick latticework over the building facade.
Tangentially related to my commuter diary in that it’s something I pass frequently, here are some shots of the World Health Organization’s offices in DC. The mid-century design lends itself extremely well to composing abstracts.
At the edge of the lawn, there is a ring of black polished marble creating a border with the concrete pavers of the plaza. It was raining that day, and the marble was particularly reflective, so I composed a frame that shows the cylindrical drum structure reflected at a tangential curve running through the marble band bisecting the frame. It’s a presentation of contrasts in textures, organic vs man-made, structure and chaos.
Many people feel that you can only take photos in certain weather/lighting conditions. Except for the getting wet/cold bit, I like photographing in the weather – it’s a different kind of light, creating different textures and volumes from the same subjects. I plan on heading back with my camera on a nice sunny day and shooting the building again with deep, long shadows making the structure much more abstract and contrasty. I like being versatile in my photographic style, and I like recording light on subjects as I see it when I see it – if that means photographing at noon on a bright sunny day, so be it. Now, I may be out somewhere at noon on a cloudless sunny day and see something and say, wow- that’s an interesting subject, but I can’t get the shot I want because the contrast is too harsh. If that’s the case I won’t waste the film and I’ll come back another day. But by the same token, I’m not going to play refusenik and leave my camera at home between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm because the light is ‘too harsh’. Ditto cloudy days, rainy days, snowy days… there’s something to be seen and photographed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you can’t do it if you don’t have your camera.
Here are two different crops of the drum and tower structures of the WHO building.
On the one hand, the tighter crop is more abstract, being only about contrasts of pattern and texture, sharp focus and soft-focus, but the square uncropped image has more breathing room and gives you more of a sense of what you’re looking at. I don’t know that you need to be able to read the buildings as buildings in order to get the most out of the image – it could even be distracting/attenuating because you stop thinking about what you’re seeing once you KNOW what you’re looking at.