Architectural photography – the ultra precise, extraordinarily calculated and most obsessive compulsive genre of an already obsessive compulsive field that is photography. An outsider might think that architectural photography isn’t much fun. That is…until a shot like, Bubble Billy, from Kaytee Riek struts on by to remind everyone that architectural photography can be fun.
What you see here is a classic building through the reflection off of another building. But the classic building is not just any building, it is Philadelphia’s very own City Hall. Standing on top of City Hall is a statue of William Penn (thus the name of the photograph). The building holds substantial historic significance in Philadelphia. It held the throne as the tallest inhabitable building for seven years from 1901, when it was completed, to 1908. For that matter, it remained as the tallest building in Philadelphia until 1987 (Kaytee speaks briefly of that lore in her description on Flickr). Because of it’s unique architecture – there are only a dozen buildings built of this style in the United States that remain standing today – and because of it’s location deep within the heart of Center City, it is possibly one of the most photographed buildings in the city. The statue of William Penn alone has likely be captured hundreds of thousands of times. If I had to guess how many people captured the structure in a reflection – the number of photos would easily be cut to a quarter. But only a fraction of those would have caught them – intentionally – in a distorted reflection. Kaytee is one of those.
The purpose of me bringing this photo to you today is that I wanted to show that things don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. In natural environments filled with imperfect flowers, asymmetrical mountains and rocks and meandering streams – its much easier to accept imperfections. But in man-made spaces, imperfections and distortions are uncomfortable. For example, City Hall is a beautiful structure – especially since it’s restoration several years ago. It is very easy for us to see it’s beauty at face value. But when seen in a distorted reflection, as is the case here, many people, even photographers, cannot look beyond the fact that it’s not a perfect representation of the building. Such behavior is not truly our fault. It all comes down to the left brain – which specializes in symbols and order – trying to take control. As photographers, we cannot let that happen. Controlling and limiting your left brain is a discussion for another day. But being aware of the left brain’s desire to control and organize is enough for us to remind ourselves that a shot like Kaytee’s is beautiful – even before capturing it with your camera.
The thing I like about Bubble Billy is the playfulness of the shot. Each panel of glass distorts the building in a slightly different way. It’s almost like looking at a building in a giant carnival mirror – distorting some portions of the building to look thin and others to look fat. It’s a really interesting way to capture any building, especially one as substantial as City Hall. She carries out the playful theme with the photograph’s title. Titles can have a tremendous impact on the observer’s expectations for a photograph. Such a playful name clearly indicates to the observer that the photographer also has a playful intent, and our appreciation for the shot grows. But the thing that is most curious to me – a Philadelphia native – is trying to dissect how this shot was made. Or more specifically: From where. For those who aren’t familiar with the building, it’s pretty tall: About 550′. The vertical angle of the shot suggests that it was shot from an elevation about even with the observation deck (visible in the photo). I can’t tell if Kaytee shot it from the observation deck itself, or from another nearby building. Either way, the shot turned out great.
Bubble Billy is a great photograph with a nice twist on a common theme, and it is certainly deserving of attention. But don’t stop at this one photo: Kaytee’s photographic works, especially those in her Photo 365 Project, are inspiring. It would do you good to explore her galleries to be inspired.