Friday, June 27, 2008

July "Monthly Special": Architectural Detail

This month I'm leaving behind software and portraiture (don't worry, they'll be back) for a project aimed at appreciating our surroundings. My own example will come from Paris, which may seem unfair given how easy it is to find beauty there, but my goal is to inspire you to look more closely at the structures around you and to discover the beauty in them.

Detail of a bridge in Paris.

The story behind the project

Twelve years ago, while living in Paris with my wife and our one-year-old son, I was in need of a creative photo project. I didn't want to take the same touristy photos that you see on all the postcards, probably because I didn't want to think of myself as a tourist. When you've gone through all the work of finding and furnishing an apartment, you want to think of yourself as something more than a visitor. You want to believe you love the city more deeply than someone running through the Louvre, stopping by the Eiffel Tower, and then hopping on a plane or train to their next destination. Paris is not fast food, you think. Slow down. Take in the subtleties. You knew you liked the Eiffel Tower before you left home, but what else do you like now that you've spent some time here?

I remembered taking a class on Renaissance poetry and learning about the blason--a kind of poem devoted to praising a woman by describing a single body part (e.g. the eyebrow, the lips, the nose, the tooth (I kid you not), the thigh, etc.). The result could range from comical to seductive to downright nasty, depending on the body part and on the skill of the poet.

With the blason in mind, I tried to identify what specifically I loved about Paris. At that time, it was without a doubt the ironwork. Had I moved to Paris from New York (which has some beautiful examples of ironwork) rather than from Seattle, I may have taken it for granted. But I had never before been surrounded by so much beautiful wrought iron. I loved looking at the variations in balconies, gates, bridges, and staircases. And so began my photographic ode to ironwork.

I wasn't shooting digital back then, but here are a couple recent shots:

Detail of a gate at Palais Royal.

I love the silhouetted curves of this gate.

The challenge and why you should participate

This month, I want to invite you to photograph architectural details around you. This could be your home, your work environment, your city, a place you like to visit, almost anything as long as it is an architectural detail.

I am giving a broad definition of architectural detail as
human-made structures or things more-or-less permanently attached to them. For example, your fireplace mantel would qualify, but the knick knacks sitting on top of it would not. Your antique door knobs and locks would qualify, but your keys would not. Sound clear?

If you do this month's special I believe you will begin to appreciate your surroundings on a deeper level. Keep a camera with you when you go out and new things will come to your attention. This month is all about seeing rather than about software. I hope to see even more people participate. Pick your favorite (or favorites) and post them on your blog or photo site and link back here to share your results. I can't wait to hear the stories behind your photos. I will have more posts coming through the month, but you can always find the Monthly Special in the menu bar at the right.