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  • Writer's pictureEllen Fisch

The Art of Architectural Photography: Releasing the Image from the Stone

There are some concepts that resonate with the very soul of an artist. They are often gleaned from studying the masters and/or their works. Several of these principles have long guided me in my work and have greatly influenced how I look at the world. Years ago I appropriated one idea from the great Michelangelo, who claimed that he merely released the statue from a block of marble. A second fundamental belief I follow comes from another genius, Mies van der Rohe: less is more. I subscribe to these two tenets in my work as well as in my life.

In order to release a work of art from the figurative block of marble (of course for Michelangelo it was a literal piece of stone), I must first see the form and understand the way in which it will emerge from its surroundings. In the case of the marvelous staircase railing in The Breakers mansion of Newport, RI, I saw a fluidity of line and form that cascaded into a helix shape, suspended in not only space but time. The magnificence of a form so free as to seem weightless commanded my attention and I did not notice the other elements that visually "encased" this wrought iron railing when I took the picture. I mentally released the form from its environs.

The many other elements in the image that I shot were subjectively taken away to create a clear focus. I do this often when I take pictures. I simply consider an image in terms of post production, frequently Photoshop. Unwanted telephone wires, window air conditioners, cars are filtered out of the photograph through the lens of that which I wish to appear. As Mies van der Rohe said: less is more, and so I eliminate unwanted visual distractions. In my mind, there is a central focus to my photograph and the supporting components must not only reinforce the "star" of the work but elevate it. To that end, first as I took the picture and later back in the studio, I freed the staircase from two beautiful oil paintings in wonderfully ornamental frames and some stunning light fixtures. I then removed, in my opinion, the distracting color and converted the image to sepia, a preferred medium for many of my architectural photographs. I find that sepia softens the space and, perhaps creates a timelessness. The staircase's wrought iron railing emerged as a thing of great beauty, an ageless work of art celebrated by the other curves, lines and values of light and dark in the photograph.

Here are the Before and After images:

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