SMALL MAY BE ALL
By MICHAEL PERKINS
SOME SUBJECTS SEEM AS IF THEY ARE GOING TO FOLLOW A SURE PATH, then dog-leg on you in the doing. Last week I was fascinated to attend a celebration of the summer solstice in a building designed to highlight the drama of its unique light. Phoenix’ Burton Barr Library reading room, an enormous space bordered by shaded glass on its north and south faces and slab concrete for its west and east walls, has, since its opening, hosted an annual midday demonstration by its architect, Will Bruder centered on the longest day of the year. First, a capacity crowd watches intense light crawl dramatically down the library’s west wall, seeming to sweep shadows downward like a rapidly descending curtain until the entire west surface fairly glows with light. For a few minutes, under this enhanced illumination,what normally appears as a seamless monolith of concrete shimmers with a million tiny fractures, creases, and flaws, rendering the usually dull surface alive with small but perceptible dances of color.
Immediately following this subtle but sweet show, as the sun travels to the west over the top of the library, the same display begins in reverse on the east wall, as shadows begin to crawl up from the floor and eventually confine sunlight on the concrete surface to a narrow slit at its top. The same intense reveal on every facet of the slab’s surface is seen again, and, along the ceiling, the library’s carefully designed support pillars, all positioned under individual circular skylights in the reading room’s roof, begin to resemble glowing candles. The entire phenomenon, subtle and quiet, yet beautiful in aspect, is all completed within a half hour.
In that half hour, my original shooting strategy, an overall wide shot to show the amazed onlookers inside the vast room, craning their necks to observe the miracle between rows of book shelves, moved from “sure thing” to “what was I thinking”? As it turned out “the story” was too big to be trusted to a big picture (!), and I came to realize that the heart of the light effect might best be told, for me, in one part of one wall. All the other props inside the structure provided so much visual information that nothing true was going to emerge in any attempt at an overall “coverage” image. I decided to show the shadowy tendrils trailing from a single part of the ceiling structure, but to shoot a three-shot bracket of exposures, all at ISO 100, to be combined later in High Dynamic Range software, to glean as much information (and the widest range of tone) on the texture revealed by the travel of the light across the wall.
The result was a shot that eliminated the rest of the overall solstice story as I tried instead to show object, shadow and detail combining as elements in one integrated design. It’s up to anyone as to whether I made the correct decision, but it’s safe to say that it was correct for me at the time. Sometimes a thing is interesting to look at by itself, for itself, without context or alibi. Of course I realize that I have provided both those things by writing this, but this forum is dedicated to the urge that makes us all throw something at the wall (excuse the expression) to see if anything sticks, so maybe it’s not wrong to give this a bit of backstory. Eventually, however, it’s either a picture or it’s not.
- Spiritual Significance of the Summer Solstice (aquariuschannelings.com)