PEELING BACK THE LAYERS
By MICHAEL PERKINS
FAMOUS PLACES DEFY CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY. Google an image search for “Eiffel Tower” sometime and marvel at how consistent most of the resulting images of this global landmark seem. Witness how very formalized our visual language for these familiar objects is, how uniform and narrow our images of them have become. Their legendary status, their lore has been nailed into place for generations, sometimes centuries, and airing out these hallowed spaces to let new ideas blow through is tough going indeed. The only novel way to imbue them with any mystery or wonder seems to be in breaking them up into manageable fragments.
Think about it: what is sacred about these spaces? Why do we always have to capture the same floor-to-ceiling recording of them, when, by tightening in on selected floors, doors, windows, or sections of them, we might actually render them new again, freed from their historic context? Now, do a search for the brave photos that show shooters doing exactly this, in photographing the anti-Empire State, or the un-colliseum.
One thing I love to do is find neglected rooms, closed wings, or unused floors in famous buildings and shoot them as if they are completely unknown objects, as if they have no relation to their renowned hosts. The image shown here is inside one of the most celebrated of “must-see” destinations in all of Phoenix, the Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced Arizona Biltmore resort. Its entrances, lobbies, back yard and restaurants are among the most familiar sights for thousands of annual visitors, but, in fact, there are entire sections of the place that are under-used or dark through most of the year. At any point these “forgotten” spaces might ber pressed into occasional service for a banquet or reception, but, on a daily basis, they are as removed from the Biltmore persona as the gas station down the block. And that makes them interesting.
There was no light in the room in the above frame on the day I happened along, except ambient glow from gauzy window drapes, but that was just fine with me, as every detail was side-lit and sharpened by the prevailing semi-darkness. Suddenly this over-shot landmark had served up a new space, one with no legend or associations attached to it.
I think there are great photographs to be made in many under-loved parts of the places we were sure we knew. Sorting them out is one of the best ways to move beyond tourist snaps, and maybe even see what the designers saw, or dreamed.
To peel back some layers, and see anew.