Revisiting A Museum Dedicated To Building

The National Building Museum in Washington, DC is one of the most impressive, and less visited, landmarks in the nation's capital.
The National Building Museum in Washington, DC is one of the most impressive, and less visited, landmarks in the nation’s capital.
With its two sets of columns in the middle of its Great Hall, the museum boasts one of the most magnificent halls in DC.
With its two sets of columns in the middle of its Great Hall, the museum boasts one of the most magnificent halls in Washington, DC.
The stairs leading to the museum's upper levels, with their broad landings, have to be some of the best designed stairs in the world.
The stairs leading to the museum’s upper levels, with their broad landings, have to be some of the best designed stairs in the world.
A lone, but beautiful round fountain is all that occupies space at the Great Hall.
A lone, but beautiful round fountain is all that occupies space at the Great Hall.

Architectural photography is not something I practice with any degree of regularity.  In fact, I generally try to avoid it if I can, as the genre is really more difficult than it looks.  On rare occasions, though, I dabble a little in it more out of sheer curiosity than anything else.  This is specially the case during scorchingly hot days, when people avoid venturing outside and nothing much is happening on the street.  A few days ago, this was exactly the case.  In order to avoid the heat, , I headed out to find some good structures inside the many national museums in DC to photograph (get it, air-conditioned museums).  After visiting a few of them, my mind kept wandering back to the first time I visited the somewhat out-of-the-way National Building Museum, and before I knew it, my feet started moving in the direction of Judiciary Square where the museum unassumingly sits.

Not sure what it is about this place that attracts me so much (aside from the obvious architectural beauty of the place).  Compared to the traffic you see in other DC museums, this place is a ghost town.  Sure, in most normal days people kind of trickle in and kind of meander along its Great Hall, straining their necks to look up to its long, arched hallways and imposing, marbled columns in the center of the hall.  But most of the time the place is also a gem of a quiet space in the midst of a busy metropolis.  This silence is no doubt accentuated by the scale of the place, which dwarfs anyone who enters its carpeted Great Hall.  I can’t help but think that this grandiose scale is some sort of reminder that human creation is vastly more grandiose than the individual humans themselves.  Can’t quite put my photographic thumb on it, but for whatever reason, I keep coming back.  Hallucinations from the scorching heat or elevation of the human spirit when witnessing such incredible human creations?  I would much rather think it’s the latter, air-conditioner or not.

Escaping The Modern Workplace Ecosystem

In crowded cities people go to great lengths to find a little personal space away from the work environment.
In crowded cities people go to great lengths to find a little personal space away from the work environment.
No space is small or desolate enough when you are trying to get away from everyone for a moment.
No space is small or desolate enough when you are trying to get away from everyone for a moment.
Lady relaxes at the National Building Museum during her lunchtime break.
Lady relaxes at the National Building Museum during her lunchtime break.

These days workers appear to be clamoring for a little space away from their overcrowded, communal offices.  What’s more, it appears that in order to find a little peace and quiet, any space will do, even if it means planting themselves behind a column, or on a chair that is totally out of place with its surroundings.  It doesn’t seem to matter, as long as the result is that level of temporary solitude that today’s office environment seems to deny them on a daily basis.  As most of you know by now, modern office design, with its overemphasis on team work, is typically designed to promote constant human interaction and contact.  While noble, this traditional approach has led to an interruption-driven ecosystem where most forms of solitude and introspection have become virtually impossible, if not outright frowned upon.  Luckily, people are not totally surrendering to the always-on office syndrome, as my most recent lunchtime stroll with my camera revealed.  So, I am pleased to report that escapism, even if mostly limited to lunchtime hours, is alive and well in today’s office jungle environment.

It’s All About The Composition

Large columns provide perfect protection from the large crowds at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Over the years I have grown convinced that the magic of photography has more to do with perspective and composition than with pixel perfection.  Of course, you wouldn’t know this from the thousands of photo blogs on the Internet that dedicate most of their real estate to elaborate technical discussions of sharpness charts, extreme high ISO grain differences, and shutter burst speeds.  Not that talking about any of this is a bad thing, or that such considerations are irrelevant to good photography.  However, the point is that for the consumer (and we are all consumers), what makes a good photo is not its technical perfection, but rather the feelings that it evokes.  That is why we still like grainy street photography so much, or why we can’t stop looking at the human condition as captured by photojournalists all around the world.  For the general public to enjoy what they see on a photograph, they must connect with the photo in some very personal way.  Solitude.  Loneliness.  Pity.  Anger.  Disgust.  Happiness.  Love.  Surprise.  You name it, but it has to be there.  It is the reaction that comes from observing what is happening within that “human stage” depicted on the photo, rather than the photo’s technical perfection, that will determine the value of the photograph for the consumer.  So, less worrying about perfection and more worrying about great composition is a great start to producing great photographs.