Return, And Return Again

Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

The road less traveled. We’ve all heard of it and would like to think that our lives are spent down that unmarked, desolate trail where everything is discovery and excitement. I know this because I’m one of those dreamers, constantly looking for the entrance to that road everywhere I travel. In fact, in the few instances where I have actually found that entrance, I have been rewarded with great photographs and incredible experiences. The effect is so uplifting, that no matter how many times you experience it, you just can’t have enough of it. So there we go every chance we get, down backstreets and narrow alleyways in faraway lands looking for that something to recharge our lives and fill them with the wonderment that very few daily experiences can match.

This constant pursuit, however, could easily make us miss the wonders that lie right before our eyes on that well traveled road. I have to admit that my frequent sojourn down the well traveled road has more to do with limitation of funds and time, but whether by design or imposition, I have come to discover that the familiar always holds a mystery or two for the visually creative types. That is because on different days and times of year, the backdrop changes, as does the light and the intensity of the colors. And thus the photo above, which shows a place I have photographed a million times from just about every angle imaginable over the years. Notwithstanding this level of photographic attention, this is the first time I publish a photo of the fountain at the Smithsonian Institution’s Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Not that I believe that this is a perfect photo, but rather that for the first time, there was blue in the sky, the light was about right, and the eternal crowds were nonexistent. It is the same place I’ve visited far too many times in the past, but one that chose to reveal itself in a complete new manner simply because I stayed away from that road less traveled. I guess the familiar, when seen with fresh eyes, will never cease to surprise us. So as we look for those roads less traveled, perhaps it bears remembering that sometimes the wonders we’re looking for can also be found along those familiar roads.

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.

Philly Streets Are Anything But Boring

The JFK Park in central Philly has to be one of the most electing and busy spots anywhere in the world.
The JFK Park in central Philly has to be one of the most electing and busy urban spots anywhere in the world.
Worn out travelers patiently wait for their afternoon trains at the Philadelphia 30th Street Train Station.
Worn out travelers patiently wait for their afternoon trains at the Philadelphia 30th Street Train Station.
Tourists react to the human-like statutes adorning downtown theaters.
Tourists react to the human-like statutes adorning downtown theaters.
The downtown Rittenhouse Square is one of the best places in Philly for people watching.
The downtown Rittenhouse Square is one of the best places in Philly for people watching.
Sometimes what is of photographic interest lies below street level instead of above.
Sometimes what is of photographic interest lies below street level instead of above.
An early morning walk around the nearly desolate city streets is the perfect time to discover unique city characters.
An early morning walk around the nearly desolate city streets is the perfect time to discover unique city characters.
One thing that will strike any visitor to Philly is the number of people who appear to just be hanging out at city landmarks.
One thing that will strike any visitor to Philly is the number of people who appear to just be hanging out at city landmarks.

Don’t know about you, but for me, Philadelphia has to be one of the most incredible cities in America.  And while the city has a somewhat “working class” reputation with outsiders, once you get to discover it in some detail, you’ll come to realize that the city is better described as eclectic and culturally complex.  Sort of like where the rough seas meet the quiet shore kind of place.  World class museums and cultural sites sit only a few blocks away from down-to-earth wonders like the Reading Terminal Market.  Hang around the popular JFK Square for a few hours and you’ll get to see people from just about every level of society.  Wedding parties having their picture taken under the famous “LOVE” structure at JFK Square muscle endless amounts of tourists for their ten-minute spot in front of the cameras.  Walk farther afield down Walnut St. to Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square Park and you will be rewarded with some of the neatest urban spots of any city anywhere.  Add to this the fact that people actually live and interact all over the urban landscape, and you will get one of the best places for people watching and street photography on the East Coast.  Philly is definitely not your sleepy, little town where watching grass grow has been elevated to an art form.  The city is definitely alive with activity, and no matter your disposition when you get there, you won’t be able to resist becoming alive along with it.

They Don’t Build Them Like They Used To

The buildings of the Smithsonian Institution are a constant reminder of the golden days of American architecture.
The buildings of the Smithsonian Institution are a constant reminder of the golden days of American architecture.

Ah, don’t you wish that this type of building, with its beautiful gardens and undulating brick trails were part of your everyday life?  Come to think of it, how do you like your everyday scenery?  Are you moved by the landscape you normally come in contact with?  Does the architecture in your town or city fills you with wonderment and dreams of faraway places?  I frankly don’t know what has happened to architectural design these days, but if you make your world in suburbia these days, chances are that you have not been surprised by any architectural wonder lately.  That doesn’t mean that creative architecture is dead at all, as evidenced by Apple’s projected new building in Cupertino, CA.  Rather, it means that your average suburbia landscape could use a little TLC when it comes to beautiful buildings and pedestrian-friendly landscape.  Less strip malls and a few more landscaped parks would be a start, not to mention getting away from designing boxes and referring to them as architecture.  Of course, in some parts of the country this would be tantamount to defying gravity, but who knows, it may be as catchy as the trend started by the Levitt family back in 1946.  Remember Levittown?  It could happen.