Many architectural photographers are drawn to this subject, such as Edward
Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz, initially because of its unique place in the history of steel fabricated structures, but more emotionally because of its special visual charm and its role as the precursor of the defining, “reach for the sky” ethos of Manhattan. Wikipedia describes it thus: “The Flatiron Building was designed by Chicago's Daniel Burnham as a vertical Renaissance palazzo with Beaux-Arts styling… Unlike New York's early skyscrapers, which took the form of towers arising from a lower, blockier mass, such as the contemporary Singer Building (1902–1908), the Flatiron Building epitomizes the Chicago school conception:… like a classical Greek column, its facade – limestone at the bottom changing to glazed terra-cotta from the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company in Tottenville, Staten Island as the floors rise…– is divided into a base, shaft and capital”. I am no exception and I scurried downtown to photograph it, as soon as I arrived in New York earlier this month.
Form and Function
The Flatiron building is clearly the antithesis of the above-mentioned principle, given that its unusual footprint makes it difficult to use the interior spaces efficiently. It is more to be appreciated for its visual chutzpah and decorative flair than for its use as offices. Perhaps it would serve better as apartments? This is now highly unlikely, given that it has achieved the status of historically protected edifice.
The builders were very conscious of the visual effect that the building would make, as the prow of a ship pressing its way north from the lower town to the upper. Therefore, they called the front edge the Prow, but I am fascinated by their decision to “window” the leading edge of the structure, rather than to make a solid, “blind” finish, as for a ship. This, for me, is a distinguishing and enjoyable feature that emphasizes one of the many novelties of its appearance.
I tried different photographic treatments, using short focal length as well as telephoto lenses to feature either different elements of the structure, or the architectural context of the building in its neighbourhood, but this is one of a series in which I wanted to capture the essence of the building as it might have appeared when first built. This has been helped by the pedestrianisation of the junction of several streets in front of it. I was able to find a framing which eliminated more recent constructions nearby and was grateful that the street furniture remains somewhat timeless and old, so as to not interfere with the turn of the 20th century dating.
Secondly, the autumn afternoon light enhanced the unusual, terra-cotta treatment of the upper floors, giving a somewhat glossy and eerie, almost architectural drawing texture to the image.
Finally, the relative isolation of the building in this image allows the scale of the humans walking in front of it to emphasise its modest scale, when compared to the behemoths, which were to rapidly follow it in time and proximity.
This was a “classic” architectural capture, made possible only by the use of a short focal length, Perspective Control lens, tripod and slow exposure. The sensor in this camera body required that additional precautions be taken to avoid blur caused by vibration, both from the street, as well as the action of the camera’s own mirror. These were to use a carbon fibre tripod, weighted down with the camera equipment bag, to lock up the mirror and to fire the shutter using a cable release.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24mm f3.5D ED Perspective Control
Focal Length: 24mm
Focus Mode: Manual
Shutter Speed: 1/30s
Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single
Exposure Mode: Manual, using a cable release
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 160
Mounted on tripod, with camera bag as a counterweight.
I enjoyed my time photographing in the shadow, so to speak, of photographic masters. I hope that you too enjoyed the result and fell inclined to investigate other architectural ‘treatments” which I show on this site.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015