"A Sea of Steps"
Frederick Evans’ 1903 gelatin silver print of Wells Cathedral is iconic in the history of architectural photography and I never tire of trying to make images inspired by it when the opportunity presents itself. Here is one such, which I know will be familiar to many of you :
Nowadays his original is estimated at $180,000 by Christie’s. See the online catalogue at: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/photographs/frederick-h-evans-a-sea-of-steps-5717415-details.aspx
The Scale of Man
Men seem to have desired to impress and dominate their fellows by using imposing building techniques since time immemorial. Although many such structures are wonderful and beautiful, they frequently succeed in shrinking the people present in the space into insignificance. This image was taken today in one such space, at the rear of the Grande Arche de la Defense.
There is a kind of urban metaphor in the sight of the figures resting to recover their forces, or struggling up the steps towards their coming work in the building above. The cell-like construction of the building and the mechanical contraption holding up the canopy generate a menacing, prison-like atmosphere. All in all, an oppressive sense pervades the scene.
That said, it can also be appreciated simply on the basis of the movement of the eye through the image and the satisfying variety of the patterns created by the stairs and the walls. That’s how I personally enjoy it.
Composition and Patterns
The central dynamic of the photograph is the right-to-left, near-to-far sweep of the stairs, which works naturally with the visual psychology of “western” viewers, who “see” in that direction. The eye then focuses onto the upwards moving group of figures in the distance, leading the eye into a second traverse of the image, this time leftwards past the square patterns of the end wall and the central courtyard.
The glance finishes on the structure holding up the roof, which is difficult to understand at first sight and which can therefore morph into personal imaginings, such as a giant preying mantis heading for the people.
As stated earlier, the square components of the end wall and the interior office windows can give rise to other imaginings, such as their resemblance to a prison complex, but generally they serve to complement the straight sweep of the white stairs with a contrasting, more detailed mass.
Distortion and Distance
Given that I was not using a “perspective control” architectural lens, corner lens distortion was visible at the digital development stage, so a mild degree of compensation was applied to straighten the many verticals. Also, given the near-to-far reach of the image, it would also have been ideal to know the hyperfocal distance for my set-up, which would have optimized the amount of the image which was in focus. Unfortunately I did not have this information, so I “winged it” and focused about 2 meters in front of me, trusting to the general benefit of a f20 aperture, which seems to have been succesful.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 60mm f2.8G Prime
Focus Mode: AF-C
Autofocus Area Mode: Single
Shutter Speed: 1/125s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation : -0.3 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 640
Don’t forget to have a look at Evans’ original work and to take a stroll around the other images on my site.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2014
Keywords: 60mm Prime, AMDG, Art, Fine Art, Nikon, Nikon Capture NX2, Nikon D800, Paris, Paul Grayson, Photeinos, φωτεινος
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