Urban Decay

What is it about decay that’s so interesting on film?

Just returned from the Windy City — and windy it was! On this trip I went on the architecture river cruise and I spent most of my time trying to capture the undersides of rusting bridges as we sailed underneath them. The accidental compositions are incredible, and the rust adds an interesting touch. They’re being painted right now, so I’m glad I had an opportunity to capture them this way.

When I was in college I had to drive across farmland in Indiana and Ohio on my way to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. As I passed countless decrepit, abandoned barns I thought it would make an amazing B/W series to capture the crossed lines of broken boards and the sunlight as it filters through the holes and gaps.

Human Gargoyles

As anyone who has traveled with me knows, I am fascinated by creatures on buildings — or, in this case, humans on buildings! Dotted all around this green terra cotta façade are male figures that could be either friend or foe. Are they benevolently guarding the building, like sentries, or are they menacing, like gargoyles? His expression is calm, but to me the devilish beard and the chopping-block pose look like a warning to other would-be criminals.

I went in search of answers about the original design intent, but my Google-fu has let me down. I was only able to find the basics: Is it’s now called Pacific Place, but was built in 1907 as the Pacific Union Building, the largest reinforced concrete office tower in the world. It was extensively rebuilt in the late 90s by Tipping Mar.

If you’re ever at Powell and Market in San Francisco and can see past the distracting Old Navy marquee, check them out.

Headless Monks

Also at the Denver Art Museum, I ran across this installation of meditating Buddhas topped with various doll heads. Heads include Ken, Howdy Doody, Wolverine, and Doc, of Seven Dwarves fame. For some reason, I thought the creepy rubbery foam bodies were even more strange than the suspended doll heads. (Headless, Michael Joo)

In the same exhibit, there was an mesmerizing interpretation of Adoration of the Magi (Epiphany 1, Gottfried Helnwein). The baby is an infant Hitler, surrounded by reverent SS officers and on the lap of a beautiful, Aryan Virgin. Something that particularly interested to me was how clearly conveyed the setting and players are, without it actually being that obvious. (I tried to snap a photo, not knowing photography was not allowed for this exhibit, and a security guard sprinted across the room to stop me. However, the painting is easily found online and it’s worth a look.)

Spring Blooms

There is something magical about the Sonoran Desert. Despite the scrubby bushes and monotonous sand, there is a quality to the people, the land, and the architecture that I have always loved. (This nostalgia for my childhood is not to be confused with actually wanting to live there!)

Local artist Ted DeGrazia’s Gallery in the Sun retains the character that subdivisions and strip malls have swallowed up in Tucson. I love these colored flowers that can be found all over the compound. An artist on site told me they are made by cutting apart and painting old soda cans.

Repurposing existing materials into drought-proof, all-season flowers strikes me as quintessentially Tucsonan. (Fun fact: Freecycle, an incredible re-use community, was founded in Tucson.)

Open Me

Zuni Door HandleMy vacation photos suffer from my obsession with details, especially doors and windows. This wouldn’t be a problem except I forget to get the long shots as well, so I end up with a lot of frames but no story.

This door handle, reminiscent of a Zuni clown with his weird striped sock feet on his head, is on the front door of a Native American gallery/shop in St. Philip’s Plaza in Tucson.

Eye Shadow

I wish I could take credit for it, but it was my brother who saw the eye created from the shadow of a nearby street lamp. The position is so perfect it looks intentional. I wonder if the artist has seen it like this.

From the City of Denver web site:

“In addition to the Zen garden, MacIntosh Park contains a large granite sculpture of a Janus Head; the two heads face west and east, reminding us that we must look to the past as well as the future. Suspended between the two heads is a plumb-bob, a tool used by builders to establish a true vertical, representing this location as the beginning of “where a city is built.” The plumb bob points down onto the granite paving, which positions Denver in the larger world. Denver’s geographic position is represented by two wide, bi-axial granite bands suggesting longitude and latitude, crossing beneath the head sculpture. References to our history, our geology, our environment are inscribed in the granite bands on the ground plane.”

Word Art

At the Denver Art Museum I found this amazing (and gigantic) piece, Pater Noster by Sean Landers. It is more of a journal than a painting, chronicling the artist’s life while he prepares for a show — a time that also includes his partner’s pregnancy, the birth of his child, and the sudden death of his father. It is rare for people stop and stay with any one piece for longer than a few seconds, but this one had such a large crowd we were jockeying for position to continue reading his funny, poignant story. After thinking about it, this piece’s popularity should not be a surprise. A common art museum comment is “What in the world is that supposed to be?” Here, we know exactly what the artist is trying to say because he is saying it, literally.

Bird Mural

One night recently an old friend was in town, and we met in the Mission for dinner. It was one of those rare nights in the city where the weather is perfect and there isn’t a hint of the usual chilly wind. We just started walking with no destination in mind, chatting and giggling over tacky wares in the windows. At one point we ducked down some street or another — I probably couldn’t find it again — and we happened on this fun mural around the corner from an antiques store I’d love to have gone in if it had been open. I’m attracted to the cartoon quality of the mural, but what really sold it is how it incorporated the ugly, omnipresent city power lines into the scene.