26 October 2011

Exploring The Gamble House

Coming late to architecture, I had never heard of the Gamble House. But recently I was in the LA area for a quick architectural tour and my daughter suggested we check out this American Craftsman Style house of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Built in 1908 for David Gamble (of Proctor & Gamble fame) the house is outstanding from many perspectives. The architects – Greene & Greene – used an array of over 20 different woods. All of the furniture and finishings, including cabinets, picture frames and even a piano, were created in their millwork shop from original designs. Additionally, all of the lamps and wall sconces were individually designed. Throughout the entire house can be found an interesting interweaving of Japanese design and aesthetics with an American sense of spaciousness and the possible.

The only way to view the interior is via an hour long guided tour. It is worth it. The docent that led us was very well-versed in not only the minutiae of the Gamble family and their house, but he also knew much about the architect brothers. He also shared interesting details about life in the early 20th century. For instance, there was a fear in the early days of electricity that direct exposure to light bulbs would be harmful. That is why all of the light bulbs are pointing upwards or otherwise shielded from direct view. Those deadly photons!

The house is essentially a working museum. The last Gamble lived there until 1966 and then the building and grounds were donated to the city of Pasadena. Through a special arrangement with USC, two senior architecture students live and study there every year. With little change, things are the way they were a 100 years ago.

From a photographic perspective, the interior is relatively low-lit, due to the pervasive light-dampening characteristics of all the dark woods. Some long exposures would be wonderful but photography is off-limits inside. When I was there it was mid-day and the light was pretty harsh. Nonetheless, I took a few color and infrared shots of the west-facing exterior. I believe the infrared converted to b/w images work the best. I took multiple exposures and blended them together which allowed for a rich depth of tones in the shadows and well-lit areas. The color images are less interesting to me, but I offer them as a juxtaposition.

If you love architecture and are in the LA area, you owe it to yourself to check out the Gamble House. If you have more time, there are several more Greene & Greene homes within walking distance, along the Arroyo Terrace. Discovering an architectural gem in the built environment can be almost as rewarding as exploring the wilderness. Almost.


18 October 2011

Return to Griffith Observatory

Up until last week I had only two images of Griffith Observatory: one featuring James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood from 1955 and my own, a certainly less traumatic than Rebel Without a Cause sojourn to see the planetarium stars wheel to the kaleidoscope sounds of Pink Floyd, circa 1973. Instead of knife fights or psychedelic music, it was a pretty tame mid-morning occasion to photograph the observatory and perhaps even the un-smogged skies of Los Angeles.

It was a rare clear day in the land of angels and I primarily shot with my newly infrared-converted Pentax K10. I had ordered a non-standard 780nm filter from the gentleman – Clarence Spencer of Spencer’s Cameras – who had previously performed my Pentax DS conversion (to720nm) and my K100 conversion (to 830nm). Both of those are older 6mp cameras and I was looking forward to seeing more images from the 10mp Pentax. I had taken the K10 to the Greater Canyonlands area a few weeks back and was really stunned by one image in particular of the setting morning moon. This would be my first occasion to shoot architectural studies with the infrared camera and I was anticipating more stunning images.

The sun was bright, the shadows deep, the air (pretty) clear, and the observatory lines clean and sharp….perfect for infrared. There was much more to work there than I anticipated. Fortunately there also were not a lot of people at that time, so with a bit of patience, shooting unimpeded was easy. I particularly likely the stairs and archways that provided wonderfully strong and evocative compositions. Lots of lines to work with and the few thin, ethereal clouds provided the perfect foil to an otherwise featureless sky.

It was a good outing with I believe compelling results and I thank my patient family (whom I was visiting) for letting me shoot until I was finished…and, sending only one text, wondering where I was.