Entrance Hall, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, California, 2012
The Reagan Library and Museum is designed not only to tell the story of the 40th President of the United States, but also to express his stature and his impact on history. He and his wife are cast as life-sized bronze statues, enshrined under a Reagan quote at the end of an impressive marble-floored entrance gallery. My choice of wideangle lens and distant vantage point emphasizes grandeur through scale contrast. Presidential politics aside, the room demands our attention, and so does this image.
Air Force One, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, California, 2012
Reagan’s plane, Air Force One, was dismantled and rebuilt inside of huge gallery here. Instead of photographing it in its entirely, I dismantle it visually, and stress only the play of light on part of its fuselage and wing structure. My abstract approach to this exhibit changes it from a static object on display to a dynamic flow of rhythmic shapes repeating from edge to edge, giving a sense of flight to the aircraft.
Jellybean Mosaic, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, California, 2012
The former president was know to savor Jellybeans, leading to this incongruous mosaic on display in the museum. I photographed it at an angle, instead of head-on. By doing this, I was able to change perspective, and make the portrait even more light hearted than the original. The most fascinating aspect of the mosaic is the detail – the placement of the jellybeans, their colors and orientation define the image of the former president in a way that no other portrait of him had ever done before. I had to bring my camera very close in order to make this detail “pop.” If I had backed up to show the additional jellybeans in the surrounding context, that detail would have never worked as effectively – and incongruously – as it does here.
Mourners and memories, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, California, 2012
The final exhibits in this Presidential Library and Museum are titled “Mourning Ronald Reagan” and “Legacy Theatre.” This image combines the essence of both within a single frame. The mourning exhibits include many massive photographs and objects regarding the death of Ronald Reagan. The single most moving photograph in the room was a close up color shot of a weeping Nancy Reagan being consoled by her children as she clutches the flag that had covered the president’s casket. Next to that mural was a glass door, leading to an adjoining theatre that was continuously showing a black and white film on Reagan’s life and accomplishments. Using a slow shutter speed, I was able to blur a few movie frames of a smiling President Reagan floating within the window of the theatre. I link that moving image to the still photograph of the mourning family. Because the film is blurred by movement, the fragment from the motion picture now becomes more nostalgic – the stuff of memories. I also convert the large mourning image, which is actually displayed by the museum in its original color format, to black and white. It makes a better match for the moving image in the adjoining theatre. Instead of contrasting the mourners to the memories, I able to more fully link them together.
The campaigner, Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, California, 2012
In 1950, Richard Nixon ran for California’s vacant U.S. Senate seat against Democratic Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas. The campaign was fierce. It was a time of witch-hunts and blacklisting, and fears of “Communist” infiltration. Nixon claimed that Douglas, a former actress, was “pink right down to her underwear.” In response, Douglas created the famous epithet, “Tricky Dick.” Nixon won the seat by more than a half million votes, and as a senator, he went on to attack President Harry S. Truman’s handling of the Korean War, and fanned the fears of “Global Communism.” I made this image in the Museum’s gallery on Nixon’s Senate Campaign. It shows a young Nixon as a life-sized cardboard figure, illuminated by a spotlight, speaking to fedora wearing cardboard characters representing voters. Nixon stands on the bumper of the actual car, outfitted with a loud speaker, that he used during this campaign. This image has a surreal quality to it – the lack of dimension and monochromatic nature of the figures bizarrely contrast to the old automobile. It speaks of a dark time in our nation’s history, a time replete with demagoguery and fear mongering. In time, Nixon would become Vice President and later President of the United States, and after the Watergate scandal he became the first president to resign in disgrace. No matter what his accomplishments, to many he would always be remembered as “Tricky Dick.”
Roman mosaic, Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes, Greece, 2011
This Roman mosaic, created on Island of Kos in the 2nd Century BC, is now the centerpiece of a room in the reconstructed Palace of the Grand Masters in Rhodes. The mosaic features the head of Medusa, a mythological monster who is said to have turned onlookers to stone. She lost her head to the hero Perseus, who gave it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. Medusa’s head eventually became a good luck totem in ancient Rome, warding off evil from any home or structure that displayed it. I zoomed in on the tiles to stress the details of the head itself, capturing its intricacy and colors. It may now be just a museum piece, but after almost 2,000 years, it seems to still glow with energy.
Roman gravestone, Archaeological museum, Rhodes, Greece, 2011
Found in the cemetery at Kameiros on the Island of Rhodes, this Roman gravestone from 420 BC depicts a dead mother, known as Timarista, bidding farewell to her daughter Krito. It is an emotional piece of ancient sculpture, and as I approached it, the diagonal reflection from a nearby window seemed to reach out and embrace it. Using my spot-metering mode, I exposed for this reflection, throwing the balance of the scene into dark shadow. The shadow abstracts the image, creating a somber yet nostalgic mood that interprets the nature of the subject. In my museum photography, I see no need to simply describe the objects on display. Instead, I prefer to use my camera to find ways to express how an object may feel, and what it may say.
Visitors, MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, 2011
It was futile to attempt to photograph the entirety of artist Katharina Grosse’s vast artwork that fills an entire wing of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Titled “one floor up more highly,” the exhibit features a vast block-long Styrofoam landscape, including a mass of white foam that resembles an iceberg from a distance. I solved the problem by leaving the exhibit itself, and photographing visitors as they move towards us through the exit doors. We can see the soaring slabs of foam through the glass, incongruously contrasting in scale to the size of the visitors. The exhibit seems to follow them as they leave, casting its reflection on the floor before them.
Belly-up, MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, 2011
A young visitor exuberantly hoists his shirt as he revels in the colorful environment created by artist Katharina Grosse as part of her installation titled “one floor up more highly,” at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The walls and floors are spray painted in neon colors, which seem to spark a sense of play in this child. Adults and children perceive art quite differently. Grosse’s work here is intended to challenge an adults conditioned way of seeing and ordering the world, but to a child, such structure is usually ignored. This particular child simply delights in the excitement of the vivid random colors that are slashed onto the walls and floor around him.
Southern Exposure, Phoenix Convention Center, Phoenix, Arizona, 2010
While not a museum, the Phoenix Convention Center offers numerous works of art in its public areas. The piece of sculpture depicted in this image is called “Southern Exposure.” It was created by Eina and James de la Torre. Cobbled from a series of metal and glass boxes, the huge idol has arms cast from resin. I hone in on just one of those arms here to express the essence of the power and beauty of this unique work of art.
Breadbasket, USS Arizona, Old State Capitol Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, 2010
The silver service created for the US battleship “Arizona” was not on board the ship when it was sent to the bottom of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by Japanese torpedoes. Fortunately, it was out for maintenance on that terrible day, and was thereby preserved for history. Much of it is now on display in the Old Arizona State Capitol museum. I zoomed for detail on a silver breadbasket, and found the ghost of the Arizona itself etched on the surface. The waves catch the light and seem to shimmer into life, as the old battleship churns across its surface.
Past meets present, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada, 2009
A skeletal T-Rex rages silently in the newest section of the museum, a controversial glass and aluminum structure designed by architect David Liebeskind. I converted the image to black and white to further abstract the backlighted skeleton, removing the conflicting color provided by the building across the street from the museum. I positioned the fangs of the dinosaur within the grid provided by Liebeskind’s contemporary windows, meshing the distant past with cutting edge architectural design.