Saturday, February 18, 2012


Milwaukee, which happens to share a birthday with me (although it is 99 years older), has a city hall for which it can be justifiably proud. The building, which was completed in 1895 at a cost of $1 million, has in recent years undergone extensive exterior restoration, some of which has experienced problems (cracks, falling masonry) and parts of the exterior of the building are again shrouded in scaffolding.  I had not been in the building in many years but had remembered it as very interesting architecturally, so on a recent trip downtown I decided to pay a visit along with my camera.

I had just taken the above shot (simply by setting the camera on the floor pointing straight up) when I was approached by a police officer questioning why I was taking photos of the interior of the building. I asked if photography was permitted in the building and he admitted that it was but that the police needed to know for security reasons the purpose of the photography.  He asked for ID and called over another officer, I guess for support.  After we got all of that straightened out, I realized that my parking meter had probably run out, so I left but decided to make another visit when I would have more time.  The following week I did return and spent about an hour taking photos of the interior and a portion of the exterior entrance to the building.  This time I brought my tripod so that I could take shots with longer exposures and at a lower ISO to reduce "noise."

The main part of the building has a long and relatively narrow atrium that is eight floors high and is surrounded on each floor by walkways that are open to the atrium.  The shot above looks up at the undersides of each of those walkways, with a skylight at the top.  When I had last visited the building many years ago, there was unattractive wire screening that extended between each of the floors.  One of the officers had told me that the screens dated back to the Depression when they were installed to prevent suicides.  They were removed about 20 years ago.  What a terrific improvement.  

Here are a few other shots taken from the ground floor.

For these first two shots I did my best to make them symmetrical, but for the photo below (actually taken on my first visit), I decided on an asymmetric shot.

I find these shots to be extremely interesting architecturally but perhaps a little busy.  Following is one of my favorite photos from this shoot, which seems to have less "clutter."

I also took some photos from the upper floors.

These were taken from the seventh floor, and again I worked assiduously in post-processing to make sure they were symmetrical.  With this kind of architecture, it is hard to go wrong.

I knew my parking meter was running out, but I wanted to get some images of the exterior of the main entrance, which has its own architectural interest.  Here are a few photos of the roman arches that support the entrance.  By the way, the entrance is situated directly under the bell tower, so the arches obviously were designed to bear a lot of weight, and they show it.

On this last shot I wish that I had taken a bit more care to ensure that the light fixture was precisely in line with the center of the supporting arch.  

I realized when reviewing these images later that I also had something of a light problem.  Although it was fairly dark in the actual entryway, it was a bright day and the sunlight reflecting off the south-facing portions of the arches was creating a contrast problem for my camera.  I did the best I could in post-processing to illuminate properly the stonework without blowing out the portion experiencing direct sunlight.  As is apparent, I was not completely successful.  I will plan to return on an overcast day, or at least at a different time of day, when that should not be a problem.

As with a lot of architectural photography, the story here was as much with the lines as with the color, so B&W shots can work quite well.  Here are a few of the images that I converted to B&Ws.

I particularly liked the elegant simplicity of this last shot.

A couple additional facts about Milwaukee's City Hall:  (a) When completed in 1895, it was the tallest habitable building in the world, exceeded in height in the US only by the Washington Monument.  (b) The footprint of the building is a trapezium, which in the US means a four-sided figure none of the sides of which is parallel to any other side (as contrasted to a trapezoid, which has two sides that are parallel).

After this last shot I realized that my parking meter was again about to run out of time, if it hadn't already, so I hurried over to my car only to discover that the city had just given me a citation for an expired meter.  $22.  Ouch.

Finally, I also happened on the website of a professional photographer who, though he is based in England, has done photographic studies in Milwaukee, including the Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum as well as city hall.  I found that, not surprisingly, we had taken a number of shots of city hall with very similar perspectives. The major difference that I noticed was that the professional was using more of a wide-angle lens, allowing him to capture more of a complete view of the atrium.  My most wide-angle lens is my 24-120 mm zoom, and for many of the shots I had it at its widest.  However, my camera has a "crop" sensor, which means that a 24 mm lens covers only the equivalent of what a 36 mm lens would cover on a full-frame sensor camera.  My guess is that he was using something like a 14 mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera.  Anyway, that is my excuse.

1 comment:

  1. Enamored with the first of the (color) Roman arches shot.