Sunday, August 12, 2012


In my last post, I spoke of my recent visit to a sculpture garden created by a well-known Milwaukee philanthropist.   In that post, I focused on the photos I took of the beautiful grounds.  In this post, I wanted to show the photos of the sculptures.  I was advised that, while I could take photos of the sculptures and the grounds, I was forbidden from publishing those photos on the internet, including, presumably, this blog.  So in the spirit, if not the letter, of that limitation I am not stating the specific name either of the garden or of the philanthropist who created it.

I have enjoyed photographing sculptures, including at the deCordova Sculpture Park near Boston.  (See my post of October 26, 2011.)  I was a little disappointed with how this recent shoot turned out, however, and I have been trying to figure out why.  I think there were a number of factors.  First, nearly all of the sculptures are entirely abstract.  Now I like creating abstracts when I take pictures, so it should have been a great fit.  However, it is one thing to create abstracts out of familiar objects, such as flowers; it is another to photograph objects that are abstract by their very nature.  Second, not only are the sculptures abstract, but many, if not most, of them are bronze.  I find photographing bronze to be especially challenging.  It is a bit dull, both in color and in finish, so it is difficult to capture nuances in the sculpture's shape and texture.  Third, I visited the facility in the early afternoon on an overcast day.  As a result, there was a basic lack of shadows that might have provided some interest to the bronze sculptures and may have provided even more interesting patterns with respect to some of the other sculptures that came across as "flat."  Anyway, these are my excuses and I'm sticking to them.

But there is another factor, and this is, I think, important.  I failed to realize that this is a sculpture garden.  That is, the beauty of the facility relates not just to the sculptures or to the setting, which is stunningly beautiful, but to the sculptures as they appear in the setting.  More on this later.

Here are three shots of individual sculptures, one that worked well, one that I felt was marginal, and one that clearly did not work.

I liked that the floral display in the background of this sculpture cuts through it nicely. It also worked that the brighter components of the sculpture were set against a darker background.

I liked the above sculpture as art, but parts of it are lost against the background trees, despite the fact that I took this shot with the aperture wide open in an attempt to blur out the background.

Finally, even though I show other sculptures in the background of this shot, the scene otherwise is really devoid of interest.  Moreover, the sculpture is resting on a concrete patio--not very interesting.  Maybe if I had taken the shot from close to ground level . . . ?

Often I find myself shooting individual items and fail to show the bigger picture.  In this case, I did get some shots of the larger scene, including the following.

Not great, frankly.

And here are a couple of other shots that featured more than one sculpture.

OK, but in this case the pieces were so large that they get a little lost.  Besides, I didn't like them much.

In the shot below, the blue ladder (yes, this is a work of art) is simply sticking out of a pond.  The water level in the pond had dropped, and the lower part of the ladder was discolored, so I took the shot from close to ground level to minimize the amount of discoloration that is revealed.

Here is a shot of the equine sculpture in the background of the above photo.  The sculpture is built of pieces of what looked like tree limbs and branches but were actually fabricated from metal, probably steel.

An interesting sculpture that at least has a recognizable form.  But the setting is really quite dull.

In addition to the horse, there were three ceramic cows.  They were actually placed in a great setting on the banks of a small but beautiful pond.

These cows were so well placed that they looked like they had been created specifically to stand properly on the sloping banks of the pond.

Here is another steel sculpture.

The background of dark trees is a bit simple but does manage to set off the lighter colored steel.  However, this is one piece that would have been much better served by a bright sunny day, preferably early morning or late afternoon.  Here is a closeup of a portion of this sculpture that gives some hint of how that might have worked.

Although I took a large number of photos of sculptures that did not "make the cut," some shots, I felt, actually did work, including the following.

I didn't care much for the above sculpture as stand-alone art, but I felt that by placing it to the right and setting it off by the trees in the background, it shows quite nicely.  The same might be said for the following two pieces.

Except I liked the pieces quite a bit better.  In all three of the above, the surroundings really accentuate the art.

And here is another piece that I liked a lot.

This was a granite sculpture, and perhaps I liked it better for that.  I did not want to place the sculpture directly in front of the large tree in the background.  I would have preferred having the tree off to one side, complementing the sculpture.  However, there were other sculptures that that would have been brought into play, so I felt this was the best compromise in the situation.

And here are two views of another bronze piece that I liked quite a lot.

I feel that the second photo works a lot better than the first, but not because of the perspective of the piece itself.  In fact, arguably the first photo shows off the sculpture better than the second.  However, the second shot does a much better job of reflecting the beauty of the setting.  The first seems to have just a  rather lonely looking tree in the background, whereas the second uses a whole cluster of trees to set off the sculpture.  And while both shots include a portion of a pond, the second seems to do a much better job of featuring that element, even though the amount of the image devoted to the pond is actually less.

And, finally, here are a couple of photos that I think nicely illustrate the point I made earlier in the post about having the art and the setting compement each other.  This first shot features what, in my opinion was a very undistinguished tent-shaped steel sculpture.

Not only did I not particularly like this piece, but this shot did little to create any interest.  However, in the second shot, I took a much wider view, setting the sculpture in the lower left and emphasizing the beautiful trees that acted as a backdrop.

I like this shot a lot.  The sculpture might have been lost were it not for the fact that its color contrasts nicely with the lush green of the trees.  Here, by the way, is a shot that benefited by the cloudy conditions: The contrast between light and shadow might have been too great had there been bright sunlight.  If one were to ask what is the primary subject of this photo, one might be hard pressed to decide between the sculpture and the central tree.

So, for the benefit of anyone who might have read this far, here is my point.  The secret of this facility is that it combines the artistic beauty of the sculptures with the natural beauty of the setting.  The key to taking advantage of that is to combine both components in a single image.  I think this last shot does that.

Taken with my Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 lens.

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