Sunday, September 28, 2014


Fermilab is the premier particle physics and accelerator facility in the U.S.  It is located on 10 square miles of level land about 40 miles west of Chicago.  On September 27 I and a few others in SWiFT, a group of freethinkers in Southeastern Wisconsin, made a trip to tour the facility.

I think we were a little underwhelmed by the tour itself.  The docent who conducted the two-hour tour was pleasant and showed us what was available for public view, but I think we were hoping for more actual science and less gee-whiz.  Even so, it was worthwhile, I thought, simply to visit such an important facility.  Plus the architecture of the primary research building held my interest independently of the facility's significance from a scientific point of view.  Below is a shot of a table top model of the overall property.

I decided to show only a portion of the model, which was perhaps 12 feet across.  It does show the main research building, Wilson Hall, as well as a portion of the largest and second largest of the circular accelerators, which are marked at the surface by shallow linear ponds, even though the actual accelerator pathways are located some 30 feet underground.

Wilson Hall, according to the docent, was inspired by European cathedrals.  Maybe.  But it is an interesting building in any event, and I took a large number of photos both outside and in.  Here first are a few of the exterior shots.

This was taken from a reflecting pool extending from the front entrance of the building.  Maybe I shouldn't have chopped off the reflection in the pool, but there was a breeze that was rippling the water, plus I didn't want the building to be too diminished in the image.

Above is a symmetrical shot from just in front of the building.  I thought this shot worked pretty well as a black & white, although the symmetry is a little boring.

The locust trees at the base of the building were in full fall color, and I wanted to incorporate them into a few of the shots.

At least the tree served as a foreground point of interest.

And here is a similar shot, this time of the other end of the building.

This one is missing the locust trees, of course, but I did manage this time not to clip off the top of the structure.  I also thought the conversion to black & white worked well.  The cirrus clouds added some  needed texture to the sky, and I also liked the sunlight reflecting off the building on the left side of the image.  In trying to figure this out, I concluded that the light was streaming in through the atrium skylight and then out the windows at the end of the building.

OK, some interior shots.

Another photographer showed me the exact center of the interior atrium (although I probably would have found it for myself) and I took a few shots from that spot, including the following which I converted to a black & white.

I also took one that was squared to the dimensions of the building, but this was more interesting, I thought.  I was looking up, but it almost appears like I am looking down instead.

I also tried some asymmetrical shots, including the following.

Better, I thought.

Here are a few shots that incorporate other, "softer" elements, including flags of those nations who have representatives working at this U.S. government facility . . .

as well as the U.S. flag.

To my eye, the abstracts are too abstract and including flags and plants seems to help provide some context.  I did like the U.S. flag shot the best of these.

Now for a few novelty shots.  This first is a chart of the standard model of elementary particles, emphasizing the recently discovered Higgs boson.

The tour featured a number of pieces of equipment that may have been partially explained by accompanying plaques, but we didn't really have time to understand their significance.  But it gave me an opportunity to try shots such as the following, which was through a long tubelike corrugated apparatus.

The following shot is a bit more understandable.   The tour included a walk through an ancillary building that actually seemed operational.  The linear building included all sorts of impressive equipment that was not really explained to us.  But the overhead wiring was, if nothing else, impressive in it complexity and quantity.

Time for a visual puzzle.

OK, this is a shot looking down at a set of stairs on the exterior of Wilson Hall.  The scene includes a pair of railings that are casting shadows on the steps.

Finally, a couple more artsy exterior shots of Wilson Hall.

My favorites of the bunch for their abstract quality.

© 2014 John M. Phillips

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Architecturally, Milwaukee's federal courthouse is a study in contrasts.  The exterior has almost a castle-like feel to it and is clad in dour and drab gray stone and concrete.  The interior, by contrast, includes a bright atrium faced in colorful earth-tone brick and plasterwork.  Although I had regularly been in the Milwaukee County Courthouse on business before my retirement, I don't recall ever visiting the federal courthouse.  The courthouse is a secured site and most likely cameras would not be welcome during other times when it is open, so I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to do some photography inside during the Doors Open Milwaukee event last weekend.

Because of security requirements, there was a long wait to get into the courthouse.  I occupied my time by getting a few shots of the exterior, including the following.

The exterior facade includes a good amount of detail, including the following faces in a shot that I converted to a black & white.

This is actually a sharp image, but because of the porousness of the stone/concrete, the image appears very grainy.  A nice effect, I thought.

Once I got through security, the foyer area was consistent with the drab exterior.  Here is a shot that I kept for its semi-abstract lines.

But the transformation occurred when I got to the central atrium, which I understand had been redone some years ago.  Unfortunately, by the time I had gotten through security, I had run short of time and could only spend a few minutes in the atrium area.  Here are a couple of the shots that I took.

I am guessing that there were a lot more opportunities had I been able to spend more time exploring.  Hopefully, next year.



I visited four different churches during this year's Doors Open Milwaukee event, and I found St. Benedict the Moor Parish Church to be the most interesting.  I will have to say that I didn't visit some of the more notable religious venues, such as St. John's Cathedral, St. Josephat's Basilica, or St. Joseph Chapel, which have some stunning architecture, but I did like the charm of this little, and in some ways, humble church.

The church was built in 1924 by the Capuchin order as a parish church for African-American Catholics.  Ninety years ago, African-Americans had trouble finding parishes that would accept their membership.  This was true not just for Catholic parishes but for Protestant ones as well, and this church was specifically established as a house of worship for African-Americans.  Times have changed, of course, and now the church has a very diverse membership, with many members coming from affluent suburbs.  Even so, it still has a major missionary commitment and conducts outreach programs for the homeless as well as for those in the Milwaukee County Jail, which is just down the street from the church.

The church is modest in size and in ornamentation.  Here is a standard shot of the front of the church that I took from the choir loft at the rear of the church.

The bas-relief mural in the sanctuary is interesting.  I was informed that it commemorates a massacre that occurred in Africa in the 19th century.  Here is a detail shot of that mural.

Architecturally, the most interesting features were the stained glass windows.  Following is a shot of one set that includes an interesting depiction of Christ's hands.

I wanted to include portions of the ancillary circular stained glass elements as well.  I felt that the viewer could get a good sense of the overall array even though only portions of each section are included in the image.

I also spotted the following combination of semicircular stained glass that I though created an interesting composition.

And I thought it worked even better as a black & white.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014


The Calgary Presbyterian Church is another church that I have been curious about.  It is situated on Wisconsin Avenue west of Milwaukee's commercial district and just to the east of the north-south freeway.  It has a very tall, very narrow steeple and is colored a  bright red.   It was another of the Doors Open Milwaukee venues for 2014, and I paid it a visit.

Churches that have steeples are generally difficult to capture photographically because the steeple can be so high relative the size of the remainder of the building, and that is especially the case with this church.  So for this visit, at least, I largely ignored the steeple.  Instead, I tried to incorporate other elements, in this case external to the church itself.

In this first shot I featured a street sculpture commemorating, of all things, the soldiers who fought in the Spanish American War of 1898.

Actually, I feel pretty good about the composition of this shot.

Here is a similar shot, this time including a Catholic church down the street.  Incidentally, the church's facade is not made of red bricks.  Instead, they are cream city bricks (light tan) that have been painted red.  Who knew?

The interior of the church was a real surprise.  Stark: No permanent pews and few seats, and very little ornamentation.  In addition, there was an unusual tent-like array of streamers extending from below the ceiling toward the front of the church, as shown in the following shot.

Note also the ornamental rafters, which are original to the 1870 construction.

I thought the best interior features of this church were the "fine-grained" stained glass windows.

Below is a detail shot of the one of the windows.

Here, finally, is another shot of windows that features a couple of visitors in silhouette.

A minor disappointment with this shot is that the figure on the left is lost a bit in the dark space between windows.  Also, I was not square to the window and missed its left edge.  Even so, I liked this shot for its candid feel.

This church has clear Scottish roots and even featured a bagpiper at the front entrance to draw in the visitors.



The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church is located near the former Pabst Brewery campus, and I have wanted to view, and hopefully photograph, the interior a number of times.  But, unlike many Catholic churches, this church is generally not open for casual visitors.  Except it was one of the venues open for the 2014 Doors Open Milwaukee event, and I determined to pay it a visit.

The building is a true landmark, with the tallest of its steeples rising 200 feet above street level.  It was erected in 1878 and, as the above plaque states, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places 101 years later.  The church has always been part of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church.

After having wanted to see the interior for a long time, I won't say that I was disappointed.  It was, if nothing else, very light and airy as far as religious venues go.  I think that is attributable to the pastel colors that dominate the building's interior.  Here are a couple of views toward the front of the church, one a less expansive symmetrical shot and the other a wider shot from the back left corner of the nave that includes the ornate wood pulpit to the right of the apse.  As I stated, pastel blues, pinks, and creams dominate.

Below is the shot limited to the apse that, again, reflects the light colors that help to brighten the interior.

And here is a shot of the top portion of the apse.

Finally, here is a shot of the church's pipe organ, which also extends back to 1879.  The material I was handed when I entered the church devotes some attention to the organ's history, so I am guessing that the congregation takes pride in it.  And, as a matter of fact, organ music was playing for the entire time of my visit.  I did like the sweeping curve of the balcony railing around the organ.

The reader might notice that the white balance in this post is not entirely consistent from shot to shot.  That is my fault.  Establishing the right white balance for interiors is often quite difficult--that and I am a bit lazy.  For most exterior daylight shots I find myself using the "Cloudy" setting and feeling comfortable with it.  Not so for interiors.  So, rather than using techniques that help with creating a consistent and accurate white balance (gray card, Expodisc), I often just set the white balance to Auto and hope for the best.  But the Auto setting tries to neutralize the white balance independently for each particular shot.  That approach doesn't work when the light source changes from one shot to the next.  For example, one scene could be illuminated by incandescent lights, the next by sunlight streaming in through a stained glass window.  If things don't look right, I try to correct them in post processing.  But that's a question of memory (mine, which isn't that reliable).



One of my stops on this year's Doors Open Milwaukee event was the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  Informally known as the PAC, it has remained the premier venue for the performing arts for the nearly 40 years that we have lived in Milwaukee.

This year I had borrowed a 10-24 mm wide-angle lens from a Tamron lens representative, one of the perks available to me by reason of signing up for an architectural photography course in advance of the Doors Open event.  I used the lens for the first time for a portion of my visit to the PAC, so there was a bit of a learning curve.  I did like the lens, though, and would considering getting a wide-angle lens at some point in the future.

When I visited the PAC I was informed that I was not supposed to wander around the facility by myself.  Instead, I had to join a tour, which took more time than I had intended to spend at this venue.  In any event, I did get a few good shots with both the wide-angle lens and with my own Nikon 24-120 mm lens.

One of the first stops on the tour was Uilein Hall, the largest concert hall in the facility at 2301 seats, and this actually gave me a good chance to try out the wide-angle lens.  Here a couple of shots of the audience seating area . . .

including one taken from behind the stage set up for the orchestra.

And another shot that featured the hall ceiling.

I have not been able to figure out why a few of the lights in the chandelier are extra bright, but overall I am happy with the wide scope that the lens was able to provide.  I never could have come close to these shots with my more standard lens.

The PAC includes two other venues, Vogel Hall and the Todd Wehr Theater, named after major benefactors for the overall facility.  Here are views of the seating areas for each of those theaters.

It has to be kept in mind that there were very modest levels of lighting in these areas.  As a result, I needed to ramp up my ISO considerably to bring exposure times down to a manageable level.  Even so, the first of these shots, of Vogel Hall had an exposure of 1/5 second, extremely long for handheld.

The following shots were taken in the PAC's reception areas.

The first of these is of the ceiling in the primary reception area.  I liked the modern look of the first shot, as well as how the lines converge toward the lower right corner.  I was drawn to the second shot because of the contemporary look of the curved skylight in the upper left of the image.

Toward the end of the tour I spotted a couple of interesting sculptures in the lobby area outside of Uilein Hall.  The tour guide was directing the group to exit the area via an elevator, and at that point I decided to ditch the tour and get a few shots of the sculptures.  They were evidently a pair and were apparently inspired by performers in Cirque du Soleil, or so stated a plaque located next to one of the sculptures.

One of the unusual aspects of these sculptures was the ball-like appendages under the toes of each of the figures.  Note also that the second of the figures appears to be blindfolded.  

There is a photo contest associated with the Doors Open event, and I noted that Milwaukee City Hall forms the background for the first of the figures above.  My thought is that the judges will be attracted to entries that are able to combine more than one venue in the shot, so I took a number of photos of the first figure (and City Hall).  Here is another one of those.

My only regret here is that the figure is leaning away from the camera rather than toward it.  But if I had moved to the right so that the figure was "looking" more directly into the lens, I would have lost City Hall as a background element.  Maybe I should have tried to play with this more, but at that point the tour guide had returned after having dropped off the other participants to escort me out of the building.