The District, City of Vistas

July 02, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Washington, DC, or "the District", as it is affectionately called by locals, is a place that offers more variation in photo ops than so many other places.  The closest city I can compare to it is Paris. Of course, there is a reason for that.  It was designed by the same man, Pierre Charles L'Enfant.  This French-born American was an architect and a civil engineer and best known for making Washington the perfect marriage of art and geometry.  As a photographer, I find so many places of interest in this city and find it best to discover on foot.  Born and raised in Kansas, I left when I was 17 to attend Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.  As the Georgetown campus is relatively small, the city of Washington extended itself to be its true campus.  I soon discovered that Washington holds as much diversity in its inhabitants and their culture, as it does in its architecture, landscapes and views.  The city is ever-changing and at the same time, remains constant in its own way.  Today, each time I enter the city with my camera, I find different and intriguing subjects as my focal points.  No two trips have yielded similar images.  Amidst the sculpture, parks, monuments, inner roughness of street scenes, and the iconic landmarks that shine in both sunlight and moonlight, Washington offers spectacular sensations not only to visitors but to those who reside within city confines.  Constantly lured here, I retrace my steps as a Georgetown student, finding new establishments where old ones only live in my memory, but still recalling every pothole and broken brick in familiar sidewalks as I roam my old stomping grounds.  As I photograph it now, years after I graduated from college, I see the place under different light, changing seasons, matured perspectives, and altered juxtapositions.  It never fails to bring me a sense of warmth and familiarity, even a sense of home.  I lived in DC for a total of seven years, and those years left an indelible mark on me.  I often joke that I could be a taxi driver in the District.  I can find my way around the city in expert fashion.  

Some of my preferred places to photograph include the National Mall and all its monuments therein. Among these are the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, the WWII Memorial, the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial, and the Korean Memorial which looks exceptionally attractive after a snow storm which leaves crusted snow on the backs of these magnificent bronze soldiers. Spring days offer the best vistas for many of these venues.  Of course, the cherry blossoms surrounding the Jefferson Memorial are among the best places for photography, but crowds prohibit clear views unless you sleep on a park bench overnight and break out the camera before 6 AM.  I have a particular penchant for photographing sculpture and two of my preferred subjects are the glorious bronze lions by Sculptor Antonio Canova snoozing happily on either side of the entrance of the Corcoran Museum.  The pair are majestic, as one sleeps with eyes open, and the other eyes closed.  Another favorite sculpture is the Peace Monument, also known as the Naval Monument or Civil War Sailors Monument situated at First Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue in the Peace Circle.  At the top of the monument stands two classically robed figures.  Grief holds her covered face against the shoulder of History and weeps in mourning.  History holds a stylus and a tablet that was inscribed "They died that their country might live."  This particular monument looks very striking when photographed with the Capitol building directly behind it.  Of course, the Capitol Building itself is one of my most beloved subjects.  One day, I arrived early in the morning and photographed just the dome in early light.  I noticed only after I reviewed my images when I returned home, that there were three workers on top of the dome cleaning windows.  I work for a wonderful nonprofit organization called American Friends of the Czech Republic.  In 2010, the organization honored former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel.  AFoCR gave President Havel that photo I took, matted and framed.  It was presented to him in Prague as a gift only two months before his death.  That image, I appropriately named, "Democracy, a Work in Progress", and will always hold special meaning to me.  

If you are a nature enthusiast, the bonsai tree collection at the National Arboretum offers varieties that only appear elsewhere on national postage forever stamps.  They convey a world in miniature and leaves change color in autumn, just like the big guys.  It is a magical place.  I also highly recommend the Botanical Gardens right next to the aforementioned Peace Monument.  With the seasons, the blossoms inside change in species and hue.  It is not to be missed.  

Those incredible vistas I mentioned are available from a number of dizzying heights. I sometimes hesitate nowadays to rise to the top of these tall places, having not so long ago witnessed a suicide attempt off a cathedral bell tower in Delft, Holland.  It was a harrowing experience for me. However, if you take the elevator to the top of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, you can see a sweeping view of the Avenue right up to the front door of the Capitol Building.  The Washington Monument, also offers a fantastic panorama, currently unavailable due to ongoing repairs caused from unusual earthquake activity a year ago.  But keep that view on your bucket list.  The top of the National Cathedral is also grand, and while you are there, take the gargoyle tour to photograph those macabre, stone creatures. The top of the Gloria in Excelsis Tower is the highest point in DC and has the most dramatic views of the city.  Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery, home of Robert E. Lee, has been preserved as a memorial to this important figure who helped restore America after the Civil War.  This historic house sits on top of Arlington Cemetery, and provides one of the best views of Washington, DC.  The Netherlands Carillon adjacent to the Iwo Jima Memorial allows visitors to climb to its top during summer months.   The Mount Vernon estate, former home of George Washington, in its 500-acre glory, has a prime location along the shores of the Potomac and scenic views fit for a king or a President. The George Washington Memorial Parkway, also has several pull over areas where one can stop and see amazing views of the Potomac and Georgetown University.  Another rather unexpected vantage point is from the W Hotel's rooftop terrace.  Hosting top celebrities, politicos, socialites, and local photographers who write blogs, one can see unsurpassed views of the nation's capital.  Last but certainly not least, is the enormous panoramic view at Great Falls Park.  The views there are breathtaking and extend for miles along the river with hiking trails on both sides of the river in Maryland and Virginia.  

When I go to DC, I seek out new destinations, ones I have not yet photographed.  There are still several I have not visited, among them a couple of cemeteries.  When I take photographs, I try to bring unique perspectives to the ordinary and fresh perspectives on familiar subjects.  I have recently begun working with interior designers in the DC area and they are drawn to my architectural images of DC to decorate corporations and office buildings in the area.  Architectural photography has become a great passion for me.  My hope is that my images will instill a desire in you to acquaint yourself with places you may have missed also, or to see them again in a new way.    

 

Washington At A Distance entum.


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Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?' she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think--' (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `--yes, that's about the right distance--but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?' (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)

 

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