Photographing the Sculpture Garden

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Today’s assignment for Chris’ photo class takes me to the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center.

It is a stunningly beautiful winter day, warm and sunny - exactly the kind of day that makes me glad to live in a place with four seasons.

Chris gives us our assignments (reflections, shadows and light, abstraction, and something in the underground room) and tells us the Spoonbridge and Cherry challenge means he doesn’t want to see any pictures of the park's iconic sculpture unless we come up with something truly unique. Hmm. . . that could be a problem.

I pair up with a classmate and we wander into the garden. . . Where to start?

I work for the state department of transportation and, while I don’t do a single thing related to engineering, I’ve become sort of an infrastructure geek.

This means I immediately head for Mark Di Suvero’s massive sculpture Arikidea.

I love this sculpture. I love the rusty steel and complex lines, the steel cables, the delicate balance of its components. The industrial abstractness of it draws me in.

Even on a winter day I could lie flat on my back on the swinging wooden platform staring up at it for hours.

But I don’t think I can complete all of my assignments from this spot and my partner has disappeared behind the hedges. . . time to move on.

Not sure what this is, but I love the texture.

I don’t find Barry Flanagan’s Hare on Bell particularly inspiring in and of itself, but I do like the way it leaps out at unsuspecting passers-by.

I’m am drawn to Charles Ginnever’s Nautilus (I guess I just never get tired of steel), but I struggle with how to photograph it. The curve should make for a sinuous contrast to the sharp angles that form each segment, but I can see that I’m not capturing that through the lens.

It seems more interesting as a frame for the city beyond.

The same is true of Sol Lewitt’s X with Columns.

Ok, I admit it: Pretty boring.

Meanwhile, my partner has been wandering around staring up at Brower Hatcher’s Prophecy of the Ancients. As soon as I join her I can see why: It is very cool and the light is doing amazing things to it.

We wander a bit, not sure what to do. We try to shoot a number of different pieces, but nothing grabs either of us. I take a few boring shots and then start shooting the melting snow and ice itself and the few stray leaves trapped within – nature photography, of a sort.

We try some shots of Alexander Calder’s Octopus. . .

It should be just my thing, being made of steel and by an artist I’ve always liked, but I’m quickly drawn instead to some massive slabs with wonderful texture.

They are warm in the sun and, when I lean against one of them I see I can use a couple pieces of sculpture to frame and entirely different scene.

I don’t think that fulfills any of my assignments for today, but I like it, so there!

By now we are circling back on Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry.

What if I focus on its shadow?

What if I use it to frame the city?

What if I zoom in and make it as abstract as possible?

I finally give up, knowing I won’t have any shots worthy of Chris’ challenge. As I cross out of this part of the garden I turn and give the sculpture one final look and see my shot.

You can think of it as Spoonbridge and Cherry as Road Construction Season Approaches. So maybe this image isn’t destined for greatness, but I bet no one else took this shot!

Finally we head across the street to complete a required element of our assignment, shooting inside James Turrell’s Sky Pesher.

I find it a cold and unwelcoming space, so ignore it and start shooting my partner, who (like Chris) loves this space.

I’m feeling more inspired now.

Back outside we say hi to the gorilla gazing into the mirrored surface of a pond. . .

. . . and then head over to the conservatory and my very favorite sculpture, Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish.

The conservatory itself is warm and sunny and filled with scent of jasmine.

I love the glass fish because it is both delicate and industrial, an unnatural image of nature set amid dainty tropical plants.

It is, indeed, enough to make one want to jump for joy.