The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Anne, of Slow Shutter Speed may have been reading my mind when she came up with this week’s topic for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge. For months I’ve been rat holing my photos of buildings, all the while meaning to incorporate them into a Monthly Monochrome post.

This week, Anne chose the topic — Buildings.

Maybe Anne was saying, ‘Well, what are you waiting for?”

At least that’s the message that I got.

Buildings. They don’t simply house people and businesses and things. They also house messages. Certainly, the architect had a message in mind when he/she was sitting at the drafting table or in front of the computer. And just as certainly we have our own interpretation of a message when we look at a structure.

Trujillo, Spain.
Sometimes the message is clear, concise and straightforward.

High on a hill, a castle looms above the town of Trujillo, in Spain. Built between the 9th and 12th centuries the message encased inside the castle’s huge blocks is, ‘proceed at your own peril.’

It was less than a month ago that Cora and I visited this castle. On a hot day, it’s a prodigious climb from the modern and, frankly less interesting, flatlands to the promontory. In a sense the climb is like time travel. Once the flats were around the corner behind us, it was as if we’d crossed into the Middle Ages. As we proceeded up the hill, through a maze of narrow streets, we passed buildings that got progressively older.

Trujillo castle

Downtown San Francisco
Modern glass buildings literally reflect the city around them. The architect of the building below certainly designed it to reflect the surrounding structures. As I recall, I counted the reflection of five different buildings.

I gave up trying to count the buildings reflected in the LinkedIn building on Market Street.

Montreal, Canada
St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.
Normally I don’t shoot straight up at a tall building. Something always seems to get left out or the geometry turns out wonky. Usually it’s both.

Somehow the photo below worked out, maybe because of the message that I get when I look at it. I had no message in mind when I pointed my camera nearly straight up. I meant to get the flare, and, truth be told, I didn’t really notice the clouds. As most of my readers well know, I’m not the least bit religious, but when I look at this photo with the solar flare and dark clouds over a towering monolith, the message that I see is a sort of biblical one; the might and fury of God.

Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco.
Who knows what message architect William Pereira had in mind when he designed San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid. I was thirteen when construction began and whatever his message was at the time it wasn’t well received. I can still recall the furor. ‘A monstrosity not worthy of a place of honor like the San Francisco skyline.’ Fifty one years later, the Transamerica Pyramid has a clear message as an iconic a part of The City’s skyline.

For me the pyramid’s unique design, complete with a pair of wings, crisscrossing beams and angled windows has long screamed ‘photo op.’ I don’t know that I have a single photo of the pyramid in its entirety. I like the quirky opportunities that come with detailed shots.

Old, aged, decrepit, derelict and ramshackle.

Those words don’t describe the message that an architect ever wanted to convey when he/she designed a building that’s long gone to seed. Rickety, ratty and run down do convey a message to photographers and that message is, ‘shoot me.’

There are two houses, kindred old companions, down in the flatlands of Berkeley, in the Ocean View district (I don’t know why they call it that. You can’t even view the bay, much less the ocean, for all the structures) that I passed almost daily when I dropped off my wife Cora at her workplace.

The house at 749 Cedar Street is just another of those old, forgotten places that attracts almost nobody except for rats and photographers. But for more decay, it’s the same today as it was a couple decades ago.

Next door to 749 Cedar, is the “Eternal” house; an eternal urban mystery. Anyone who’s driven through the flatlands has undoubtedly seen this house and wondered what the eternal story is all about. The only explanation that I could find is that the building used to be home to a wedding dress manufacturer. “Eternal” refers to the optimistic view of matrimony as an everlasting bond. Clearly this house never belonged to a divorce attorney.

Old barn, Montana.
Is there a photographer in America who can’t pass up a shot at an old barn? The message of charming old Americana is irresistible.

Tract housing
“Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same

There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same”

Way back in 1962, political activist, author, song writer and folk singer Malvina Reynolds captured the monotony and white bread tedium of suburban tract housing in her song Little Boxes. True, I live in a tract house, and true, tract housing is a necessity, but that doesn’t take away from the message that tract housing conveys to me; ‘unimaginative, crowded, and antiseptic.’ (Important note: If you’re tract neighborhood has a homeowner’s association then it’s almost certain that the yellow houses and pink houses in Malvina’s song would violate the HOA’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions

To see Anne’s take on Buildings, visit her site and then scroll down to the comments section where you can see other interpretations of Buildings.

21 thoughts on “Monthly Monochrome (and LAPC): The Messages in Buildings

  1. Steve Johnson says:

    I love this group of photos, Paul! Architectural photography is definitely your wheelhouse. I’d love to see either, or even both, of the SF photos on metallic print.

    1. Paul says:

      Thanks Steve. Given your photo background I consider that extremely high praise.

  2. Anne Sandler says:

    I’m so glad I was reading your mind when I created this challenge Paul. Your photos are excellent and varied. I liked the old barn and the house in Berkley with the vines growing over what seems to be a door. And the glass building with all the reflections, simply great.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Anne,
      I’m so glad that you came up with the topic of buildings.
      That vine covered house on Cedar Street became just a little more creepy for anyone who’s watched the TV series, The Last of Us. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. Tina Schell says:

    B&W was a perfect choice this week Paul – don’t you just love a good coincidence?! Loved all of your examples and your commentary. My favorite is Eternal but the old barn that follows it also has lots to say. Loved all the reflections on the Linkedin building too.Terrific post

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Tina,
      Thank you so much. Glad you enjoyed them.

  4. JohnRH says:

    GREAT format for monochromes. LOVE the reflections photo.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello John,
      Thank you, once again.

  5. I remember that song well from my childhood…performed live with a laughing audience as accompaniment as I recall. Love the clashes of old and new, contemporary and abandoned, in this collection.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you so much.
      The song was allegedly written about Daly City, California which is located just south of San Francisco. The boxes are still there. Only now there’s more of them.

  6. alison41 says:

    Fabulous pics. You are talented!

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Alison!


  7. Hettie D. says:

    Fascinating! I so much admire photographers who can do this black-and-white magic!

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Hettie. Part of the magic is in the technology and, I think, a larger part is not being intimidated by monochrome. Color is so much easier. It’s there, it’s natural.

  8. Leya says:

    Market Street, Cedar Street and the old barn are extremely beautiful – but so are all of them. A true joy to scroll over and over again, Paul!

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you so much Ann-Christine.

  9. David says:

    Very nice.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you David. Much appreciated. Hope you are well.

      1. David says:

        You’re welcome, and I am doing good, thank you.

  10. selizabryangmailcom says:

    Fantastic images. Starkly beautiful.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Stacey.
      Much appreciated.

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