A Tale of Two Domes

Earlier this summer we took a 2-week road trip to attend a conference (for me), visit family, and see the sights on the East Coast between Washington and Philadelphia. We also enjoy what I call “ecclesiastical tourism,” that is, looking for old or notable churches in the places we visit. Our trip did not disappoint.

Angeli in Excelsis

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Zanesville, OH was built in 1898, a new Romanesque Revival building for a parish founded in 1842. The octagonal dome with its eight angels was quite an impressive sight.

Sicut Columbam

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, MD, better known as the Baltimore Basilica, is the first Catholic cathedral built in the United States. Designed by Benajmin Henry Latrobe and built between 1806 and 1821, it witnessed many important events in the history of the Church in America, including the Plenary Councils of Baltimore that gave us the Baltimore Catechism and the Catholic University of America.

Latrobe’s dome features a ring of windows which illuminate the medallion representing the Holy Spirit before the light is filtered down to the nave, giving the interior an open, airy feel.

Dappled Afternoon

Dappled Afternoon

“Photography” comes from Greek roots meaning “to write with light,” but what makes a photograph compelling is often not light simpliciter but contrast: light against dark, dark against light, and the boundaries where they mix. The pattern in this photograph repeats itself every afternoon for a few days in late September in the building where I work, and one day I determined to capture the dappling of direct sun on the otherwise dark interior. I didn’t dare push the contrast much harder than this, though, because of the dark sign on the wall.

Ektar 100 – Architecture

While I was still shooting my way through a roll of Ektar 100, I decided it had been too long since I had strolled around the northernmost part of campus, unofficially called the “Beckman Quad” because of the Beckman Institute on its northern edge. The walk gave me a chance to see how Ektar handled contrasty midday light.

New Digs

Here is the upper façade of the new Electrical Engineering building, which I think looks much better from the inner (quad) side than from the street. The architect evidently wanted commonality in difference by cladding the building in red-orange metal or plastic, instead of the customary red or orange brick.

The colors are punchy and dramatic but not inaccurate, and the shadows are pleasantly neutral.

Beckman Tower

I first experienced the University of Illinois through a tour of the Beckman Institute when I was a sophomore in high school. Because of that tour, the use of advanced technology to investigate complex problems on the frontiers of knowledge dominates all my other perceptions of the University, and I have a particular affection for the Beckman building.

Aedes Siebelii

Shortly after the Siebel Center was dedicated, a pair of large sculptures were set up on either side of the walkway to its north. This one, called the “House of Imagination,” makes me think of a computer-age Stonehenge.

The one quibble that can be made against this image is a heavy blue cast in the shadows. Now, most shadows under clear skies are blue; after all, they’re being lit by diffuse blue light from the sky. Still, the blue shift here is a bit excessive, and I probably should have added a little extra exposure.

To Dream in the House of Imagination

Here’s a pure reaction shot. I lay down on the ground inside the ring of three pillars, and as I brought my camera to my eye I saw the cloud tuck itself neatly in position. I made about five other frames, attempting to grab different configurations of cloud and sculpture, but none of them were as good.

Just as I was with Portra 400, I’m hooked after one roll of Ektar 100. The colors are beautiful, the grain is ridiculously fine, and it’s a lot of fun to shoot. I’ll probably stick with Portra as my all-purpose film, but the next time I want to shoot some landscapes or sunsets on film, I think I’ll reach for the Ektar.

Second Thoughts

Since it’s just across the street from where I work, Grainger Library is an easy subject when I’m out on my lunch break:


When I took this image I was attracted by the sweep and interaction of the building’s curves; when I reviewed it later, it seemed bland and uninspiring. Three weeks later I was scanning through Lightroom looking for things to delete when I came across it again, and realized that the broad expanse of red brick would lend itself to a black-and-white rendering.

Lo and behold, two of my Flickr contacts whom I respect commented positively the same day I posted it. General approbation says little about the quality of a photograph, but people whose judgment one trusts can really help make sense of self-doubt.

In the Loft

I direct a Gregorian chant choir that sings around the local parishes, most frequently at St. Matthew’s, pictured here:

Chant Incoming

Earlier this year it dawned on me that my choir doesn’t have much of a photographic record, not even any promotional/group pictures, which have been coming Real Soon Now for an embarrassingly long time. It’s hard impossible to conduct and photograph at the same time, but since I bring my X100 with me pretty much everywhere I go, I can at least try to make a few images when we’re not actively rehearsing or performing. I’m not sure what this image tells you about Catholic liturgy or how beautiful and uplifiting it is to worship with Gregorian chant, but this is usually what the view feels like from the choir loft: when we’re singing, I can see my books very clearly, but everything else is a blur.



This is St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Pesotum, IL. Currently, it shares a pastor with St. Thomas, Philo, and Immaculate Conception, Bongard, and has done so for some years. My wife was once organist at the other two churches and occasionally helped out here; this picture was taken in 2010 on her last day playing for all three churches. It has a lovely little early-20th-Century organ, built by Carl Barckhoff sometime between 1900 and 1910, which has been kept up and was restored only a few years ago.

Apart from the the hint of an SUV parked in front of the church, this scene could have existed in 1950; apart from the electric wires, it could have existed in 1900 (the church was built in 1894). The architecture is vernacular American Brick Gothic, so it’s a stretch to say that what we see here could also be found in Germany, but the thought is apt, as German immigrant families founded the parish and built the church.

There are many little gems just like this scattered across central Illinois, and I wish I had more time to go photograph them.