Blue note (cyan actually) architecture

Right: Architecture of Princeton, NJ; credit: Emily Reinhold (edited and published with permission)

In his 1973 Harvard lectures, Leonard Bernstein remarked that music is imbued with “intrinsic meanings of its own… generated by a constant stream of metaphors.” The way we understand metaphors requires one to be of a different nature than the object that it represents metaphorically, e.g. a sleepy garden is not literary a creature capable of slumber, but a quiet place as if in the state of somnolence, i.e. inactive quietude. Musical metaphors are clearly not of this kind. Bernstein further argues that musical metaphors, realised by repetition with possible variation, are themselves metaphoric. If you feel your head is about to explode, then don’t; the great musician simply meant that music, by constantly imitating itself, identifies with other arts that imaginatively imitate reality. Music, you see, is way too abstract to use real life as the subject of its metaphors…

What does this ponderous introductory paragraph have to do with the subject of today’s post? A great deal, I’d say, for the subject is architecture, and all architecture, in the words of philosopher Wilhelm Shelling (1859), is erstarrte Musik, i.e. ossified music. He later described it more poetically as gefrorener Musik, i.e. frozen music, and the expression then took off in earnest. Schopenhauer, incidentally, was rather scathing of the latter, preferring the former, but we must leave the philosophers’ repartee with the learned men. We find such parallels fruitful anyway, as we are ourselves rather fond of ut pictura poesis, another parallel: between painting and poetry.

A colonnade-supported architrave, a row of windows or pitched roofs, all sorts of repetitive or regularly morphing structures make the aesthetics of an architectural ensemble memorable, impactful and coherent. Our guest photographer today is Emily Reinhold, who is represented by her two excellent shots of the Princeton University campus in New Jersey, where she is based. The bottom one is crisp, contrasty and well articulated. I have counted four types of window on one side alone, arranged in a complex structure. The top image showcases sinuous concrete columns carrying a fine entablature of decorative posts.

Those are classic examples, and they are aptly rendered in monochrome, giving them a somber, dignified look that goes well with their regular rhythms. Low-key lighting is particularly suited to this type of image. The minimalist metaphor of one window imitating another with minimal variation, or one column similarly mimicking the rest even without variation, drives the visual rhythm and creates a meaning and a mood.

But why stop there? There’s classics, but there’s jazz, too. The camera does not merely document the artistry of stone. It is an active transforming agent capable of its own metaphors.

On the left is a shot of a metal fence representing a frosted glass metaphor. The thin rods diffused by the proximal zone bokeh give the viewer the sense of looking through frosted glass into the distance and seeing some fuzzy building shapes (which are fuzzy for the other type of bokeh but the viewer doesn’t register it). Repetition with variation, a cinematic colour scheme (cyan to light brown, compressed), and high key lighting. Of course you need a pin sharp detail on a third to make it all work, which is delivered courtesy of Viltrox 55mm f/1.4 fully open. For the other two, the colour and the lighting, I am beholden to the golden hour and a day close to the winter solstice.

Have a good weekend in this quiet time of the year. May the only thing frozen in your world be the music of architecture.

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