Looking Up


I used to have an exclusive aesthetic for skewed photos. I remember being the self proclaimed event photographer for my ninth grade trip to NYC with a friend and her mom. Given that I proudly strapped on my offensively pink Nikon J1, my companions trusted me with all visual documentation. Upon excited reveal of my imagery, faux praise couldn’t mask their dismay as every shot was crooked: from the beautiful lines of the empire state building to the perfect set up at Tiffany’s, each 90 degree angle was somehow butchered into what I can only approximate to be a 42.179 degree angle (I once had someone tell me every arbitrary number I selected when exaggerating a claim started with a 4, I have since realized I exaggerate quantities so often that my thumbs are accustomed to the keystroke pattern of reaching for wherever the 4 lies and then furiously tapping other numbers behind it). Well, while my photography skills have not been trained nor honed by any formal education, I’d like to think I’ve moved past from the days in which I thought I was revolutionizing an image by taking it completely lopsided.

On the contrary. Now I find myself fascinated with taking photos of buildings from angles which we don’t normally look at them. Think of your favorite building – that may be a tall order (pun intended), so just think of a building. You’re seeing it head on, are you not? You are facing the door as if it is placed perfectly perpendicular to you, the frame stretching skyward as it should – as it would look if you were gazing upon a scale model of the edifice. But that’s not at all how these buildings look to us when we actually see them (unless you are a giant - for at a lanky 5’11” and some, I’d love to meet others who uncontrollably tower over some of their friends too). We see buildings from the ground up – again, a literal comparison. We, almost always, are on the ground. So we see the bottom of the building, and can crane our neck if we want to gaze and give it that b*tchy head to toe body scan in order to evaluate its style and worth.

So why not photograph buildings in this way? Peering through the lens by bending our necks to peek at the corner of the roof. I think we prefer not to do this because it reminds us of our youth, in the one bad way, where we were stuck seeing the world from underneath counters and only caught it’s full scope on top of people’s shoulders or hoisted in their arms. I, for one, am coming around on this whole perspective. I find it youthfully refreshing to be limited in sight – to be only able of viewing a structure like I am its doll instead of it being my palace. I feel the power shifts in this dynamic, and most adults might not willingly relinquish even this smidgeon of control. But, as I embark on carving out the course of my future come school in a week-ish, I’ll relinquish any piece of power that I can – to feel a bit closer to being a care-free child again.

I am looking up at these buildings as I look forward to these next few years, to these upcoming journeys, to my ultimate future. I look up at buildings all the time now. I admire their face-to-face façade just as much as I longingly appreciate the intricacies in the nooks and crannies that are far from my reach. I mean look at these buildings. Really look at them. Did you ever see that or this or those buildings from this angle?

I can’t take all the credit for this point of view, no, not even the slightest bit. I happily admit I was influenced by instagram accounts like the geometry club, which solely post photos of buildings from the apex of their corner – a perfect triangle if you will. I also think back on a particular photo I studied in my History of Photography class during my freshman fall semester. It depicted a portion of machinery in an industrial factory. The way it was taken made you see the machinery in a way that would be so apparent if we actually captured it the way we see it. I’m wracking my brain for the name of this photo, to give this explanation some merit, and also wishing I didn’t pack away my class notebook in the storage boxes that await me this fall…

The first time I took a photo a la geometry club-esque was of Widener Library. I probably walked past that building 4842920 times my freshman year, as it lined the narrow corridor that fed me right to my dorm door. I walked past the building like I had countless times before, but, for some reason, that day I looked up. Maybe I had a thought, or one of those blank stares, or even a gaze into the distance like That’s So Raven, but instead of staring straight ahead and locking eyes with an unsuspecting passerby, I looked up. I looked up at Widener. I saw Widener like this. I was pretty proud of this photo, especially given that it predated my Nikon D5300 and somehow my trusty iPhone 6 pulled through.

So what did I do with a decent shot? I instagrammed it of course. And, surprisingly, people thought it was pretty cool. No longer was I being scolded for taking my photos unorganically, unorthodoxically, or borderline unethically. For once, my off-kilter shot accrued praise in lieu of poison. And, as any user of social media will admit, the near instant gratification and positive reinforcement whetted my appetite for more. And, from then on, I looked up. I looked up at buildings, I honed in on their corners, their juts, their most over-looked angles. And this is how I began to see buildings and see the world.

(Looking up at trees is also pretty cool, and don't even get me started on the fresh flower boxes dotting quaint neighborhoods in the 617)

This perspective has turned into a five month photo project, as the Widener shot was taken sometime in mid March and we’re now trudging our way through August. Though 339 photos qualified for this extended metaphor, I achingly selected the best 55 to include in this post – but I will admit keeping the others hidden feels like abandoning some of my children…

And with the copious amounts of photos (from my summer travels in NYC, Miami, and Boston) taken when looking up, I sign off happily as I look forward to the journeys and new perspectives that await me. 

Xx, Maia