Honoring the Colorado Capitol Dome Exhibition
Who knew a simple act of kindness towards another photographer might lead to such great things as being included in an art exhibition honoring the Colorado Capitol Dome in Denver? That really is how my photo of the Colorado State Capitol came into existence. Here’s the story…
Back in 2011, Chris Lord, a fellow photographer I’d been corresponding with on Facebook and Google Plus, came to Colorado on a business trip. We’d “met” through a very trusted mutual friend, so when I saw posts on FB that Chris was miserably stuck in some airport hotel, and riding a shuttle back and forth to a consulting job in Aurora, I cringed to think this was all he was seeing. His posts sounded like he was depressingly stuck in the armpit of America, but we all know that is Trenton and I’ve been a refugee from New Jersey since 2000, so I knew his perspective of Colorado must be broadened!
I promptly wrote to Chris informing him, “Nobody comes all the way from New York to Colorado and only sees ‘Saudia Aurora’ my friend. I’m busting you out and we’re going on a Denver Photo Walkabout!” That is exactly what we did.
Chris and I spent a splendid afternoon on September 26, 2011 photographing the full length of the 16th Street Mall, starting at the Millennium Bridge and, by an act of pure serendipity, ending at the Colorado State Capitol building just at sunset.
Thus, Chris was with me when this photograph was taken of the late sun reflecting off the gold dome of the Capitol. The shot was hand-held (we’d both been too lazy to carry tripods but regretted it), with me standing on a concrete traffic median and bracing my camera against a light pole. I never imagined I’d end up with a salvageable shot!
To show you how unlikely a successful outcome was, here is my first attempt, before I decided to climb up onto the concrete traffic median and use the light post you can see in this shot to brace my camera. YUCK!
Luckily, a lifetime of climbing trees, mountains, towers, and anything else which needed to be climbed, made me not hesitate for a moment to jump up onto that traffic median and use the light post as a brace!
I knew I wanted an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo to intensify and capture the drama of the clouds, the vivid bright gold dome in the late sun, and the details in the shadows in the foreground foliage. But using three shots taken with no tripod whilst precariously balanced on a traffic median was likely to be dicey at best.
To show you just how dicey, here is one of the three images taken while perched up there, before any post-processing to create an HDR:
Luckily I have a workflow which involves using a “Stack Align Crop” Photoshop script by Uwe Steinmueller, making it possible to obtain better HDR photos from hand-held photos. For more technical info, see this post about Uwe’s Script and Hand-held HDRs. That is the workflow I used to prove I’d been wrong about not ending up with a salvageable shot.
Not only was I wrong, but I ended up with this beautiful photograph.
Better still, my photograph was eventually was accepted into a major exhibition, the “Honoring the Colorado Capital Dome” exhibition at the Colorado State Capitol from October 2014 – March 2015.
The exhibition is sponsored by Colorado’s Creative Industries, Colorado’s state arts agency. Restoration on the cast iron structure of the Capitol‘s dome started in 2010 and culminated in the renewal of the gold surface of the dome. The exhibition was organized to celebrate the completion of the restorations at the Capitol’s re-dedication ceremony on October 2, 2014.
When I found the Call for Entry, I knew instantly I had to submit my photo and was overjoyed when I learned my piece had been selected for the exhibition.
Sadly, I had to miss the exhibition’s opening at the grand re-dedication ceremony due to a death in the family. Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to get down to the Capitol to see my artwork and the rest of the exhibit. Finally the chance arose over the holidays this year.
My neighbor, friend and fellow pro photographer, Andy Schwartz, agreed to come along to photograph me with my artwork at the exhibit. This shot shows some context of where my image is displayed in a high traffic area through the Rotunda, the round area in the basement directly under vaulted ceiling and the dome.
I had originally heard mine was one of the artworks in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, but wow am I glad that turned out to be wrong. It is a closed office which, even if someone were to knock and go in, the art is spread through 3 different rooms where government officials are busy working. I can’t imagine people stay long to browse in there.
By contrast, the Rotunda is a beautifully lit, open and public space, with benches to sit and enjoy the art in the exhibition. My photo is right beside the major walkway through the Rotunda, so gets a lot of exposure.
It was a thrill to see my artwork grandly displayed and to see my name on the poster listing all the participating artists!
Andy got a closer shot of my photo and me and my artist’s placard.
Nice that they include the artist’s website on the placards identifying the artist and the artwork. It will remain displayed like this through March 2015, so that is some decent exposure!
Andy and I had a great time on our visit because we also decided to make it a fun outing and take the “Mr. Brown’s Attic and Dome Walk” tour.
According to the Capitol tours description, “Mr. Brown’s Attic is an exhibit area located between the third floor and the dome. It is devoted to Colorado’s early history, Capitol construction and architecture, and the legislative process, and has a children’s interactive space featuring a voting machine and a Colorado state symbol display. The dome walk is a 99-step climb to the observation area where there is a 360 degree view of downtown Denver and the Rocky Mountains.”
For the record, Andy says he only counted some 60-something steps, but we laughed that they must have been counting all the other stairs to get up to the attic and base of the dome in the first place!
Before we headed up to Mr. Brown’s attic, we each could not resist taking shots from the Rotunda in the basement, looking straight up to the inside of the dome. Andy got a beautiful simple ambient light shot using his new Nikon D-750. I love the point-of-view he chose for this shot; I often miss such interesting perspectives out of my own fascination for symmetry.
I decided to make the day more just a play day, so was shooting with my Galaxy cell phone, playing around with very cool app called HDR Camera+ which takes three exposures bracketed by 2 stops.
It also creates an HDR from the merged shots; however, I don’t often use the in-camera merged HDR; I prefer to edit the individual shots in Photomatix Pro, my HDR software of choice. That is what I did on my shot of the Dome Interior.
Here is my resultant whimsical HDR, which was taken from the same location as Andy’s shot, only my aforementioned love of symmetry is evident in my direct point-of-view.
Onward and upward we headed to Mr. Brown’s Attic, where we enjoyed seeing lots of cool artifacts, and learning more about the history of Colorado as well as the history of the Capitol building. For example, who knew that the Colorado State Capitol was originally named “Corinthian” by its designer, architect Elijah E. Meyers?
The dome was also originally copper, but was later clad in gold, and the gold has been restored several times, including during the recent restoration being honored by the art exhibit. Anyone who’s ever felt the sting of dust blowing at high speed across Colorado’s Front Range of the Rocky Mountains will understand why such a soft metal as gold would need regular refurbishment. This display explains the importance of gold to the state and as the symbol represented by the gold dome.
In the mid-1950’s Colorado’s governor, Daniel Thornton, was known as “The Cowboy Governor” and during his term, Capitol tours were led by Colorado Cowgirl Capitol Guides like these two gals in western wear.
Funny, the woman on the left looks almost a dead-ringer for how my mother looked in the mid-1950’s but, at that time, she was finishing college at University of Rhode Island, marrying my dad, and starting our family, so unless she was leading a double life, it can’t be her! But I couldn’t resist posing with the ladies anyhow, just for fun, because she reminded me of my mom so much. Seriously, look at the shape of my eyes and smile, and compare to the brunette woman on the left…
[Addendum from Janine: Visited my mom several days after publishing this post and compared this photo to her wedding portrait. OMG, the brunette Colorado Cowgirl Capitol Tour guide looks sooooo much like my mom on her wedding day! Okay, Mom was wearing a veil, not a cowgirl hat, but I’m telling you, the resemblance was uncanny!]
This brass placard explains the origin of the city of Denver’s name.
Mr. Brown’s attic has countless other details about Colorado history, and all the state symbols. Of course, as a life-long lover of turtles, the one I honed in on to photograph was my discovery that Colorado’s state reptile is the Western Painted Turtle!
Colorado has two state songs; the first, “Where the Columbines Grow” by A.J. Flynn, was adopted in 1915. The second state song, “Rocky Mountain High” was additionally adopted in 2007 in honor of the late John Denver and his love of Colorado.
The song holds special meaning to me, dating back to singing it aloud with my best friend Elizabeth back in the 8th grade, and more recently, being sung on semi-annual weekend retreats my school used to take in the mountains with students each fall and spring. Over my lifetime, I’ve sung John Denver’s song more times than I could ever possibly count. Subsequently, I am one of the people who was very happy to hear of the song being adopted as our second state song.
Speaking of Rocky Mountain High, it’s a mile high to be exact at the Colorado Capitol, hence Denver being known as the “Mile High City.” There are actually three different markers of the mile high point. The official original marking is on the fifteenth step, which is engraved with the words “One Mile Above Sea Level.” A resurvey by Colorado State University students in 1969 led to a new bench marker being embedded in the 18th step. With the advent of more accurate GPS surveying techonology, the mile high point was more accurately determined in 2003, and a 3rd bench mark was installed on the 13th step.
This is my photograph of the 2003 Mile High Benchmark, taken on that same sunset photo walk with Chris Lord. I love this shot because not only can you see the sunset reflected in the marker, but you can also see the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. I also think I ought to donate this photo to the Capitol Tours, because the photo they have in Mr. Brown’s Attic really pales by comparison to this shot, in my own not-so-humble opinion!
Mr. Brown’s Attic did have something else I certainly never before had access to: reproductions of the building’s architectural drawings, which were originally on linen. They were far too large for any photo to do them justice, so you’ll just have to go take the Attic Walk Tour yourself to see the marvelous drafting.
This poster gives details about the building’s architect along with fascinating information on the Capitol construction details.
Among the artifacts in Mr. Brown’s attic is this incredibly detailed model of the Capitol. It blew my mind, reminding me of Lego on steroids or something! It is extremely accurate in every aspect of its details and perspective.
Right near the model of the Capitol with its glorious gold dome are displays about the gold gilding process.
This photo shows the most recent gold guilding and iron restoration work in progress:
As we neared the back reaches of Mr. Brown’s Attic heading towards the stairs to the Dome, I was really moved by this quotation from the Denver Post in 1957 about the significance of the Capitol building.
It was time to head onward and upward into the dome!
As we began ascending inside the dome, it became possible to get a better view of the many stained glass portrait windows that surround the entire dome. This portrait of Kit Carson was the one which caught my eye:
Once up inside the Dome, the child in me wanted to break the rules and run up this “closed to the public” spiral stairway all the way to the top!
I opted to photograph the staircase instead, figuring it’d be good not to get thrown out since I really, really, really, really (yep, that’s four reallys!!!!) wanted to go outside on the observation deck, which is right outside those huge window doors surrounding the spiral stairs. I’m glad I showed restraint because it was really fun to go out and get the 360 degree panorama view of Denver.
We were in horrible mid-day light, but luckily my HDR Camera+ app on the Galaxy can do an amazing job of getting a good set of bracketed exposures. Processing these in Photomatix Pro produced a couple of decent shots, albeit a bit noisy, but still nice shots considering how bad the light was. I made two HDRs which I took from the observation deck around the dome.
The first was of a weather vane atop a steeple which caught my eye, because my late father had always loved weather vanes. I couldn’t get a closer shot of the weather vane, but then Andy mentioned that it happened to be just to the right of an apartment building where friends of his live, so I used the steeple and weather vane to frame the friends’ apartment building at the top left of the picture.
The other HDR I created with shots from the HDR Camera+ app was this view of the Capitol Flagpole in the foreground, with the Denver City and County Building across the street, backed by the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.
I’m surprisingly extremely pleased with this photo, given how grey, harsh, and lacking in contrast the view seemed like it would turn out.
After heading back downstairs, as Andy and I were getting ready to leave the Capitol, I happened to look up inside the dome from below again. It occurred to me that a black and white of that same view would be really cool. Thus, I decided to use the same shot I showed earlier of the dome interior, only process it as a black and white.
I merged the same three bracketed exposures into Photomatix Pro a second time, only this time I chose a black and white artistic style tone mapping preset. I then additionally processed the shot in onOne’s Perfect B&W8 using the “Ansel in the Valley” preset. How fitting, as I consider Ansel Adams as my first photography mentor.
This is the final result and it’s a fun memento of a great a play day!
In addition to being on display at the Capitol through the end of March 2015, I have an additional framed copy of my “Colorado State Capitol: As Seen by Janine” photograph hanging in my classroom where I teach.I am donating it to the school, partially to help instil interest in photography to my students, and also to boost their awareness of Colorado History.
I will be using this blog post to make a presentation to the middle and high school social studies classes. The photo will travel from class to class and will eventually hang in the middle of our art gallery wall in the school cafeteria beside the U.S. Flag.
All of that came to pass from the simple act of kindness to take photographer Chris Lord of New York City on a photo walk of Denver.
The rest of this post came from the act of kindness photographer Andy Schwarz showed by coming along with me to photograph me with my art at the exhibit. His kindness also helped make it a great play day touring Mr. Brown’s Attic and taking the Dome Walk!
Thanks very much to Chris, Andy, and to Colorado’s Creative Industries for accepting my artwork into the exhibition and giving it such a very nice display location. This has been a fine honor to end my year of 2014 and ring in 2015 in style!
Be sure to go take in the Honoring the Colorado Capitol Dome Exhibition which runs through March 31, 2014. There are a very wide variety of beautiful artworks included in the show, all worthy of seeing – so be sure you go into the Lieutenant Governor’s office too, as well as down to the basement Rotunda, where my piece is displayed.
You, too, should make it a play day, and take the Mr. Brown’s Attic and Dome Walk Tours. They run at about 45 minutes past the hour on regular business days at the Capitol. Go all the way up and HONOR THE DOME!
By Janine Fugere
As Seen by Janine: Eyes of the World Images