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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Simple and Complex - A Roof Photo Project


I was reading an article from one of my favourite Bloggers George Barr at Behind The Lens who regularly produces great thought providing ideas. There was an article about what are “Meaningful Photographs” and in summary, how to find that special insight that drives you to produce great works of art. Do read it to fully appreciate the message.

In this article I will explore some ideas and with an example theme that will hopefully help shape an approach that will take you down a path of excitement and discovery.

I think as artists, who use the camera to create, it is important that we have projects that at first challenge us and then allows you to explore and develop new ways of seeing and transposing to your visions.

To truly create great works, you need to dig deep into your core. To explore that urge to create a visual emotion, because at the basic level, we, as photographic artists, present to the world our feeling about what we see.


National Art Gallery, Ottawa Canada
The softness of the cool blue sky set against the rigid lines and the red fire within.


How do you find a photography project that is right for you? I really can’t answer that for you, but may I suggest some ideas or methods that might give you a start in the right direction. In reality there is no right or wrong direction, only your journey and what you can accomplish along the way.

If you are looking for a great project idea or purpose, first start by not thinking about photography. Try to list 5 or 10 passions you have. These can be both physical items, such as trains, snowboarding, old buildings, special natural locations or it can be more internalized such as friendship, love, joy. Try to define some qualities and emotions about the subject. Not the standard terms used by media, but your impressions.

Snowboarding (my impressions as I never quite left the bunny hill)
Crazy, Fast, Wild-eyed, Scary, Acrobatic, Curves, Edgy.

This might take a week or a month to accomplish, as it is important that either a memory or feeling emerges from within the core that has defined you. From your list, one item may appear to have a special meaning for you. Select this and then decide how you would go about translating your emotions about the subject into a series of photographs. Mostly likely at first it may seem hard or even impossible. This is actually a good thing as now the journey of discovery begins. I also recommend that you keep a journal as the project mostly will take months or even years to complete and your views and impressions will change over time as you explore your theme in all its facets.

As an artist who may be presenting a project later on, this journal or diary will help you contextualize your photos to viewing audience later on. Most visitors do read the writings that go along with the images.

As an example, I am using the idea of roofs as a project. While it may seem very obscure and you might wonder what kind of meaningful project could be accomplished on this subject, it allows me to explore how you could think about this as a possible project.

This is the meaning of the title, as roofs may seem too simple to be meaningful and complex as how do you take something so boring and have people enjoy the finished works. Through these images, I will explore how a photographer might find meaningful views.

Unless you are a wildlife photographer, you might find yourself not using your zoom lens as much as you’d like. Roofs do require the use of a zoom.


Almonte, Ontario. Cropping allowed me to position the white pigeon on one of the power points to create a focal interest.

Roofs of buildings are things that most people take for granted, unless the winter snow load or water leaks make you more aware of its presence. I do not think that many people really look at all the different type of roofs and even when visiting other countries, only as a different topping on buildings with its unique broad expanse of texture and colour.

Roofs are made from many different materials and can be low-tech like mud huts with stick and grass roofs, to beautiful glass domes. They can have many colours, shapes and textures. Some are solely for protection and use standard materials, some are integral to the design of the building and becomes a work of art.











Almonte Ontario. I did remove a small structure at the peak, as I did not want the eye to be lead away from curved top. The shadows across the tiles add more depth and interest.

A photo of a roof can create a sense of place and lifestyle as with the rooftop from Paris, France below. Who could not see themselves standing on the balcony below and gazing over the bustling Paris nightlife or in the morning sitting by the window having espresso with an assortment of bread and cheeses.












Some are grander like the great roofs found around the main square of Brussels, Belgium













The one dominant feature about roofs is that there tends to be repetition of features and many lines. By focusing on small sections and their complex patterns, abstract images as with these tile roofs from Skagen, Demark can be created.






Even conversion to B&W can create very dramatic and powerful abstract images.










Taken at the entrance to the Hase temple in Kamakura just south of Tokyo, Japan

By combining 2 roofs into a scene, a story of old and new can be created as with these roofs from 700 year old farm buildings near Hillerod, Denmark. (my ancestral farm)












You can focus on historical structures, such as this old Viking long-house at the historic site near Hobro, Denmark. The roof in this photo is used to unify the image and bring all the elements together.












Or this side building that is set in the ground.














Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

As far as I am concerned, I can only say how much I regret such an admirable discovery should have come so late ! The possibility of studying such images would have had an influence on me that I can only guess at from the usefulness which they have now, even in the little time left me for more intensive study. It is the tangible proof of nature’s own design, which we otherwise see only very feebly. - Eugene Delacroix - quoted in "French Primitive Photography", Philadelphia 1969[cited in "From today painting is dead – The Beginnings of Photography" (catalogue of exhibition in The Victoria & Albert Museum 16 March – 14 May 1972 p. 48), caption to item no. 532 showing photographs of nude models taken from an album belonging to Delacroix. The models are said to be in poses arranged by Delacroix.]

3 comments:

Richard Boles said...

Those pictures are so amazing, Niel. I never thought that those simple roofs can be a good subject for photography. I couldn't find a single word to describe your shots but exquisite.

Richard Boles

Beth Vriesman said...

You definitely have a great eye for spotting unconventional beauty, Niels. Who would've thought that something as plain and ordinary as a roof can actually look magnificent from a different perspective? Why don't you also try another photo set comparing how urban and rural rooftops look like? That would be quite interesting to see as well.


Beth Vriesman

Vernia Kale said...

You'll get great shots of the roof if you find the perfect spot to take the picture. The angle is very helpful in capturing fantastic photos, whether they are taken from ground or from the roofs themselves. Moreover, it's also advisable to feature a roof that's properly installed and aligned. Thanks for the share, Niels! These roofs are adorable! :)

Vernia Kale @ Muth Roofing

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