Hancock Center Garage
Everyone who visits Chicago inevitably sees the skyline, with the Willis Tower on the south end and the John Hancock Tower on the north end. The Trump Tower is in the middle, as is the Amoco Building (now the Aon Center) . What many don't see is the spiral drum immediately to the east of the Hancock Tower. It is part of the ramp that leads to the parking garage on the lower floors of the Hancock. It is made of concrete, and looks similar in shape to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, although on further reflection, there are big differences. The Guggenheim spiral tapers inwards as the building moves closer to street level, while the Hancock spiral ramp is a cylinder. It is worth remembering that Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim museum. Were the Hancock architects (SOM) paying homage to Wright whose second job was with Adler & Sullivan, a Chicago architectural firm? The Sullivan in the firm's name is Louis Sullivan, who many view as the father of the skyscraper and an inspiration to the Prairie School of architecture. Sullivan mentored Wright, and Wright went on to become the leading proponent of the Prairie School.
Catherine Opie photographed the spiral drum for one of her 18 photographs of Chicago at night that she made sometime between 1997 and 2006 as part of a series entitled American Cities. It is now virtually impossible to recreate that photograph, assuming that was my goal, which it is not. The spiral ramp has undergone refurbishment, as most concrete structures do when the structure services cars in a winter environment, but refurbishment or demolition are not the problem.
As is often the case, cities and building owners "crap up" architectural forms with clutter. In the case of the Hancock spiral drum, there is now a row of ugly Divvy bikes and the horrible stand that holds them on the sidewalk. There is also a large kiosk advertising 360 Chicago, the viewing floor/observation deck on the Hancock's 94th floor.
Today I set out with my trusty Arca Swiss technical camera and a 72mm lens to see if I could compose a shot that captured the spiral drum without the clutter. In my view, the featured photograph succeeds, in large part because the spiral drum appears oversized relative to the surrounding buildings. Moreover, it does not reveal any portion of the tower. While most tourists never see the spiral drum in the physical world, in my world they miss what most people would view as the main attraction.
For those keeping score, the photograph is architecturally perfect. Since I shifted the lens up rather than tilting the film plane, there are no converging lines.
I made three attempts. The photograph below was made by tilting the tripod head, which means converging lines became an issue. I tried to fix the convergence in post processing, but that is virtually impossible because the tower is not a rectangle, but rather, shaped like a cheese grater.
While there are always a variety of artistic considerations, for a documentary photograph of the spiral drum, it is best to make the photograph mid-to-late morning when the sun illuminates the concrete and the sky is blue rather than white (because the sun is film plane).
Cheese Grater and Spiral Drum