Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

The day after Christmas, Wendy and I made our annual Christmas trip down to visit my mother and sister who both live in Springfield, IL. The family Christmas was held on Sunday at my sister's home just outside Springfield.

On Monday, I was up early anticipating a day of taking pictures of some of the statues of Lincoln in Springfield that I had somehow missed during previous visits or simply wanted to reshot.
First on my list was the Lincoln by O'Connor on the east side of the Illinois State Capital Building. It was my plan, based on the previous evening weather report, that I would have sun in the morning and it would be striking the statue and painting it with an early morning glow. The weather was just not cooperating and I decided that I would see if the Illinois State Supreme Court Building right across the street was open to visitors. Court was not in session but the building was open to visitors. On the second floor of the 1908 building is a large bust of Lincoln by noted Lincoln sculptor John McClarey of Decatur, IL. The piece is entitled Prairie Lawyer, Master Of Us All. The title comes from a line in the Vachel Lindsay poem Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight. This McClarey work was donated to the Illinois Supreme Court by the Illinois Bar Association and was dedicated in January of 2009.
This statue was particularly hard to photograph. The bust is located in front of a large stained glass window and the light from behind Mr. Lincoln makes it very difficult to get a good exposure. Recently I have been experimenting with a technique called HDR or High Dynamic Range Photography. In a nutshell, using a digital camera, a tripod and special software , the photographer takes a series of pictures using the same focus and f-stop but under and over exposing the subject across a wide dynamic range. Within the software (I happen to use Photomatix software) the series of photos, typically 3 to 5 pictures, are combined. Using this technique, the photographer can restore highlights and shadows; shoot in harsh and challenging light and can achieve remarkable tone and color results.
The situation at the Supreme Court was ideal for this technique and I was very pleased with the results.
After finishing at the Supreme Court, we went across the street to the State Capital to photograph the Leonard Volk statue of Lincoln in the second floor of the the Rotunda. Volk is the same sculptor that did the first life mask of Lincoln.
The lighting in the State Capital is poor at best and again I decided to attempt to capture the statue using the HDR technique. The results were good and I was able to come away with several good images to work with.
The real surprise in the Capital was not the Volk but finding another sculptural work featuring the Lincoln-Douglas Debates that is virtually unknown and appears in none of the literature. High above the fourth floor of the Rotunda is seen a series of plaster friezes that encircle the dome. Little is known about these nine panels, painted to resemble bronze.
The artist was T. Nicolai. I have found little on Mr. Nicolai and just as little on the friezes. The website describes the works as "... a series of allegorical and historical pictures, in bas relief..." The artist reportedly died prior to the completion of the entire work and he left no key to the individuals in each of the none groups. Several of the key characters are easily recognizable - Lincoln and Douglas, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee and George Washington.
Besides the above mentioned statues there are numerous others Springfield. There are four statues of Lincoln at nearby New Salem State Park in Petersburg, IL.
The next time you are in Springfield, take some time and visit some of these wonderful memorials and tributes to our 16th. President.