WTC Memorial Cross  © jj raia

WTC Memorial Cross © jj raia

Almost a year ago in August, on a trip up north, I made a visit to NYC’s World Trade Center site to see its changes since the devastation of 9/11. I had visited several years after the attack when the Freedom Tower had yet to reach its full height, and neither the museum or the transportation hub were completed. And I also visited the site about two weeks after the destruction while the mountain of rubble remained, and the smell still hung heavy in the air. That visit will remain locked in my memory forever. This visit was to see what rose from that rubble.

The main photographic reason for going was to see first hand what I had only seen in architectural renderings: Oculus, the Port Authority transportation hub of Lower Manhattan. It really lived up to the hype I projected upon it, and would probably visit the site often if I were still living in NJ, but had to make due with just a couple of  hours. I did previously post a few images from the visit (Click Here to see that post), but just never got around to working on a few frames for which I had specific intentions.

Having been completely destroyed all the way down to the lowest levels underground when the Twin Towers collapsed, this important train station reopened to the public 15 years later in 2016, and includes 800,000 sq/ft. of subterranean space. Above ground is a glass and steel structure designed by famed Spanish architect and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava, intended to resemble “a bird flying from the hands of a child,” bringing a sense of hope to a site of tragedy. Viewing the architecture for the first time, I was amazed at how enormous the odd shaped edifice was, soaring about 125-feet into the air and then sweeping outward, floating over the ground. At 350-feet, it is longer than a football field, and 115-feet wide, with the main concourse approximately 34 ft below street level, and 160 ft below the apex of the operable skylight that runs its length. It is nothing less than breathtaking.

From the photography of the architecture that day, I wanted to try something a bit different than the usual landscape photographs. Several of the frames were purposed to be “booked”; duplicating the frame in Photoshop, flipping that duplicate horizontally, and then matching the two identical ends together to make a mirrored image on an expanded canvas. The original thought was for them to be monochromatic, but the subtle colors of the blue sky and reflected light from surrounding buildings was evident on the exposed white architectural framework, allowing for a variety of approaches. And since they would be abstracts, quite a bit of artistic license would be allowed. Colors could be changed, enhanced, muted or eliminated all together in gray tones. The hope was to dive headlong into the explorations of some geometric forms and shapes.

The image above was one in which the Oculus’ architecture color in the background was used (ie. pumped up) as a design element, rather than a true representation. The 14-foot cross added to that image was created by sculptor Jon Krawczyk, made of steel fragments from the rubble of the Twin Towers. I discovered it in front of nearby St. Peters Church, and felt compelled to photograph it, even though I had already packed everything up for the long trek to a PATH station many, many blocks away (To my dismay, I found out there was no direct PATH service to the Oculus on Sundays, the day of my visit). It went into Photoshop as a smart object, extracted from the background to be placed on a separate layer for resizing, and clipped to other adjustments layers, as was the background, in order to control the brightness, contrast and saturation of each separately. For my current Photoshop skill level, it was probably the most complicated image put together so far, using more and more bits of Photoshop mechanics that have been shared with me by friends. So a big Thank You to those who have helped me. You know who you are.

Oculus Study No.3 — jj raia

Oculus Study No.3 — jj raia

Each booked image had two possible orientations: right side up or upside down, since it made a difference in how the image is “read”. Most times that choice proved quite difficult. Then decisions about color needed to be made. For instance, the photo at the top works with colors exaggerated, while the image directly above works with minimal color and without color at all (below). Why is the important question though. In the final analysis, it probably is dependent on the graphic nature of the image itself. If the structure of the composition works well, then color or B&W will work. If the structure is weaker and less impactful, then it may need the crutch of color to create the impact. And I suppose that’s the basis of the arguments for B&W being a stronger compositional form over Color. But that argument will probably continue forever.

Oculus Study No.3 — jj raia

Oculus Study No.3 — jj raia

I wish I had much more time to explore the interior of the building and the surrounding underground spaces since it seems there is a load of photographic opportunity there as well. But I spent most of the time outside using the outstretched “wings” of the building searching for designs that would work as the left page of the “book”. For these images, the Oculus occupies the majority of the frame, while a nearby building was placed along the right edge in the background of the initial frame, to be used as the center of the eventual combination. So the final combined image had to be the driving force behind selecting shapes and subjects to include. As a stand alone photograph, the single frame most likely is unbalanced without the benefit of a focal point. But the point at which it is matched to the flipped version of itself, was intended to become that point of optical tension and direction.

One additional realization came about during the processing that hadn’t been previously considered. The shape could be optically altered simply by differing tonality. Since brighter areas project forward and darker tones recede, the bend of the “ribs” could actually appear moving in the opposite direction from reality. In several of these completed images, I can’t even determine what that reality is…and I was the one who took the original photograph!!

Oculus Study No.2 — jj raia

Oculus Study No.2 — jj raia

The logical extension of these “booked” frames, is to “book” them again, or even multiple times; and so it was with the image below.  I suppose all of these were possible because of the idea at the time of the visit, but their realization here came about with the extra free time afforded by the virus, and overcoming a long delay in expanding my limited skills in Photoshop. Without that time, these files may have languished within the hard drive for a very long time.

Oculus Study No. 5 © jj raia

Oculus Study No. 5 © jj raia

There’s a certain freedom in creating these geometric designs since reality doesn’t need any consideration, and for me, the limitations in the knowledge and know-how of the tools for use in creating these, can be an impediment in achieving that desired final image, snuffing out that freedom. If the image in mind when the camera shutter is tripped can’t be realized because of an inability to utilize the tools to do so, then failure follows. Maybe I’m beginning to understand why I’ve seen some famous photographers instructing processors as to what they want from their image to create that visualization, done by someone else who has all the knowledge necessary to achieve that end, freeing the photographer to concentrate on the creative end of things, rather than the mechanical end. Maybe someday, Lightroom and Photoshop will operate on voice commands!! Wouldn’t that be nice…

Oculus Study No. 4 © jj raia

Oculus Study No. 4 © jj raia

All of these constructions are almost limitless in their variations, and reaching an acceptable endpoint is sometimes difficult to recognize. Considering all the options within Photoshop and Lightroom to vary color, tone, saturation and contrast (just to name a few), and no adult to limit your sampling every piece of candy in the store, the possibility is very real to become irretrievably lost in that labyrinth. So, in a way, my ignorance in every possibility available, and inability to harness every aspect of the powerful editing software we have, in this instance, was a blessing.

Oculus Study No. 6  © jj raia

Oculus Study No. 6 © jj raia





3 thoughts on “Oculus

    1. Thanks Lynne, just the few included in the post just scratches the surface of what might be possible. The only limit is your imagination, and of course as I am painfully aware, Photoshop skills.


  1. Pingback: New Architecture

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