I took the fisheye lens to Chicago...


Story and photos by Barney Burke

And never looked back...

OK, I did bring two other lenses, a normal wide-angle zoom and a telephoto zoom. But if I had but one lens to bring to a great architectural mecca such as Chicago, it would be Canon’s 15mm “fisheye” lens, which has an a viewing angle of 180 degrees.

It’s easy to lose perspective when shooting with the fisheye, particularly when you’re looking upwards and trying to keep your balance.

But some things, such as Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture, seem made for the fisheye. In the images below you can see reflections of buildings across the street from his sculpture, which locals have dubbed “The Bean.”

Similarly, you can stand on one corner of an intersection, look up, and capture all four corners of the buildings (see below, so to speak). At Daley Plaza, you can photograph the Picasso sculpture and include the four blocks surrounding that plaza.

The fisheye is a tricky lens for photographing people. The results are always interesting, but can be unflattering if you’re not careful.

This 50-foot tall steel sculpture by Pablo Picasso was installed at Daley Plaza in 1967. Picasso never said what the untitled work represents, but some say it was inspired by Lydia Corbett (aka Sylvette David), who posed for him in the 1950s. This view affords a glimpse of the four blocks surrounding the civic center block.

The Chicago Visitors Bureau will arrest you if you don’t take a self-portrait at “The Bean” in Millennium Park. Just kidding. The stainless steel sculpture, whose official name is “Cloud Gate,” is the work of British artist Anish Kapoor. It is 66 feet long and 33 feet tall.

Millennium Monument is a replica of a peristyle built in this area of what is now Millennium Park; the original was built in 1917 and demolished in 1953.

I call this “Mystery Train” in honor of an old blues tune. I’ve ridden transit systems all over the world, but never one that provided as little information as the Metra line that runs from downtown Chicago south to Jackson Park (site of the Columbian Exposition of 1893), from which you can walk to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House at the University of Chicago. Many of the stations had only one sign, visible from just one side of the train, or no signs at all. In the Millennium Park station, conflicting announcements made it impossible to clearly hear any of the announcements, and on the train I boarded, the public address system broadcasted nothing but static. How difficult would it be to provide such fundamental information to travelers? 

The bandshell at Jay Pritzker Pavilion was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who also designed Seattle’s Experience Music Project. The pavilion is the venue of a free outdoor classical music series.

The Chicago Architectural Foundation is located in the historic Santa Fe Building in downtown, across Michigan Avenue from the Art Institute of Chicago. The organization offers very informative walking, bus, and water tours. Behind the organization’s store , in this atrium, is this 1”=50’ model of downtown Chicago.

(No, I didn’t just bring the fisheye lens.) According to our tour guide, “Aqua Tower,” the building under construction at left, is the first major commission awarded to a woman architect in Chicago. Her name is Jeanne Gang, and her building is 82 stories tall with a “green” roof. At right, also under construction, is Donald Trump’s new building, slated to be the second tallest in Chicago, at least for the time being.

With a fisheye lens, mundane scenes such as this baggage carousel at O’Hare International Airport can become interesting. And when your luggage is delayed for an hour due to severe lightning conditions, you may as well whip out your camera and have a look around. At right, these two drummers entertain people waiting to enter the Art Institute of Chicago on a Thursday night – when there’s no admission charge.

This shot is taken with a telephoto from the Chicago River during a water tour offered by the Chicago Architectural Foundation. More photos will be added to this page as time permits, including images of the iconic Marina City condominiums built in 1964.

This image is titled “Intersection.” I’m standing on one corner, looking up, and the fisheye includes parts of the four blocks comprising the intersection.

This is one of my favorites, the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue. The courtyard between the two wings is nice, and the terra cotta tile for this historic landmark was manufactured by the Gladding, McBean Company in Lincoln, Calif.

At left is Union Station in downtown Chicago. At right is a train arriving in the suburb of Downers Grove; that’s what the world would look like to me if I wasn’t wearing my contact lenses.

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