<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> UCI : Fearured Images


Photographs of the UCI campus by Ian Parker

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Visitors since 2006
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Aldrich Hall
Aldrich Park
Anteater Pavillion
Barkley Theatre
Central Plant
Crawford Hall
Continuing Ed.
East Campus
Eco. Preserve
Langson Library
Law & Edu.
Med. School

Merage Business School

Physical Sci.
Ranch Bldngs
Rose Garden
Sci. Library
Social Sci.
Student Center
Student Housing
Univ. Club
Univ. Hills
Rain & mist
Evanescent Light Photography
Parker Lab




"Steelscape: UCI Continuing Education Building"

Courtyard of the Continuing Education Building, University of California, Irvine

During the covid-19 pandemic my day-to-day universe has shrunk to walking distance from home. However, we are fortunate to live of the campus of UCI, which has given me many new photographic subject and ideas. The campus is new – founded only in 1965 – so the architecture cannot rival that of old institutions such as Cambridge.  Nevertheless, there is much to be found. The original campus buildings were constructed in a uniform ‘brutalist’ style; a description that has a specific meaning in architecture, but does well describe them in an everyday sense of the word (scroll down to  P-o-t-M #148). After about 1975 however, that uniformity was abandoned, and subsequent buildings display more individuality, and sometimes a little quirkiness.

A recent (2016) addition - the extension building for Continuing Education, designed by LMN Architects - is a nice exemplar. The building itself is arranged in a U-shaped configuration, but the visual highlight is a broad courtyard within the center of the U. From the architect’s description “An expansive 6,150-square-foot central courtyard organizes the design, resulting in an outdoor living room that instills a sense of connectivity for the program as a whole, as well as for the larger campus” Notably, "The courtyard soaks up sunlight from the west, while mitigating the impact of glare and heat through a large brise-soleil patterned with 25-kW photovoltaic panels, which in the first month of operation produced 18% of the building's energy needs. The spatial configuration of the courtyard and the solar panel trellis were carefully calibrated to achieve a comfortable, inviting combination of shade and filtered sunlight at all times of day."

The courtyard is indeed an impressive and inviting space, with the massive overhead brise-soleil grid forming a porous roof to give a semi-enclosed, indoor/outdoor feel.  To capture a photograph encompassing this vast space I was going to need a super-wide lens, and a viewpoint from one corner. Moreover, I would need to be at half-height, to keep the cameral level while including both the ground and the roof grid within the frame. A staircase leading up from the outer edge of the courtyard looked as if it would get me exactly where I wanted to be. From the first floor I was too low, on the second floor still just a little low, whereas a few steps higher gave the perfect viewpoint. But, from the second floor upward, the stairway was enclosed by a stout steel wire mesh with a grid too fine to allow taking a photo between the wires. (A similar mesh encloses the staircase on the contemporary Learning Pavilion building – I don’t know the function, whether for safety reasons or merely decorative.) What to do? From the second floor I would have to tilt the camera so much the perspective would be distorted beyond the capability of Photoshop to correct. Well, the wire mesh was structured in vertical sheets, with a gap of only an inch between. That was too narrow to photograph through, but by pushing and pulling on adjacent sheets I could enlarge the gap just enough to insert through the (narrow) 9mm lens on my little Canon M5 camera. Once situated the lens was jammed in place by the taught wires. No need for a tripod! But leveling the camera rotated the focus ring, so it took a few goes to get everything set up with the composition framed and focused correctly. As a serendipitous bonus from this unconventional arrangement, the camera screen showed that the extreme field of view of the lens included the edge of the wire mesh. Thinking that this would provide a strong framing motif to complement the steel grid of the brise-soleil I stopped down the aperture to keep focus from the depth of the courtyard to the wire mesh only inches from the lens.



"Quadrant Reflection: Social Science Tower, UCI"

UCI Social Science Tower reflected in a rain puddle.

Some of my recent photos-of-the-month (#147, 142) have featured abstract 'kalaidoscope' images, created in Photoshop by reflecting a starting image around horizontal and vertical axes to create a symmetrical quadriptych. This month I show a four-panel polyptych created not by artifice, but in-camera, as a single exposure.

The subject is the Social Science tower, one of the original buildings dating from the founding of the UCI campus in 1965. The master plan for the campus was designed by the famous architech William Pereira . His was a bold plan at the time, envisaging floating white concrete platforms suspended over the ground on pedestals to present the buildings like individual sculptures in a giant museum sculpture garden. Each building was constructed in the 'brutalist' style, characterized by minimalist constructions that showcase the bare building materials and structural elements over decorative design; making use of exposed concrete, angular geometric shapes and a monochromatic color palette. Pereira's buildings were indeed brutalist, but functional, with fins and sunshades acting as passive solar elements to capture the sea breeze and keep the buildings cool without air-conditioning. These stark features provided a fitting location for the filming of the original Planet of the Apes!

Nowadays it is impossible to visualize Pereira's buildings as they were in the 1960's, standing alone and isolated on all sides. Photographs by Ansel Adams, comissioned in 1968 to commemorate the 100th annivesary of the University of Caifornia, are our best record from that time. The campus is now a leafy arboretum, with innumerable trees and new buildings blocking the sightlines. However, this view of the Social Science tower remains exactly as it would have looked in 1965: I Photoshopped out only a couple of modern signs.

During the covid pandemic, with international and even domestic travel curtailed, my home campus of UCI became my main photographic interest. I took many walks with a camera around my neck looking for interesting perspectives on the architecture and landscape. Occasional rainy days (this is Southern California) were a big incentive to get out and find reflecting puddles. Poor drainage in Social Science plaza reliably resulted in accumulation of a particularly big puddle, creating a wonderfully large and still mirror to create symmetrically reflected images by positioning the camera just above (but not immersed in!) the water. For this month's photo I saw the opportunity to go beyond merely a reflected diptych and create a four-panel image by carefullyaligning the edge of the conctete stairs with a prominent edge on the tower. The result is not horizontally symmetrical, but makes a nice left-right textural contrast between Pereira's characteristic 'eyebrow' windows and the blank wall on the opposite face of the building. Looked at more as an abstract depiction than an objective representation the image has, to me, something of an Escher feel.


"LA sunrise reflections from the Ecological Preserve"

View of downtown LA skyscrapers from UCI

From our house on the UC Irvine campus a 15 min walk will take me to a lookout point at the top of the campus Ecological Preserve that commands extensive views over the ocean to Catalina Island, across the flatlands of Orange and LA counties to the San Gabriel Mountains, and to Saddleback Mountain in the west. For the past ten months of covid isolation that has been my entire visual horizon, and physically I have been confined within about a five-mile walking radius of home. Constrained within that small circle, my task for the month of January is to complete 267 miles on foot,  having entered the Badwater 267VR race - a virtual race for the time of covid, combining the total milage of the three ultramarathons organized by Adventure Corps.

Completing the race entails averaging nearly nine miles a day, so I set off early every morning to walk off the distance. A few days ago, I happened to reach the lookout point exactly at sunrise and noticed a bright red glint far in the distance – actually, a glint so bright as hard as not to notice. I wondered if the light might be reflecting from the skyscrapers in downtown LA, though that seemed improbable as they are 40 miles away. Some research with the Photographers Ephemeris nevertheless confirmed that origin, revealing that the alignment of the buildings along the SW/NE street axis was exactly right to mirror the rising sun at this time of year. Thus, a fleeting phenomenon likely to be seen at this location for only a few days around mid January and early December, and dependent on clear visibility when Santa Ana winds sweep away the LA smog.

Returning this morning I took my camera and long lens (400 mm + 1.4x teleconverter) to capture the distant reflection. That was easy to photograph, but more difficult to process and display the image. The problem was that the high towers brightly reflect the red of the sun as it rises just above the horizon, while everywhere else was still in deep shade. Our eyes can deal with this extreme contrast range in real life, but a print or even computer screen lacks the dynamic range. When I tried to match the true red color of the reflections they looked too dim – both photographic prints and current lcd screen work by color subtraction so a pure red must always be dimmer than white. To create the illusion of brightness I thus had to crank up the exposure slider so that the brightest reflections became white; a common trick that we become so accustomed to that we fail to notice that yellow and white highlights in sunset photographs do not correspond to the true colors.

"Middle Earth Windows Kaleidoscope"

Middle Earth Towers, UCI

And now for something completely different... For this month I present an image distinct from my usual styles of landscape and wildlife photos: an idea prompted by an accidental discovery in Photoshop, by frustrations in trying to find something new after nine months of covid isolation, and an extension of my project to photograph the buildings of the UCI campus.

Among the more interesting campus buildings the recently constructed Middle Earth student housing complex stands out. On a recent sunny morning the glass facades of the two towers were gleaming in the harsh light, offering tempting photographic possibilities when deep shadows precluded most toer subjects. I already had some good shots of the building itself, so equipped with a long telephoto lens I set out to isolate small sections among the windows to create semi-abstract patterns. Aiding this, the architect had incorporated playful diversity in the design: placing metal mesh screens above some windows; framing some with a yellow surround; and, unusual for a modern building allowing the windows to open, so according to random student preference some were open and some shut. Together with reflections of the sky and the opposite side of the facing tower this all made for some colorful compositions, that already were part way between recognizable reality and pure abstraction (two photos on the left below).

Because the photos were taken looking up at a slanted angle, vertical lines appeared as converging. To straighten them out, I used the ‘perspective’ tool in Photoshop. Normally this is applied in fine increments with careful judgement, but after an accidental jog of the mouse I discovered that the perspective could be completely flipped, with the image appearing to converge to a point, and then diverge on the far side of infinity! (third photo below). That was a neat and quite striking effect, but it left two black triangular segments on the sides. To fill in the blank spaces I took my second photo and applied the same treatment, but now on the horizontal rather than vertical axis (fourth photo below), and finally merged the  two to create my final composition.

The result, I think, is truly abstract; without knowing the origin it would be very hard to identify the initial subject. It might be viewed simply as a colorful, kaleidoscopic pattern, but I imagine walking down an endless corridor with floor to ceiling windows on each side and strange tracks running along the floor.

Bonus Photo

The same treatment applied to photos of the mirrored panels on the Social Science Stairway.


"Science Library fisheye with Milky Way"

Science Library, UCI

Trapped at home in self-imposed covid-19 lockdown I have given myself a photographic project.  We live on the Irvine campus of the University of California (UCI), and I am setting out to make a comprehensive architectural photo shoot of the campus buildings. UCI was founded just over 50 years ago, so all the buildings are relatively modern, but there is a wide range of styles from Pereira’s ‘brutalist’ original buildings to more recent post-modern extravaganzas. Perhaps the most interesting and unique building on campus is the Science Library: designed by the renowned British architect James Stirling this was completed in 1994, and its shape is reputed to have been inspired by the Starship Enterprise. Whether that is true or not, the building does have a curious layout, comprising an entryway between two tower blocks, a central, circular ‘drum’ around an open courtyard, and a terminal ‘bar’.

Even though the library has been closed for months following the onset of covid restrictions the lights have remained on 24/7, providing good opportunities for nighttime photography. In particular, the floor- to-ceiling windows around the second floor of the drum brightly illuminate the central courtyard. Given the unusual circular layout of the drum I thought this would be an excellent subject to play with a fisheye lens. Fisheye lenses provide an exceptionally wide field of view, but in the process project the image in a way that appears highly distorted to the human eye.  Straight lines become wildly curved; but, provided the camera is centered, circles remain circular!  To take this month’s photo I thus placed my camera on the ground in the exact center of the drum, the location of which is conveniently marked by a small drain.  My new Canon R5 facilitated composition, as the flip-out screen (lacking on my previous cameras) let me view the image with the camera pointing straight up. Once arranged I set a 10 second timer and moved well out of the way as the lens ‘sees’ sideways with a 180 degree field of view. My Rokinon 8 mm fisheye lens yields a circular image that fits within the long axis of the camera sensor, but clips along the short axis. To produce the final image, I needed to take two shots, rotating the camera through 90 degrees, so these could be combined later in Photoshop to complete the circle.

The end result was quite impressive – somewhere intriguingly between an architectural photograph and an abstract kaleidoscope. But the uniform black night sky in the middle bugged me, and I wondered about replacing it with something more interesting. Although I do not normally composite images from two or more shots taken at completely different times and places and disavow the trend (and even recent software) to ‘swap-in’ different skies, this seemed like an acceptable compromise in this instance.   The only way it would be possible to see the heavens from within the library would be during a power cut encompassing not only the building but the entire LA basin. So, to add an extra sense of mystery, I swapped-in a photo of the milky way taken from a dark sky environment at 11,000 ft altitude in the White Mountains.


1146 McGaugh Hall
University of California,
Irvine, CA 92697

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