Jefferson's Shadow

In the past few weeks I've made several late night (aka early morning) trips into Washington, DC to photograph the monuments after the tourists go to sleep. The experience of being the only person standing in these grand marble structures is inspiring and humbling. After having such a positive experience with Lincoln's Washington: Alone at Night, I decided to pay another president a visit.

The Jefferson Memorial is overlooked by many tourists visiting Washington, DC. The exception is during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, when the Jefferson Memorial becomes an impromptu retreat for those tourists wishing to catch a break from the warm and crushing humid spring air. In fact, during the Cherry Blossom Festival, it becomes difficult to find the statue of our former president amongst the sea of tourists roaming through the tidal basin.

My visit to the Jefferson Memorial was on a chilly November evening well after the tourists had retreated to their hotels. A few romantic couples walked the sidewalk around the tidal basin, but besides the obligatory National Park Service ranger, the monument was empty. This is the first time I've ever been to a monument that is so quiet - my camera shutter clicking as I made prints sounded like a thunderous boom in the otherwise silent void. 

I knew when I set out for the memorial that I wanted to capture a view of the Washington Monument from inside the Jefferson Memorial. The Washington Monument is so iconic and I was eager to use the columns from the Jefferson Memorial to 'frame' around.

The memorial consists of several rings of columns with a rotunda where a large statue of Thomas Jefferson looks out over his visitors. One of my favorite features is the intricate ceiling that adorns the top of the rotunda, making Jefferson's memorial seem more like a memorial for a saint than a president. At night the lights in the rotunda cast a long shadow off Jefferson's statue, making Jefferson appear even taller. The following series of prints really draws attention to the number of columns in the memorial - and the detail in the ceiling looked really nice in a black and white image.

While I usually try to visualize my prints before arriving at a photo shoot, I found two prints made themselves available to me upon arriving at the memorial. The first was to use the long shadow of Jefferson's statute to contrast the otherwise clean white marble of the memorial.

My second impromptu image was the result of some nice weather. With little wind across the tidal basin, I was able to get this near perfect reflection of the Washington Monument. I debated rotating this image 180 degrees and seeing how many people could tell which side was the reflection and which side was 'real'. This print was actually produced by merging three photos of different exposures before converting to black and white. Each exposure was over a minute long, which makes this all the more impressive when you consider how little the water moved during that time!