return to articles
Skyscraper Magic
Steve Geer

I live in Chicago, a city known for its skyscrapers. Of the forty tallest buildings in the city, half have been constructed since the year 2000. These impressive twenty–first century structures have mirror–like skins of glass. Those of us that have played with two or more mirrors know that certain arrangements can produce an optical illusion. The same is true of shiny skyscrapers which are often built in clusters. In certain spots, if you look up you might see reality remodeled into unlikely, if not impossible, geometries. In addition to creating mirror–magic, these tall reflective towers also redirect daylight into the city’s shadows, and sometimes this redirected light itself seems magical. This is skyscraper magic: the magic of large–scale mirrors and soft reflected light.

American photographer Duane Michals once said: “Photographers tend not to photograph what they can’t see, which is the very reason one should try to attempt it.”

Attempting to capture skyscraper magic in a photograph — that magical feeling created by reflected light and optical illusion, not the skyscrapers themselves — seemed like a worthy challenge and, starting at the end of 2018, it became my winter project.

There are some special spots in the city where skyscraper magic can be really appreciated. They are places where two walls of steel and glass meet to form an alcove on the outside of a tall building. If you stand within the compass of the alcove and look straight up, in the resulting worms–eye view nearby skyscrapers sometimes appear like shards in a giant kaleidoscope. Sometimes they are like stems in a kelp forest in which the geometry of nature has been replaced with the geometry of Euclid. In my quest to capture the magic, I searched for these places. In particular, I searched for glass alcoves in which the worms-eye geometry was striking and immersive, and the filtered and reflected light brought this geometry to life.

According to Edgar Degas: “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

I have chosen to convert my digital images to black and white since I find this best emphasizes the drama and mystery of light piecing the shadows, and it’s this drama and mystery that is, I think, at the heart of the magic. In the digital darkroom I have also made some modest clean–up to remove small spots that are sometimes on the window glass and which I found distracting on large–scale prints. Finally, I make local adjustments to light curves where needed. Apart from these limited changes, the images are straight photographs.

- Steve Geer

Steve grew up in England. Photography and natural science were the passions of his youth. After studying physics at Liverpool University he worked as an experimental physicist in Geneva, Switzerland before moving to the U.S. to teach physics at Harvard University. Photography had taken a back seat but then came the digital revolution and Steve began selling his photographs as stock images. By this time he had moved to Chicago. After a few years of stock photography, Steve became interested in producing images that provided a greater outlet for his imagination. Since 2015 he has been represented at the Perspective Gallery of Fine Art Photography in Evanston, Illinois.

In recent years Steve has had his work featured in photography magazines, published in books and exhibited in galleries in the United States and Europe. His featured exhibitions at the Perspective Gallery have been: Chicago through the Looking Glass (February 2016), From the Ground Up (April 2017), One–sixth of a Second (February 2018), Discarded (June 2019), and River Ice (February 2020).

Visit Steve Geer’s site