Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Forbidden Images - polishing The Bean ...

A favorite objet d'art of mine is the sculpture known as Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millenium Park.

For those who don't know of this, Cloud Gate is a very large shiny metallic jelly-bean shaped object. It is known colloquially as "The Bean" or "That Bubble Thing", among other names. From a distance, Cloud Gate appears not unlike a giant blob of mercury.

I don't know why I am fascinated by this thing, but I am.

I first encountered The Bean in the fall of 2004 when I was attending a conference in Chicago. I was playing hooky one afternoon and just wandering around. There it was! I just walked around it for a while, took out my camera, and shot a few frames. NBD, right?

This was shortly after Cloud Gate was first unveiled to the public. It was unfinished, incomplete, particularly in that the seams between the sections of the shiny metal skin were unsealed and unpolished, quite evident. If you enlarge the image directly above, you will see one of my first images of The Bean, showing the seams intact.

Not long after, chit-chat on various photo boards warned of photographing The Bean, using terms as "Prohibited", "Illegal", etc. Of course, that made me want to go back and shoot it some more. :)

A quick conversation with an attorney friend of mine confirmed that it was not illegal, per se, to photograph this, but since the sculptor claimed copyright on the image, there may be some intellectual property rights if I ever tried to sell or commercially publish any images.

The Powers That Be did release a statement that COMMERCIAL photography of Cloud Gate was what was prohibited, but occasional stories of casual amateurs being confronted for shooting The Bean continued.

Fast forward several months. I found myself booked again to Chicago, and I checked but The Bean was apparently obscured from public view while the artist and staff made completion efforts.

I wandered over toward Millenium Park one afternoon, and yes, The Bean was again out of hiding, and workers were busy on scaffolding, polishing the seams to make Cloud Gate a continuous mirror-like surface. Yes, I decided to photograph the bean and the workers' efforts, and yes, I was curious as to whether or not I would be confronted.

One thing about photographing The Bean is that unless you really try, you will get, although usually a surreal one, an involuntary self-portrait. You will also get a fair image of anybody in your vicinity, whether they want it or not.

I really was not trying to provoke it, but I realized that after about 10 minutes or so I had attracted the attention of one of the park's security guards. He did not approach me or confront me, but I had this feeling I was being watched, and I was. I casually moved from the south side of the sculpture to the north side, and yes, he followed me. I was the only person present who was obviously using a camera of any type that time.

You'll notice that in the photo above, the guard (orange vest) is standing immediately to my right (right of me in the reflection) and as shown in the inset, is clearly watching me. The perspective of this shot is distorted. I am standing directly in front of the railing on which the guy who is resting (I guess) is leaning. (He is shown polishing above.) He is about 10 feet or so in front of me to the left. The guard is at a similar distance to my right. This was taken looking north, capturing the south side of The Bean and the reflection of the downtown skyline to the west.

This image is after I moved from the south side of The Bean to the north, and is taken looking southwest. You'll also notice that in this shot, the guard is staring right at me, watching me closely. I was, actually, half way expecting him to walk over to me and say something. He didn't. We remained in a stalemate for maybe 30 seconds or so and I guess I blinked. I just wandered off to the northwest, vanishing into oblivion. Maybe I didn't look "professional" enough for him to take any action. :) The gaze and the expression on the guard's face is obscurred by the backlighting.

The PTB did shortly thereafter clarify what they meant as far as photography of The Bean. They stated that what was prohibited was commercial photography, or photography using "any equipment more than a simple tripod", which was immediately misinterpreted to mean that all tripods were prohibited. They did state that casual tourist-type photos using simple cameras were permitted.

It's been well over a year since I've heard any first-person accounts of anybody being warned about photographing The Bean.

On a couple subsequent trips I took several photos of The Bean, some from unusual angles. Although I would not say that there were cameras all over the place, others were obviously shooting, and even though the guards were around, nobody was bothering anybody.

So what's the purpose of this thing?

It's there to be enjoyed, and for many, enjoyment means to be able to capture images.


kookiejar said...

That picture of the Bean poking up over the bridge is cool, in a surreal, kinda creepy way. I love it! Can't wait to go to Chicago and check it out. Maybe summer vacation. Thanks.

Alex Kinnan said...

These are great shots -- very different than most I've seen so far. Strange as it may sound, I have actually considered moving back to Chicago for no other reason than The Bean...