Half-week homework: Concrete

It’s tough. It’s versatile. It’s one of the most common materials in construction worldwide. It’s emblematic of at least one defunct world power, and it’s a chief component of one of the most contentious architectural styles in the world. Yes, it’s concrete, and your mission this week is to find a way to photograph it.

The extreme prevalence of concrete everywhere should make it easy to find some sort of subject, but will present a challenge in thinking for the same reason—get used to anything, and you’ll have a more difficult time extracting the art from that thing. If you’re at a loss, photographing art that is on concrete is also accepted.

The goal is not to photograph graffiti (that’s a whole different mission), but to highlight the material itself with the aid of a more colorful dressing. Indeed, it is the blankness of the way the material is often implemented that creates both a perceived aesthetic vacuum as well as an easy canvas, inviting the appearance of both legitimate and illegitimate art.

I also find concrete to be a fascinating photographic subject for some of the same reasons people tend to violently reject brutalist architecture; namely, it is susceptible to erosion. Weathering, rusty rebar, and other contaminants each leave their mark in turn. Structurally, as it heaves and crumbles over the years, intriguing geometric formations tend to emerge spontaneously. These create an all the more striking contrast when paired with the smoothness of pieces in an earlier stage of disrepair. In other words, if a street artist doesn’t get to it, a sheet of concrete will tend to create its own adornment.

This example is a bit extreme—anything in this condition would more than likely be torn down before you could find it—but you can see what I mean. Love that exposed rebar!

Note: remember that rusty metal and/or heavy, crumbling structures can be dangerous. Use caution when seeking subjects in extreme disrepair, especially when they’re not the Berlin Wall and might actually fall on you.

Even non-compromised concrete can tell a story. The material is difficult to destroy but easy to disrupt. Try to find a preserved moment from the past.

Above all, it’s a delightful textural exercise. For such an easy-to-ignore part of our lives, there are so many tiny details in every wall, sidewalk, bench, and flowerbed. Take a walk around your block and see what you can find!

…and when you do, of course, please share your favorite results. Post ’em to our Facebook page or on Instagram tagged #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework. I’m a pretty abstract-textural kind of guy, so I hope to see some cool stuff. 😎

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