A DAY IN THE LIFE.
Joseph Irwin Miller fascinates me. Here is an individual who single-handedly shaped the architectural landscape of his entire hometown of Columbus, Indiana to fit his aesthetic interests. He had the resources to commission world-renowned architects to design not only his home but an abundance of public buildings. To date there have been over 70 significant buildings constructed in a town with a population of only 44,000.
With family only 40 miles away in Indianapolis, a visit to the Miller House has been high on my list since it was opened to the public in 2011 (The Miller family donated the home and gardens to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2009). Although the house has been photographed many times over the years (including by two of the greatest modernist photographers, Ezra Stoller and Balthazar Korab), I was excited to capture it through my own lens. My challenge was to capture unique views that I haven’t seen before. Luckily the home has many wonderful views! Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, with interiors by Alexander Girard and wonderful gardens by Dan Kiley, the home is a exceptional showcase of mid-century masters.
For this photo essay I also had the opportunity to take a journey into the other places where Mr. Miller spent his days: his office (which hasn’t been photographed since a 1962 article in Progressive Architecture), the bank where he was chairman (it was the first glass-walled, open plan bank in the country) and his church (the last building built by architect Eero Saarinen). It was a very rewarding experience and I left with a greater appreciation of just how important good design is in our daily lives and how one person can have a dynamic influence on the built environment. — David Lauer
The Miller House.
I knew I wanted to find an exceptional twilight shot of the house. I got this view late in the day once weather had cleared. I really like how the linear lines of the house nestle into the organic landscape. I balanced the different light source colors and levels in Photoshop. A 45mm tilt-shift lens was used for a natural perspective.
The house nestled into the beautifully green landscape. The grid patterns of Dan Kiley’s wonderful landscape design are evident here.
This is the first view you see coming in the front door. I positioned the camera to get a simplified view and obtain three “slices” in the image. I shifted the 24mm lens left and right to obtain the wider view. The textile on the panel is a wonderfully delicate silk woven with metallic threads.
I angled the camera to create dynamic diagonal lines that move the viewer’s eye. I then balanced the image with substantial negative space. The front door and open floor give a nice space for the viewer to “walk” into. In the center is the fantastic cylindrical fireplace and the other side of the panel has a red Indian fabric.
The front entrance to the home. Here I am showing 3 areas of the home in a minimal way, with materials and structure as the focus. One of the wonderful skylights is also a key element of the photo.
The overcast day gave me wonderful lighting in the house. The outside views were not overly bright. (I still had to capture multiple exposures to get the level I wanted outside.) This view of the hanging tree branches outside is really beautiful, like a blanket wrapping up the house.
The famous conversation pit with view of the main living area. The camera is very low to the ground to give the perspective of sitting in the pit.
This is the master bedroom sitting area, usually shot straight on the fireplace wall to show all the interesting wall items. I found if I was far enough in a doorway I could get this view just over the sofa to invite the viewer to sit there. I left the interior a bit underexposed to really feel the natural light from outside.
The dining area is a beautiful piece of work by Alexander Girard. He designed the custom table, fantastic rug, gorgeous light fixture and hand-made seat cushions. At one time the table actually had a fountain in the middle controlled from a dial on the wall!
The kitchen area has such a wonderful calming feeling with all the blue-green colors. Again I found myself in a doorway to get a wide view of the space. All natural lighting here.
The living room wall unit is really spectacular. Running 50 feet along the living areas there are so many details it’s hard to take it all in. I took this shot clear across the other side of the room with a long 90mm lens to flatten the perspective. I gave enough foreground objects to give interest and define the space.
Here is the far end of the incredible 50 foot wall unit. This is a television viewing area with the TV concealed in the cabinet. I wanted to give the perspective of the viewer just behind the sofa as well as showing a significant part of the wall unit with a 17mm ultra-wide lens.
The color palette in the study / kids area is wonderfully playful. The wide image is two 45mm shifted frames combined. That little TV in its custom frame is so sweet. In the bottom image I gave just a hint of what’s outside, leaving it overexposed to keep the natural light feeling.
The fountain at the far end of the property. Vibrant red and white tulips give a fantastic contrast to the lush green areas. A long lens was used to compress the perspective. The sun was very low for the dramatic lighting, only minutes before sunset.
The Miller Office.
The subdued color scheme is much more conservative then Girard’s usual vibrant colors but appropriate for an office. The large image is the view at the top of the stairs leading into the main office area. I wanted to feature the amazing dividing wall here. All the ceilings have a honeycomb light screen from edge to edge. They emitted very even light and had great texture that balanced with the other patterned surfaces and beautiful wood panels.
Mr. Miller’s desk. The camera was setup just outside the room to catch the dividing wall framing the image and to give a detail of the wood. Both wood panels on the far wall open to reveal a bookshelf and small TV. I love that the light switches are integrated into his desk!
Irwin Union Bank and Trust.
The former Irwin Union Bank and Trust is now owned by Cummins corporation and used as offices and conference areas. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, Cummins is keeping the integrity of the building despite it’s new use. For the exterior I waited until late in the day to get the great low angled light. I positioned the camera low enough to show the uninterrupted line of the roof and reveal the forms of the pavilions. The bulges on the roof are from the dramatic interior ceiling lights.
The center staircase is a work of art unto itself. To capture the feeling of walking down the stairs and to sense the surrounding space (including the spectacular ceiling light) a 17mm lens was used just at the edge of the stairs. Again very careful centering of the camera was necessary.
A 90mm lens detail shot of the bank vault. It is very cool that it’s still in the basement and wasn’t removed during remodeling.
The structure on the left of image has small conference rooms inside and integrated filing cabinets outside. The long planter on the right balances the asymmetrical sides of image divided by the strong center post. 45mm lens.
George Nelson of Herman Miller designed these custom-built check writing stands. The teller stations lie just beyond. Very precise positioning of the camera was needed to get the post to be exactly center of frame (important for perspective to match on either side of post).
North Christian Church.
The steeple is so tall that it is difficult to shoot anywhere close to the church. I found this angle with a nice layering of trees from front to back. A 45mm lens was used to give a natural perspective. The late-afternoon backlighting on the clouds gives a nice dramatic sky and silhouettes the church.
The interior is just awe-inspiring. It is hard to capture the feeling in a photograph. It is more intimate than it looks. A 24mm lens was used on the top row of seating, angled to off-center the altar. The camera was also positioned to carefully put the cross in the negative space behind it.
With 20 years of experience supervising film visual effects in Los Angeles, David brings a wealth of knowledge and creative vision to his architectural photography. He relocated to Denver last summer after fulfilling the role of Co-Visual Effects Supervisor on the Academy Award Winning Life of Pi. David has enjoyed being closer to family as well as the great architecture, culture, fine food (and beer) that Denver has to offer.
David’s photography style is always natural, never forced. With his highly trained eye he is sensitive to the finest details of light, shadow and composition. Already with an impressive list of local clients including Gensler and Semple Brown Design, David is excited about growing his business in the Rocky Mountain Region.
To view his portfolio, visit davidlauerphotography.com.