ART: Reuben Margolin's Pentagonal Wave

“Want to see something cool?” I wasn’t sure how to answer this question coming from two random guys approaching a friend and I at a bar on the Venice Beach boardwalk. However, after a long weekend celebrating the marriage of a former college roommate in Las Vegas, I wasn’t exactly in a state of mind to protest either.

One of them had a Canon 5D MarkII slung over his shoulder so I was expecting to view some eclectic shots of the street artists or other eccentric personalities that flocked to the area on a daily basis. Perhaps they’d show us a beautiful montage of the sun setting over the ocean.

Instead, reflecting back at me from the viewfinder was a dull, flat, one-dimensional photo of a denim skirt with the slightest hint of a girl’s buttocks hanging out. “Wait, wait, I took that shot. He (pointing to the friend with the camera) is a real photographer so he instinctively dropped to the ground and laid flat on his stomach to get the right angle.” They high-fived each other and the photographer in question echoed “down and dirty.”

I don’t think I really need to elaborate on what came next but I was definitely incensed by the blatant disrespect given to an unassuming woman I didn’t even know. Smiling politely, my friend and I excused ourselves, carried on with our day, and forgot about the incident.

Three weeks later, I found myself at Maker Faire with my camera in tow along with a 50mm, f/1.8 lens. Much to the bemusement of my boyfriend at the time, I was eagerly shooting almost everything I encountered at the DIY exhibition. While making my way through the main auditorium, I spotted Reuben Margolin’s infamous Pentagonal Wave hanging from the ceiling.

I immediately took a shot standing off to the side with the other lens I was carrying with me, a Nikkor 70-200mm, f/2.8, but was dissatisfied with how empty and hollow an otherwise magnificent structure looked through my own eyes. Standing directly underneath it and shooting upwards had an even worse effect. Because I didn’t have a wide-angle lens on me, I couldn’t get a clear shot of more than a few of the most prominent features of the piece – the aluminum barrels (actually, astonishingly, constructed from cardboard rolls).

At that very moment, I had the most unexpected recurrence I could’ve ever imagined; if I wanted to effectively capture the true essence of this installation in all of its grandiose glory, plus accentuate its most prominent features that were hovering a mere few inches over my head, I’d have to get “down and dirty.”

Of all the books and blogs posts I’ve ever read about doing anything possible to position yourself and get that perfect shot, those two guys at the bar in Venice Beach a few weeks back are exactly what I recalled in that very moment. So I laid down on my back, on a dirty auditorium floor traipsed on by thousands of attendees throughout the day, opened up the aperture on my 50mm lens to about 2.4, decreased the ISO from 800 to 400 in hopes of minimizing the glare from the fluorescent ceiling light looming above, increased the shutter speed to about 160, and fired away for about a minute before my neck started cramping from the strain.

What I love most about this shot is that it focuses clearly on a few dozen barrels (there are 288 strings keeping just as many afloat). Half of the wooden pentagon structure at the top fits perfectly in the frame and allows a viewer to fill in the rest of the details with their own imagination.

The beauty of evolving as a photographer is that it forces you to do unconventional things to tell your story. Sometimes it means positioning yourself in a way that makes you uncomfortable but allows you to capture a perspective that others miss. Even with an iPhone, I find myself lying sideways on the ground so I can get a shot like this one.

Never be afraid to get “down and dirty” when taking pictures. Others might not understand why you’re doing it but what you’ll have is the possibility of a distinct advantage that makes all the difference between a good photo and a great one.