Posts Tagged ‘ochava solstice’

Ochava Solstice as Print-on-Demand Book

March 18, 2013

About a year and a half ago I made a blurb book for my Ochava Solstice series. I recently made the book publicly available on Blurb’s website. The link is here. The softcover version is about $10 to purchase with a roughly equal amount for shipping.

Ochava Solstice, print-on-demand book from Blurb

Ochava Solstice, print-on-demand book from Blurb

I made a Blurb book for my series Ochava Solstice. I used Blurb’s option with cream-colored, uncoated paper and black and white printing. It has a very lo-fi quality, almost like a zine or a Xerox. The book’s quality seems to mimic the mimetic quality of the buildings themselves. I also like it because it doesn’t look like a typical Blurb book and is cheaper to boot!

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery

March 13, 2013

I was very happy this past January as I was able to exhibit my series Ochava Solstice at the Step Gallery, which is part of Arizona State’s School of Art. It was a real pleasure to have the chance to see the work installed and get reactions and thoughts from visitors. Here are a few pictures of the work installed in the gallery.

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

For the opening, I selected triangularly shaped foods.

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Ochava Solstice at Step Gallery at ASU

Visitor’s spontaneously created this negative triangle within the larger triangle of Hershey’s Kisses. No one wanted to wreck the “piece” and, amazingly, I was left with a lot of chocolate at the end. That never happens at openings!

Ochava Solstice – The Book

December 16, 2011

I made a little prototype of a book on Blurb of my Ochava Solstice project. It’s cool to put into physical form some of the ideas I’ve been having about the work. It makes a nice gift too.  After all, nobody doesn’t love a book.

The book itself is really basic. I chose the black & white, trade paper back option, which is the cheapest and roughest option available. The only luxury I splurged for was paying extra to remove Blurb’s logo.


The cover is all 49 images imposed on one another, Idris Kahn-style, but then inverted. The title’s typeface is Gil Sans, in homage to Richard Long. I’m not a designer so this probably won’t survive further iterations.

Ochava Solstice #1

The pages just show each corner from the series, in the same order as on my website, ordered by shadow height.

Ochava Solstice #9

Ochava Solstice #9, detail

On the page facing each image are two numbers; the time the photo was taken and a number in brackets. The bracketed number is meant to be a little cryptic. I’ve been thinking of this book as kind of like an archeological artifact with clues needing to be decoded.

Ochava Solstice #49

Careful observers will have noted that the first and last buildings in the series are the same but photographed on different dates.


The final page is an index of the building locations. The street names evoke Buenos Aires but only if you know the city already, since most of these buildings are in far-out neighborhoods [e.g. Romulo Naon, Hernandarias, Fraga, Aranguren, etc.]. Otherwise, the location of this body of work is, I think/hope, a bit mysterious.

I also didn’t include my name anywhere in the book. I wanted to add a bit of mystery as to what exactly this object is, again thinking of it as something archeological. I also imagine it as a sacred text of a secret society of sun worshiping apartment brokers—or something like that.

Since this is just a prototype, I haven’t made it public on Blurb or anything but if you want a copy, let me know and I’ll add you to my list the next time I order a batch.

Also my thanks to my friend Zeke, who kindly lent his services as hand-model for this shoot.

49 Ochava Solstices

November 2, 2011

I’ve recently updated my series, Ochava Solstice, to include a lot more corners. I took these pictures last summer [December] and this past winter [May – August]. For awhile now, I’ve wanted to have a large number of these “events.” I feel like it underscores obsessive quality and ultimate uselessness of this project plus it will look better when exhibited. I had been saying my goal was 50. I’m stopping at 49… I’ll explain…

But first, here’s a few new ones:

Ochava Solstice #9 - Concordia & Mariscal Francisco Solano Lopez

The majority of the photographs were shot in winter and so the trees usually don’t have any foliage. This corner, shot on December 3rd, was an exuberant exception.

Ochava Solstice #12 - Jufre & Acevedo

I had this building on my list for over a year before working up the courage to go photograph it. Located in Villa Crespo, the building was first abandoned mid-construction and then claimed by squatters who have finished the construction with rough, hollow brick. These types of buildings are known as Edificios Tomados or Ocupas, and there are a fair number scattered around the city. They are often perceived by their neighbors as centers of crime and drugs and usually there is a long history of the neighbors or the city trying to get the squatters evicted [Argentina has strong pro-squatter laws]. My fear was that I would be seen as an employee from the city, photographing the building, as part of some renewed effort to get the residents evicted. I was a little more hurried than usual but in the end nothing happened.

Ochava Solstice #19 - Lavalle & Billinghurst

This was one of the more challenging intersections because it’s such a busy area, near the Abasto shopping mall. There was a constant stream of cars and pedestrians. I took two photos; this one and one without the dog walker. I like this one better because it underscores the reality that I can only control the situation so much.

Speaking of situations I can’t control, the 2nd to last Ochava in the series is this one, which I’ve written about before.

Ochava Solstice #48 - Zapiola & Aviles

To summarize, a private security guard hired by the neighborhood didn’t want me taking pictures and so he stood in front of my camera. I waited until the moment when the shadow was in the middle, and took the picture anyway.

Also, in case you didn’t notice, the first and last ochavas are the same building, but shot on different days.

Ochava Solstice #1 - Caracas & Paez II

Ochava Solstice #49 - Caracas & Paez I

The height of the sun and hence the height of the shadow varies across the seasons. I wanted to include the same building twice but photographed on different dates to get across a sense of changing seasons. I then decided to order the shadows by their height and it just so happened that the first and last ochavas were the same building.

So why 49 buildings?

It’s got to end somewhere and it’s always a bit arbitrary as to when and why. Stopping at a square number [49] instead of a round one [50] seems as good a reason as any. This work is kind of about simple, universal shapes; the circle of the sun and its arc across the sky, the triangle, the most basic of shapes and symbol of human shelter. So why not a square?

Fifty is a round number only in a base-ten numerical system. A square number, on the other hand, is square no matter how its expressed. It’s a reflection of a physical shape in the real world and not a fluke of the particulars of Arabic numerals. I’d like to think this work has a mystical or archeological quality. I often relate it to the Aztec sundial or the Mayan pyramid of Chichen-Itza which shows a shadow in the form of a serpent on the spring equinox. Mystical is maybe the wrong word since I don’t believe in god or religion. It’s really about a fascination with the physical world and the order of the solar system. I’m not in the jungles of the Yucatan. These are ugly, boring buildings in quiet neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and yet, that quality, whatever you call it, is still there, if one is willing to stop and see it.

A little bit about my process for Ochava Solstice

August 8, 2011

On sunny days, I’ve been busy working on my project Ochava Solstice. I thought I’d write a little bit about how I’ve been going about it recently. Here’s a picture of me shortly before taking a picture for the series.

Me about to shoot an Ochava

The building in question is on the north-facing corner of Marcos Paz and Asunción in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Devoto. Here’s a gratuitous close-up of the image on the ground glass. Since I’m standing in the shade and the building is in the sun, I don’t need to use a darkcloth.

Image on the ground glass of the building with the ochava shadow

For all the camera geeks out there, I’m shooting this series on a Busch Pressman Model D. It’s a press camera from the 1950s similar to a Speed Graphic. The main difference is that the back rotates, letting me shoot vertically, which I do a lot. I’m using a 210mm lens which is slightly telephoto for the 4×5 format.

I had already scouted out this building online. When I first started this project I’d look for these buildings on foot. At first these triangular shadows were just something I noticed in my walks around the city and I’d snap them with my digital camera. Once I got serious about the project, I returned to those same buildings with my 4×5 and a tripod, and waited for the moment when the shadow is exactly in the middle.

The buildings in the series are functional apartment buildings from the 1960s that just happen to cast a triangular shadow. It’s not intentional. It’s the result of a law requiring corner buildings to have a diagonal cut on the ground floor [known as the “ochava”] combined with real estate developers’ desire to maximize square footage [or meterage, I suppose].

Apartment buildings from this era are everywhere in Buenos Aires but ones suitable for my project can be hard to find. They have to face the sun and not be in another building’s shadow. There’s almost always a kiosko on the ground floor or something else “wrong” with the building. In finding the ones I’ve taken so far, I’ve scoured a number of neighborhoods, on foot, in great detail. Recently, in the name of efficiency, I’ve taken to using the Mapa Interactivo run by the city government. It’s less efficient than Google Street View [which doesn’t exist here yet], but still faster than walking around. In the map, you zoom in on a block, click on a plot of land, and it shows you a photo from several years ago. Here’s the photo of this particular building I found on the site.

Marcos Paz & Asuncion

As I’m navigating the site, I confine my search to neighborhoods where I think I’m likely to find buildings like the one above [not too urban, not too suburban]. I only click on the street corners that face north, towards the sun [remember we’re in the southern hemisphere]. To keep track of my progress, I’ve been marking up a map with little dots:

Map I'm using to check off street corners (the black dots)

Of all those little dots on the map above only two were buildings suitable for my project. It’s a bit like panning for gold.

Meanwhile in my apartment I’ve taped up the contact prints of Ochavas I’ve already shot in order to track my progress. Here are the ones I did last year:

2010 Ochavas

And here are the Ochavas I’ve done so far in 2011

2011 Ochavas (so far)

My goal is to reach 50. It’s a bit arbitrary but I want to show a large number of these shadows and 50 seems like a good number. I’ve got around 40 so far. There are a number of good buildings I’ve already scouted out but I need to wait a few months for the sun to get higher in the sky.

Buenos Aires is totally flat and built on a grid, although it’s actually several different grids. The grids don’t all face the same way. The time of a particular corner’s “solstice” is determined by its cardinal orientation. The height of the shadow is determined by the time of year, with summer casting longer shadows. [Curious tidbit: maps in Buenos Aires don’t all face north. There’s at least three different orientations commonly used when depicting the city.]

Most of the street corners in my project so far are north-facing corners taken in winter [June & July]. A few are east or west-facing corners taken in the summer morning or afternoon, respectively. The arc of the sun is much higher in summer so the window of time when the sun is at the right position to cast an appropriately sized shadow is shorter. I drew this diagram below to explain this to a friend, although I’m not sure it makes the concept any clearer.

Porteño Calendar

I’ve previously compared these triangular shadows to the serpent-like shadow that appears on Chichen Itza at the equinox. It seems that I’ve now drawn up a sort of Aztec-like calendar for Buenos Aires. There are no geographical references in Buenos Aires. The river is distant and cut-off from the main part of the city and there are no mountains to provide a reference point. Walking around the grid of the city can sometimes feel like being lost in a kind of labyrinth. If I’m beginning to lose that sense of being lost it’s only because I’ve now memorized good chunks of that grid, recreating it mentally in my head to orient myself. These street corner photographs are like totems of my wonderings around Buenos Aires.

I’m now scouring [online] the very edges of the city, places I’ve yet to reach during my 3+ years of walking around the city. Obviously I only shoot this series on sunny days. If it’s cloudy I work on other stuff. Partially cloudy days are a real source of frustration because I never know if I should risk spending an 90 minutes on a bus to reach the neighborhood only to have a cloud erase the shadow at the critical time. There’s only about a two minute window when the triangle appears visually to be in the middle.

For this building the day was in fact partially cloudy but they were very low and moving fast in the stiff wind. Arriving at the corner early I sat in the sun as the day was very cold. I shot this video below which shows the shadow disappearing as a quick cloud passes by:

I was fortunate that day in that by the time the shadow reached its midpoint the clouds had departed. Here’s a snapshot of the contact sheet I just got back from the lab. One more corner to cross off the list.

Contact sheet of Marcos Paz & Asuncion Ochava

I’ve also written more about this project in these two blog posts; Ochava Solstice and Ochava Solstice – Things that Go Wrong.

Other Kinds of Ochavas

August 2, 2011

Allende 3786

Lastra 3692

Quevedo 3392

Quintana 4694

Vallejos 4516

Virgilio 2788

To get a little more efficient in my search of buildings for my Ochava Solstice series, I’ve been using the Mapa Interactivo de Buenos Aires. The site, run by the city government, is a sort of a poor-man’s Google Street View [GSV hasn’t reached Argentina yet]. You have to zoom in on the parcel of land in question and click on it to access the picture.

There’s something about street corners in Buenos Aires and it has to do with the Ochava. The word Ochava refers to the diagonal cut on the corner that all buildings, by law, must have. While these street corners won’t work for my Ochava Solstice series, they’ve all got something and I’d like to take their portrait, so to speak. I’m taking notes and may be returning to these corners for more pictures.

Meanwhile I continue scouring the map for more triangular shadows. Sometimes the photographers from the city unwittingly do my work for me:

Jufre & Acevedo

All Ochava Solstices

March 8, 2011

All Ochava Solstices, overlaid in Photoshop

British artist Idris Khan took the typological photos of Bernd & Hilla Becher and overlaid them on top of eachother, digitally. The other morning I was bored and decided to do the same treatment to my series, Ochava Soltice, as it’s a typology very much in the spirit of the Becher’s. The result is the photo above. My Photoshop skills are pathetic so I was surprised at how trivially easy this was to do.

On my website I have 15 Ochava Solstices. Since putting the work on my website I’ve been able to take about 10 more. I’m planning on returning to Buenos Aires in a few months to continue working on the project. My goal is 50. It’s an arbitrary number but I now have an idea about how I would like to eventually exhibit this work and, more is better.

Ochava Solstice – Things that go wrong

November 19, 2010

I tell people that when I’m photographing an Ochava Solstice, if everything goes right, I’ll take just a single photo all day. On a couple of occasions I have been able to photograph two buildings because they were oriented slightly differently towards then sun, allowing me some time to travel to the second building. Those are very luck days. Often, things go wrong.

You only get the shadow in bright sun so I don’t go out if it’s cloudy. Several times it’s gotten cloudy in the hour or so it takes me to travel to these spots. These days I check satellite weather images prior to leaving, just to see if some giant storm is about to rage up out of the Pampas [or even some lazy clouds that will totally ruin my shot].

Another factor I have no control over is cars that sometimes park illegally on the corners. For aesthetic reasons I’ve wanted all my ochava shots to be car free. Spending an hour on a bus only to find a car or truck parked on my corner is a bummer. A couple of times  people have parked while I was setting up my shot, like the guy in the photo below.

Ochava Solstice with illegally parked car

I asked him if he could move his car. He said he’d be gone in just five minutes. I tried to explain that I’m a conceptual artist dealing with the sculptural qualities of light and architecture and if he didn’t move his car he’d ruin my shot. He seemed confused and insisted he just be a short while. The five minutes turned out to be more like 15 and, well, you can see the result above.

Security guard obstructing my view of an Ochava Solstice

Surprisingly I don’t get harassed that much while I’m out photographing. People will yell at me occasionally but laziness trumps paranoia and most people just can’t be bothered. This particular corner had one of those little security boxes right there on the intersection. The guard came over explained that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of houses or buildings, which, being a public street is total BS. If I had been photographing my Chalet series, which I shoot hand-held with a medium format camera, I’d have already taken the picture by the time he told me to stop. Unfortunately this project has me using a 4×5 inch camera on a tripod with very precise framing. The guard simply stood in front of the camera, blocking the view. We stood there on the corner for about 15 minutes in our absurd stand-off. People walking by made jokes. I was hoping that something would happen that would cause the guard to leave the frame before the minute of the solstice. It didn’t. I took the photo anyway.

The picture does look kind of cool, though, doesn’t it?

Lately my big problem has been my own inability to accurately forecast the time of the solstice. On three separate occasions in the last couple of weeks I’ve arrived after the magic moment, with no one to blame but myself.

Post-solstice ochava shadow

Fortunately the building isn’t going anywhere. I just have to come back on another sunny day. And hope there’s nobody parked on the corner.

Ochava Solstice

September 1, 2010

Another series I have been working on of late is called Ochava Solstice. It’s a series  of 1960s era apartment buildings which cast triangular shadows.

Boyacá & Alejandro Cervantes

In Buenos Aires buildings on street corners have this beveled edge. The idea is to improve visibility at intersections for automobiles. The law dates back to the early part of the 20th century when cars [and collisions] were becoming increasingly common. The diagonal is known as an ochava because seen from above the four corners of the intersection appear to form an octagon.

Older buildings usually found a way to incorporate the diagonal into their design. During the 1960s, however, a new aesthetic emerged that was driven by an economic imperative to maximize the square footage allowed under zoning laws. The ochava requirement only applies to the ground floor so all the higher floors would come to a point, creating this triangular shadow which tracks the sun.

Felipe Vallese & Morelos

In this series I have gone to specific street corners which have these triangular shadows, set-up my 4×5 camera on a tripod and waited for the shadow to fall exactly in the middle. For almost two years I have been noting these street corners during my walks around Buenos Aires. The city is filled with these sorts of smallish, concrete apartment towers from the 1960s [indeed, I used to live in one], but very few have shadows like the ones in these photos. First of all, the building has to face north, towards the sun [remember, we’re in the southern hemisphere down here]. There can’t be another tall building kitty-corner because that will block the sun. It needs to be on a residential street. Avenues are too wide and buildings on busier commercial streets usually have businesses on the ground floor.

Google Street View hasn’t made it to Argentina yet so I have to scout out these buildings on foot. I tend to find them in mixed density neighborhoods like Colegiales, Saavedra, Caballito and Flores. The exact time of the “solstice” varies according to the orientation of the building. Buenos Aires’ street grid is a little messy. Since I’m not sure of the exact time I try to arrive an hour or so early. I spend this time walking around the neighborhood, often discovering additional buildings with the same shadow. Like groves of giant sequoias that depend upon precise soil, light and weather conditions, these buildings tend to cluster. In fact, more than half in the series I discovered this way.

Obviously these shadows only occur on sunny days. If it’s even partially cloudy I won’t bother going out since most of these buildings are a good hour bus ride away from where I live. Sometimes it gets cloudy during the journey. I always fear of cars that park illegally on the corner right when I need to take the photo [it’s happened].

Speaking of fear, crime is a huge concern these days in Buenos Aires. Every day there are stories  of brazen, daylight assaults, many in the neighborhoods where I’m photographing. I have been fortunate to have never been assaulted here [knock on wood], but the thought is constantly on my mind and I take steps to try to minimize my losses should something happen. For instance, I photograph with an old Busch Pressman I picked up on ebay for less than $200. I don’t even bring my light meter. It’s always sunny sixteen for this project. The camera mostly invites curiosity. People have asked me if its a Leica [or a Hasselblad]. Recently a building super asked what news channel I was from, thinking I’d set-up a video camera.

Quesada & Montañeses

I guess there is the question of why I am even bothering with this series at all. I will admit that part of it had to do with a desire to have something to photograph on sunny days as my other projects I tend to shoot when its cloudy. A friend of mine looked at these photos and said they reminded him of Mayan pyramids and their astronomical calculations related to the sun. Of course, this isn’t the Yucatan but Caballito. I suppose for someone from North America or Europe both are equally exotic. Still, I think there’s something about these moments, these everyday solstices that occur all around us. In this series I’m trying to extract a little bit of that mysticism from the everyday surroundings of Buenos Aires urban life.

And then there are the apartment buildings themselves. People talk about Buenos Aires being the Paris of South America. I’ve always felt this comparison is absurd. Whatever architectural affinity between the two cities was destroyed by precisely the 1960s-era buildings that I’m depicting in this project. People today lament the new towers going up and how the character of the city is changing but, really, it was all “over” by 1970. On the other hand, I have a great affection for these cramped, shitty apartment buildings that blanket the city.  For me there is a certain romance of the accessibility of a cheap efficiency apartment located in a dense city. This project is, in part, an homage to these drab, functional buildings which allow for a rich urban life.

As if to underscore this point, and purely by coincidence, the first building I photographed in this series sits on the corner of Zapiola and Olaguer and his home to the photographer Vivi Abelson, who I’ve previously featured on this blog. Her series Olaguer 3006 shows the residents of the building pictured below inside their kitchens. It’s a portrait of Buenos Aires urban, middle class life. As she said to me in an email, I think we’ve squeezed all the juice out we can out of this building.

Olaguer & Zapiola

Ochava Shadows – Preview

July 20, 2010

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted any personal work here. Part of the problem is that I don’t have a scanner and they’re hard to get here in Argentina. I’ve been working on a lot of new stuff since returning from California in March. Right now I’m busy preparing a portfolio of images for Festival de la Luz, a sort-of porteño version of FotoFest. Below are some images from a new series that I plan on showing.

Olaguer & Zapiola

Vidt & Mansilla

Maure & Fraga

It’s sort of the Bechers & James Turrell on a cruise to South America.