This post is a short story about how photographing abstract architecture helped me discover that mathematics can (quite unexpectedly) lead to beauty and grace.
Mathematics and me
I was never very good at math. Beyond basic arithmetic and fractions, mathematics and I never became friends. Yet it was not primarily an intellectual problem. With a lot of work and reluctance, I was able to survive math classes at school to some (small) extent. But mathematics always failed to answer the question of meaning for me positively. Abstracting things into numbers, variables, and formulas and solving problems that way was always foreign to me. To try, I always had to overcome a massive inner reluctance.
Later I learned that my brain is calibrated to language. Explaining things linguistically, describing them, analyzing them, evaluating them – all this was always a natural process for me that needed no legitimation. So it’s probably no wonder that I ended up with historical studies. And so it’s perhaps no wonder also why, when I visited the Science Museum in London with my family, I couldn’t muster any particular interest in the exhibits in the Winton Gallery, which is the section dealing with mathematics and its importance to our lives. Instead, I looked bored in every other direction but at the display cases – and discovered a fascinating ceiling design. Curves, lines, tunnels, light – a feast for photographers.
Shooting abstract architecture at the Winton Gallery
Admittedly, the conditions were anything but ideal. The exhibition area was crowded with people and exhibits. All in all, the place is rather dark, and using a tripod would have been out of the question even if it had not been prohibited anyway. Besides, it was clear that I would not have infinite time to explore the space and discover interesting compositions in it. In short: I had to work like a snapshot photographer, but I wanted to take fine-art photos of abstract interior architecture – anything but good omens. The fact that I tried anyway is not only due to my stubbornness but also to the unpleasantness of the alternatives: I would have had to deal with the exhibition and thus the meaningfulness of mathematics in everyday life.
Mathematics can be beautiful
Detached from my personal demon of mathematics, I indulged in photographic creativity, searching for lines, curves, shapes, shades of light, and the possibility of combining them in the most appealing compositions possible. The result of this quest can be seen in the 11 photographs presented here. It is not without a certain irony, however, that the architect of this room, the famous Zaha Hadid, attempted to visualize the application of mathematics in her ceiling design. Taking her cue from the central exhibit in this section, an airplane built in 1929, she wanted to illustrate the concept of aerodynamics and the air currents associated with it. For all my dislike of mathematics, even I have to admit that she has succeeded in wringing something beautiful out of mathematics.
Whether I succeeded in capturing this beauty in my photos, I leave it to the judgment of the viewer.