Just like all photographers, I got a couple of locations I return to regularly. Not necessarily often, but regularly. One of those locations for me happens to be one of the Ruhr Valley landmarks, the so-called Tetrahedron. Over the years, I have photographed there five times. I took the occasion of another visit there to review the photographs I have taken there before. Surprisingly, some of the earliest ones are quite good. It must have been beginner’s luck.
The Tetrahedron is a walk-on viewing terrace in the form of a three-sided pyramid on a slag heap in Bottrop, Germany, approx. 120 m above sea level. The slag heap has a prominence of approximately 90m to the surrounding level. Like other slag heaps in the Ruhr Valley, the Tetrahedron is part of the Industrial Heritage Trail.
The first visit the Tetrahedron in 2009
I first went there as a bloody beginner. I had a rough idea of which button on my Nikon D80 I had to push to take a picture. I knew that focal length is measured in millimeters and had something to do with zooming in and out. I didn’t know anything about ISO or aperture and which effect they had on a photograph. The exposure triangle? Histogram? Nil return. I had no clue about the basics of image composition, either. Rule of thirds? No chance. Not in my wildest dreams would I consider different aspect ratios like 5:4 or 1:1. I was happy when I remembered trying portrait instead of landscape orientation in the field. And when I did, it often was not the best decision.
On this day, in March 2009, I hadn’t been on a proper photoshoot. It was more of a family walk with my almost one-year-old kids in their buggies. I had the camera with me to take a picture of them, and not of the Tetrahedron.
Surprisingly, though, in hindsight, it appears that I came up with some unexpectedly interesting compositions. With my distinct lack of knowledge, it must have been intuitive decisions that I made – another reason why the outcome is so surprising. Unsurprisingly, however, that I didn’t immediately realize what I had. Only years later, I saw them for what they are – interestingly composed photographs of an even more interesting subject matter.
More of the same
As I said, I went there a couple of times, often with some photo buddies that I watched doing their craft, learning in the process. I went there at dusk once or on a cloudy day, trying long exposures. Some of the images I took on those occasions turned out beautiful.
In 2017, however, I decided that I had enough and that I had done everything there I could possibly do with the equipment I owned. I would only return there with a true wide-angle lens – just like the one I purchased last month.
A new lens is like a new set of eyes.
A couple of days ago, with my new lens in my pack, I set out to climb that slag heap and revisit the Tetrahedron. Not only the long time since my last visit but also the new wide-angle perspective helped me see it with fresh eyes. I arrived at the top of the heap relatively early at 6:40 AM. Even though the sun had already risen, I felt that it was just the right time. The beautiful morning colors were gone for the most part, and some other photographer who had been there earlier was already packing in and preparing to leave. For me, as a black&white photographer, however, the colors are not that important. The sun was high enough to render the Tetrahedron as a silhouette and cast interesting shadows at the same time. Shapes, lines, and textures – that’s what I am looking for. I find that colors are overrated.
Soon enough, however, I switched gears and went to longer focal lengths, too. Now, my focus was on finding distinct geometrical forms and arrangements, often (but not always) dominated by symmetry. Hardly surprising, but the most common shape in a structure like the Tetrahedron was the triangle.
At one point, I remembered one of those strong compositions I had found at one of my first visits to this place and tried to recreate with my new system. It was surprisingly tricky to get right. Of course, I also tried some variations like square format compositions.
All in all, I found revisiting this special location after two years refreshing and inspiring. I might go back there soon, but this time at sunset, to see what I can see.