Interview with Aubrey Nagle of the PhillyVoice

Five for Friday: Photographer John Dowell

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Artist John Dowell takes photography to new heights — literally. The Philly native has created splendid images for four decades and his works have been featured in exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Museum of Art, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France.

Dowell’s latest exhibit is a compendium of images he’s made of Rittenhouse Square, the city gathering place with a long and storied history, from high above. His lens gives a bird’s eye view of the park, revealing more than just the games of catch and tranquil conversations happening below. The exhibit, “Rittenhouse Square: A View Aloft,” is on display at Griesing Law, LLC until Aug. 31.

Before the show’s private artists’ reception April 28, we caught up with Dowell to chat about where he’s aiming his lens next.

What is it about Rittenhouse Square that fascinates you as a subject?

I have spent years exploring techniques that capture depth- of-space. In Rittenhouse Square, observing from above and through the seasons gave me entirely different perspectives to reveal.

The park is a meeting place for people to engage in conversation on a bench, hang out on the grass for a picnic, kids to play, dogs to fetch, simply just walk through for a break from the hustle and bustle, or to enjoy a nearby café. From above trees in full bloom created a canopy to frame the interactions below. The changing of the seasons left the trees bare revealing more details of human interactions and interesting shapes created by grassy areas in contrast to cement walkways and statues. Natural light created glittering windows and translucent shadows.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve seen through your lens, looking at Rittenhouse?

Discovering the extraordinary images of reflections in antique glass of the buildings in the square. When the light reflects on the windows of surrounding buildings you can see unusual images that create textural abstractions. Photographing through the layers of tree branches captures the light and enhances depth-of-space.

Much of your photography work places you very high up, with almost a bird’s eye view. What do you like about that point of view, artistically?

The audience normally experiences the world at ground level. Some are fortunate to have access to elevated apartments or offices. I see the natural light creating a dramatic view at dusk, when the level of both interior and exterior illuminations are equal.

Is there another spot in Philadelphia – or in the world – that you’d like to focus a similar project on in the future? If so, where and why?

Based on accessibility, there are some areas of Philadelphia I would love to explore. If anyone reading has an interesting view from an elevated location I would be open to taking a look.

What new projects are you currently working on?

I will be photographing from Griesing Law offices located on the 36th floor of 1717 Arch Street. Through the floor to ceiling, windows there are clear views north and east in the city.

Influenced by my project in Rittenhouse Square, I am now shooting in Manhattan specifically in Midtown and Harlem. Extraordinary views and visual stories of human interaction is what I want to capture. I’m also working on a series in Georgia and Virginia about cotton growing from individual plants into sprawling fields in bloom.

“Rittenhouse Square: A View Aloft” is open now through August 31, Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Griesing Law, 1717 Arch Street, Suite 3630. Anyone can attend for free by appointment by contacting Griesing Law at