It seems like everywhere you turn or face in Washington, D.C., there is a monument or memorial. Of course, it is no accident; the city was designed that way. The original part of the city now known as the National Mall was based on a 1791 plan for a “grand avenue” designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. His plan was supplemented by landscape architect Andrew Francis Downing in the early 1850s. Then, in 1901, the McMillan Commission, inspired by L’Enfant’s plan, finalized the vision of what is the National Mall today. Standing on the western side of the mall, where the Lincoln Memorial stands, you can look east, lining up the reflection pool, the Washington Monument and the Capitol building.
Several monuments and memorials have risen to join the main features of the mall in the last thirty years. In 1982, the Vietnam Memorial was installed on the northwest side of the mall near the Lincoln Memorial. Standing south of the reflecting pool, the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial was dedicated in 1995. Both the Vietnam and Korean War memorials are easy to miss, nestled in the grand trees that surround the reflection pool area. In contrast, the World War II memorial stands out in the open on the far east side of the reflecting pool, with lit columns and brightly-lit fountains making it stand out as a new, dominant feature on the Mall. It was dedicated in 2004.
I had a grand vision for a morning photo, looking east from the Lincoln Memorial, with the colors of dawn and the Washington Monument reflecting in the reflecting pool. When I arrived at 5:30 in the morning, about a half hour before sunrise, I realized instantly that my vision would not come to pass. There was no reflection pool. That vision of Jenny running into the water during a Vietnam War protest, yelling “Forrest! Forrest!” would not have happened if they were shooting “Forrest Gump” now. They would have had to rewrite the scene. The pool has been emptied in order to conduct repairs and renovations to the foundation.
So, I turned my attention toward Abraham Lincoln. I managed to capture a few images before people started to arrive; about eight or so photographers, working their way around the memorial, doing various hand-held captures at the memorial. I thought perhaps they were all part of a local camera club. It turned out they were all taking part in a National Geographic photography workshop. What? A National Geographic workshop and nobody – not a single one of the participants – is using a tripod. I cannot think I have ever attended a photography workshop where there was anyone in the group not using a tripod. Tripod use is a cardinal rule in photography, especially shooting in low-light conditions. Sure, you can crank up the ISO and open up the aperture to do hand-held photography, but you dramatically increase the noise in the image and lose the depth of field that is crucial for architectural photography. But, hey, it was not my workshop.