When he spoke at the Cathedral’s tenth-anniversary commemoration of the 9/11 attacks, President Barack Obama used the word “resilience” to describe what he considered one of the nation’s best qualities when facing hardship. The word was especially appropriate to the Cathedral, too, which only weeks earlier had undergone extensive damage from a magnitude 5.8 earthquake.
Photographer Colin Winterbottom, well known to the Washington metropolitan area for images that pay equal attention to glorious monuments and crumbling infrastructure—“both the grand and the gritty”—was brought in to help a team of structural engineers document the estimated $20 million in earthquake damage to the Cathedral. A subsequent collaboration with the Cathedral has now resulted in a collection of stunning prints that showcase the building’s “bruised beauty” as restoration begins.
“Gothic Resilience,” the exhibit that opened at Long View Gallery in downtown Washington, D.C., on January 10, is an initial record of Winterbottom’s careful survey of the Cathedral’s stone, wood, and glass and its open, soaring spaces. The classically styled photographs richly locate the Cathedral as both a viewpoint over a complex urban landscape and an integral part of that landscape: an iconic piece of the country’s architectural heritage that resonates with people of varied faiths and speaks to the city as a whole.
“My photographs are often about the impact monumental architecture has on its visitors,” Winterbottom noted, adding that coming to the Cathedral following an earthquake was artistically demanding. “I didn’t want the series simply to say, ‘Oh, look how tragic this is,’” by focusing on the earthquake’s enormous destructive power alone, he explained. “A few months into the project now, I think I’ve struck that balance well.” The viewers who packed Long View Gallery for an opening hailed by the Washington Post as a must-see event certainly agreed.
A companion exhibition and other events celebrating Winterbottom’s recent work opened at the Cathedral this spring. Visit the website to view images and to learn more.