Ramblings has a new companion site

Posted by Chris Wray on Jul 25, 2012 in commentary


My blog, Wray’s Ramblings, has a newly launched companion site: Christopher J. Wray Photography. The new site and associated blog feature all-photography oriented content. All prior photography posts found on Ramblings will migrate over to The Ramblings site will continue to feature art, commentary and essays. Check out my latest blog post. Thanks for your continued support!

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Derechos, Twitter and the human condition

Posted by Chris Wray on Jul 14, 2011 in essays

Georgia Power Line Trucks

Today’s post is an essay about the events of this past week that have given me pause for reflection. Many thanks to Marla (@bluemarla) for permission to publish her photo.

Last week, I learned a new word: haboob—a violent, summer sandstorm—thanks to the powerful images of Phoenix photographer Mike Olbinski. This week, I learned another meteorological term: derecho. The northern Chicago suburbs were hit hard on Monday by a violent derecho: an intense, widespread, fast-moving windstorm that produces damaging straight-line winds. Monday’s event caught my full attention. My wife and children were staying in Chicago’s northern suburbs when the storm hit.

Thankfully, my family is safe. But in the storm’s wake, my wife and kids had to endure 76 hours without electricity, detour around downed power lines and trees, and cope with long lines at the gas station, reminiscent of the ‘70s oil embargo (those of you old enough to remember :)).

As the week’s events unfolded, my emotions ran the gamut: concern, frustration, anger, and powerless—yet I didn’t feel disconnected. Despite their power loss, my family and I sporadically talked via cell phone. I began to feel empowered, while sitting in front of my Mac pulling up current weather conditions, road closures, and latest bulletins from the local municipal websites. I created a sort of in-home command center that enabled me to feed important updates to my wife.

To my surprise, Twitter became indispensable. I became glued to it, following Commonwealth Edison (@ComEd), Illinois’ largest electric utility. At this very moment, ComEd continues to feed news to customers 24/7 during this unprecedented state of emergency. A real-time tool, serving thousands in ways that a call center or website couldn’t possible keep pace—yet alone allow you to connect, if you don’t have power. Any battery-powered portable smart device serves up Twitter.

Granted, this media has limitations: specific questions I asked weren’t addressed; some answers were highly scripted and impersonal. Yet the exchanges between ComEd and Twitter followers were largely supportive and civilized. More importantly, Twitter took on a living, breathing presence. Followers, whose power was restored, would hash tag: #ComEdRestored. By searching this tag, customers—even ComEd—could form an accurate, real-time picture of towns whose power had been restored. Now that’s pretty amazing!

A retweet by ComEd (Twitter parlance: to forward a previously sent Twitter message) caught my eye late Thursday morning. It read,

A smile came to my face. The socially constructed mosaic of the week’s information was finally coming together. Twitter messages confirmed power was being restored near my family’s location. A convoy of reinforcements, captured and tweeted by photographer Marla W. (@bluemarla), was advancing in my family’s direction. I was optimistic; help appeared to be on the way. Within a couple of hours, the call came. It was my wife’s cheerful voice, “We have power!”

So what have I learned? Social media can be a powerful communication vehicle. It doesn’t require specialized knowledge or training. It is decentralized and not beholden to one authoritative voice. It’s remarkably helpful, particularly during times of crisis. It’s predicated on social interaction that’s accessible, immediate, and relevant.

But it can’t replace the voice of my kids, “We love you daddy and miss you.” Now that’s priceless.


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Hong Kong: fashion walk, urban grunge

Posted by Chris Wray on Mar 8, 2011 in architecture and urban spaces, commentary

The first thing that strikes you about Hong Kong is a city of stark contrasts. Gleaming skyscrapers adjacent to squalid tenements; Maserati’s weaving around ramshackle bicycles; the super-rich living along side poverty-stricken residents. Hong Kong’s income gap is the most pronounced in all of Asia, with the middle class only making up about 7% of the population. Sights like the one below are quite common. This mid-rise building complex consists of government subsidized apartments directly above trendy clothing shops replete in shiny chrome, glass and marble walls. It was an odd sensation to experience the Madison Avenue feel when strolling along Hong Kong’s Fashion Walk, while at the same time you see the crumbling, urban decay of the apartments above. Despite this dichotomy, Hong Kong is a remarkably harmonious place and I found the people to be friendly and outgoing. Stay tuned for more of my travel photo diary. Next stop: the famous Victoria Peak and harbor skyline.

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St. Mang Basilica | Füssen, Bavaria

Posted by Chris Wray on Dec 29, 2010 in architecture and urban spaces

During my recent excursion to see the Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles in southern Bavaria, I made an unexpected visit to the Benedictine cloister of St. Mang and its adjacent Basilica. Mangus of Füssen (aka Saint Mang) was the venerated saint of Füssen and the founder of the abbey in 9th century AD. The complex was rebuilt between 1696 and 1726 in the Baroque style. The irregular medieval architecture was transformed into a massive Baroque church, based on Venetian models.

The exterior of the church is rather austere, owing to its medieval roots, but just a few steps inside the church, and you’ll be awed by the size and opulence of the Baroque interior. Hoping to grab some photos of the sanctuary, I soon realized a hand-held shot was too shaky to capture the grandeur as an HDR photo composite. Surreptitiously, I set up my tripod and camera on an elevated level separating the church organ from the nave and another shot capturing the high altar from the transept. The lighting was very dim, so I prepared a long exposure (up to 20s!) on the +2EV setting with a low ISO setting to ensure minimal noise. I have since explored hand-held interior shots using very fast ISO (3200) and was pleasantly surprised with the clarity.

Enjoy the photo results below. For larger photos, more photography notes, and other church photos from around the world, please visit my Flickr page.



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Bavarian grandeur

Posted by Chris Wray on Nov 21, 2010 in architecture and urban spaces, photography

The Bavarian village of Füssen is full of charm and rich history. Following a week-long business trip in Munich, my colleagues and I took a day-excursion to picturesque Füssen and its nearby crown jewels: Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein— two 19th century castles of unimaginable architectural and artistic expression. Neuschwanstein

By train, Füssen is located just 2.5 hours south of Munich. Catch the S- or U-Bahn to München Hauptbahnhof (Munich’s central train station). Then board a regional train south to the rural town of Buchloe. From here, take a connecting train to Füssen. A short bus ride from the Füssen rail station takes you to the foot of the castles in Schwangau. Check into the DB Bahn (Germany’s national rail service) group discount. A group of 3 to 5 individuals can ride round trip on one ticket for only 30 Euros!

Allow plenty of time for taking in both castle tours. You’ll need time to photograph the expansive vistas, castle exteriors, and travel time for getting between the two sites. Hiking is permitted along the steep winding road that connects the two castles, but I recommend taking the bus or horse-drawn carriage to ensure you don’t miss your appointed tour.

Currently, 17 Euros buys a guided tour of both castles. I recommend visiting the older Schloss Hohenschwangau first, followed by the extravagant Schloss Neuschwanstein. Touring the castles in chronological order puts their history into proper perspective and saves the best for last! Photography is not permitted inside the castles—but not to worry—the exterior photo ops and sweeping Alpine landscapes will astound the most experienced outdoor photographer.

Hohes Schloss, Füssen

In the heart of Füssen, standing high above the River Lech, lies the often overlooked Hohes Schloss (High Castle). The former summer residence of the prince bishops of Augsburg, the Hohes Schloss is one of the best preserved late Gothic castle complexes.

Hohes Schloss currently serves as a branch gallery of the Bavarian State Collections of Paintings featuring works of art from the late Gothic and Renaissance periods. We arrived after the gallery closed—reason to visit again!

Füssen and its magnificent castles are a must see when traveling to southern Germany. Click on the links below to enjoy more of my photos taken during our Bavarian excursion. Please check back frequently, as I will be adding additional pictures to the Piscasa photo albums.


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The performing arts thrive in unexpected places

Posted by Chris Wray on Sep 16, 2010 in reviews

Here’s a pop quiz: What U.S. city is home to the nation’s largest repertory theatre company? This company has a combined acting troop, production crew and administrative staff of 500 professionals—not to mention a legion of volunteers—that presents up to 800 performances of eleven plays with an annual audience of about 400,000. It’s got to be New York City, right? Wrong! The answer: the small rural town of Ashland, Oregon. Nestled in the south end of the Rogue Valley near Interstate 5 and the California border, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) annually produces Shakespearean dramas and comedies, in addition to classical and contemporary plays with an annual operating budget of $26.8 million. OSF is the largest regional repertory theatre in the country and the second largest employer in Ashland, second only to Southern Oregon University.

This past week, I had the pleasure of seeing a wonderful performance of Pride and Prejudice, directed by OSF’s Libby Appel. This is stunning and unique period adaptation of Jane Austen’s 19th century classic. The play does not use the narrative voice, as is the case in Austen’s novel and many other play adaptations. Instead, the play unfurls the interwoven desires of each character in a sprightly drama. The characters are captivating as the outwardly snooty Mr. Darcy woos the shrewd Elizabeth Bennet. Hilariously funny portrayals of the Rev. Collins and the matchmaker mother, Mrs. Bennet, are superbly cast and serve both as comic relief and reminder of Austen’s witty criticism of 19th century English class system.

Pride and Prejudice (2010) - photo courtesy of OSF

The staging is highly effective with clever lighting and character tableaux, which transform the actors in time and space—without the need for elaborate scene changes. In the end, love prevails while preserving every parent’s wish to see their offspring marry well — or at least with the family’s dignity intact. Pride and Prejudice runs through October 31, 2010.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. If you’re traveling to Oregon, OSF is a must see experience. Three OSF theaters await you with outstanding plays and backstage tours. Ashland is within reasonable driving distance of major cities like Eugene or Portland. I’m told serious theatergoers spend an entire week in Ashland, taking in as many as nine plays! Bed & Breakfasts and fine restaurants abound. For more information and the current season’s listing, check out For a glimpse at the OSF campus, view my photos on Picasa Web Album.

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Ascend The Climber

Posted by Chris Wray on Jun 23, 2010 in architecture and urban spaces, art, photography

The Climber

If you’re traveling in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, be sure to visit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Housed in the historic Monroe School building (a great example of Classical Revival architecture), the Children’s Museum features three floors of incredible sensory and motor stimulation. Their latest installation, dubbed The Climber, is a 37-foot high, 50-ton conglomeration of structural steel, fiberglass, wood, stainless steel aircraft cable, and found objects. My kids loved this wholly whimsical and totally hands- (and feet-) on installation. “Now this is the ultimate treehouse,” enthusiastically commented my son before dashing up one of its numerous gangways.

Various perches are cantilevered throughout the structure that allow visitors to climb into or onto, including wacky themed objects:

• Flying Bathtub
• Dream Boat
• Roof Top
• Fish Walk
• Recycled Rocket

The structure is thoughtfully constructed with a third-floor observation deck that permits visitors with limited mobility (or just too pooped to continue climbing) to observe the multi-level terrain of The Climber.

Clamber, balance, maneuver and discover — The Climber will engage your mind and muscles! Don’t miss it.

— Photos were taken with iPhone 3GS camera and Pro HDR app.

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Pauline Chapel revisited

Posted by Chris Wray on May 4, 2010 in architecture and urban spaces, art

Taking inspiration from Cassandre and Baumann
Inspired by the recent photo I took of the Pauline Chapel, I created a graphic illustration of this historic building. The strong play of light and shadow on the geometric stucco walls reminded me of the vintage 1930s travel posters of the great early 20th century graphic designer A.M. Cassandre (Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron). His poster style drew on the avant-garde influences of Cubism and Futurism and integrated strong use of typography.


Cassandre employed airbrush and friskets (masks) to create his works of poster art. My illustration was developed using vector-based software tools in Adobe Illustrator CS4. I exaggerated the proportions of the Pauline Chapel, emphasizing the height and perspective of the chapel’s prominent tower.

The composition was naturally framed by the Blue Spruce and Ponderosa Pine to the left and right of the chapel. I found that rendering vegetation proved to be challenging, so I chose a simplified approach. The German-born American print maker and painter Gustave Baumann created colorful, stylized woodcuts of southwestern landscapes. His stylistic approach served as inspiration for the two evergreen trees in my composition.

Pauline Chapel poster in the style of A.M. Cassandre

History of Pauline Chapel
Pauline Chapel is adjacent to St. Paul Church near the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. The Chapel is a notable example of ornate Spanish Colonial Revival and its antecedent style, Mission Revival Style, which both draw inspiration from the early Spanish missions of California. The Chapel was built in 1918 by the prominent Colorado Springs architectural firm of MacLaren and Hetherington under the close supervision of local Colorado Springs philanthropist Julie Penrose. The chapel is named after the Penrose’s daughter, Pauline Penrose. The Pauline Chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 26, 2001.


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What will your legacy be?

Posted by Chris Wray on Mar 13, 2010 in reviews

Recently I had the privilege of hearing the spoken talents of three great women: my wife (okay, I’m slightly biased here), my sister-in-law poet, and a 93-year-old Chicago artist, activist, and writer. What united these three ladies? A love for educating and a passion for overcoming the inequities of our society. My wife organized an event to celebrate black history month, held at the University of the Rockies, Colorado Springs on Saturday, February 27. She put together a diverse and talented group of performance artists, poets, storytellers, and educators. The event’s honored guest speaker was Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs, internationally prominent artist, educator, writer, and renowned as the founder—along with her late husband Charles Burroughs—of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois.

During the event, I was reminded how vital it is to recognize the talent and gifts that we all possess. I’ve come to realize the greatest challenge in one’s life is oneself. While self-deprecation can be an expression of modesty, chronic self-doubt is a toxic affliction. Failure to be confident in our abilities—or worse, failure to recognize our God-given talents—squanders our legacy. Yes, legacy. Dr. Burroughs spoke passionately about lasting human legacy in her poem entitled, “What will your legacy be?” The poem speaks of the great accomplishments of civil rights pioneers. By overcoming tremendous social adversity, these leaders left a lasting bridge of hope and a brighter future for generations to come.

What bridges will you build for future generations to cross over? Burroughs’ lesson is profound yet simple: Pursue your passion, do great works, and help others along the way. By applying these principles throughout our life, we can leave a rich and enduring legacy for future generations.

Listen to Dr. Burroughs’ reading her poem, “What will your legacy be?” during last month’s black history celebration.


Dr. Burrough’s biography

Transcript of “What will your legacy be?”

DuSable Museum of African American History


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Bronze Age is alive and well at Shidoni

Posted by Chris Wray on Nov 25, 2009 in art

Lost wax is not a lost art at the Shidoni Foundry near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nestled in the Rio Tesuque Valley, among former apple orchards and majestic cottonwood tress, the Shidoni bronze art foundry is known around the world for its superb monumental bronze craftsmanship. Working artists who comprise Shidoni’s staff specialize in large scale work, as well as smaller one-of-a-kind casts and recast editions.

I had the pleasure of touring Shidoni’s 14,000 square foot facility during an autumn Colorado College reunion lead by anthropology professor emeritus Dr. Marianne Stoller. I invite you to enjoy the following photo and video blog, which document the labor intensive, multi-faceted process of lost wax bronze casting.

The final video in this post is courtesy of New Mexico PBS station KNME. This excerpted documentary demonstrates Shidoni’s innovative techniques and application of cutting edge material science during the complex process of casting metals. The video also features renown American sculptor Allan Houser, but fails to identify a woman sculptor, whom I believe is Glenna Goodacre, the well-known artist who designed the obverse of the Sacagawea dollar. I welcome your comments and correction if I’ve misidentified the interviewee.

Click to enlarge photos.

Model: large works like this use an inner foam structure to maintain the structural integrity of the clay or wax model.

Model: large works like this use an inner foam structure to maintain the structural integrity of the clay or wax model.

Latex mold: layers of latex are applied to the full-size sculpture mold.

Latex mold: layers of latex are applied to the full-size sculpture mold.

Mold-making: careful planning is required to determine how segments of a large sculpture will be disassembled and reconstructed.

Mold-making: careful planning is required to determine how segments of a large sculpture will be disassembled and reconstructed.

Wax casting: the flexible latex mold is held rigid in a plaster case and is now ready for wax casting.

Wax casting: the flexible latex mold is held rigid in a plaster case and is now ready for wax casting.

Wax cast: the wax cast is removed from the mold and hand-finished by a trained artisan. This step is the most critical in achieving the sculpture's original perfection.

Wax cast: the wax cast is removed from the mold and hand-finished by a trained artisan. This step is the most critical in achieving the sculpture

Investment: The wax cast is coated with many layers of liquid refractory ceramic, called an investment. The investment cures for several days.

Investment: The wax cast is coated with many layers of liquid refractory ceramic, called an investment. The investment cures for several days.

Burn-out: The wax cast inside the investment is fired in a kiln. This process bakes the investment shell and eliminates the wax, leaving a cavity for the bronze casting.

Burn-out: The wax cast inside the investment is fired in a kiln. This process bakes the investment shell and eliminates the wax, leaving a cavity for the bronze casting.

Patina: The finished bronze is treated with chemicals and heated with a flame. This gives the sculpture the desired color according to the artist's specifications.

Patina: The finished bronze is treated with chemicals and heated with a flame. This gives the sculpture the desired color according to the artist's specifications.

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