Sitting with the Building You Love: One Photographer's View of Miami Marine Stadium

Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Jason Clement

Two weeks ago while in New Orleans, I found myself having a familiar moment at the corner of Tulane Avenue and South Tonti Street, the intersection where one of my favorite buildings in the world -- the old Dixie Brewery -- sits abandoned.

I've made a habit out of checking in on it every time I'm in town, and this visit played out much like my past pilgrimages.

After thumb-typing my way through some requisite Instagramming, Foursquaring, Facebooking, and tweeting, I took off my headphones and sat quietly on the curb, surveying Dixie's bruises and black eyes from my ant's eye view. Unlike the narrow streets of the French Quarter, where the Big Easy high steps by you with the garishness of a Zatarain's commercial, this section of the city can be very quiet -- eerily and somewhat mesmerizingly so.

After at least five minutes of undisturbed building gazing, I was rattled back to reality by the thunderous approach of the 39 bus. As I motioned to the driver that I wasn't actually waiting for a ride, I chuckled to myself about how weird the whole thing must have looked -- just me, the curb, a derelict building, and an empty plastic grocery bag scratching down the street.

After a bit more reflection, though, I think my New Orleans experience is no different than the feeling a lot of preservationists have and are often caught acting on: Sometimes, when you really love a place, you've just got to sit with it for a little bit. You know, take it all in.

It’s the same feeling I got -- or more accurately, that got me -- earlier this year when I walked into Miami Marine Stadium for the first time. Between the awe-inspiring roof (is it modern architecture or alien spacecraft?) and the sensation you get of literally floating on the water, this National Treasure is a wow place in every sense of the word. Just like in New Orleans, the only thing I could do was sit down and take it all in. And unlike Tulane Avenue, the stadium has seats.

Though it has been shuttered since 1992, Miami Marine Stadium is no stranger to folks like me who find themselves needing a moment to absorb what they see. On any given day, its basin is alive with rowers who drift by to marvel at all the interesting shapes, both of the building and the graffiti that covers it.

Photographers are another common sight. Some gain entrance illegally and snap shots when they think no one is looking. Others, like Jay Koenigsberg, ask for permission and get to spend some real quality time with the stadium. The proof is in the pictures.

This coming Monday, a special exhibit featuring Jay's work will open at the National Hotel, a Historic Hotel of America in the heart of South Beach. The guest of honor will be architect Hilario Candela, and the event will benefit the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium and their ongoing work to reinvent his modern masterpiece.

Because we can't fly you all down to have your moment with Miami Marine (or in the fabulously renovated National Hotel), we caught up with the photographer himself to get a peek at what will be on display next week.

Let’s start from the very beginning. How did Jay Koenigsberg become a shutterbug?

I was 12 years old when I first saw an image magically appear on a piece of paper in a tray of developer solution. That was it. By the time I was 13, I had a 35mm SLR camera, a darkroom, and a lifelong passion.

Your first visit to Miami Marine Stadium actually had nothing to do with taking pictures. Tell us about that early experience.

I moved to Miami in 1981 to go to law school. I recall going to at least one concert at Marine Stadium. I do not remember anything about the performance, but I recall in detail the venue -- even where I sat! The place is that memorable.

Fast forward to today, and we’re getting ready for the opening of a special exhibit of your work dedicated to the stadium. What about the place drew you back as a photographer?

As you know, the stadium has been closed for quite some time. A few years ago, I was experimenting with what was then a new approach to digital photography -- high dynamic range, or HDR. Because of the way HDR can tone map to paper or a computer screen, the enormous detail can result in a grungy feel.

The stadium seemed like a perfect place to experiment. After months of trying to gain access, I was able to spend several days over a period of weeks photographing the structure at different angles, during different times of the day, and with different lens effects. This was before any studies had been done about the stadium’s structural condition, so the experience was exciting to say the least.

Your photos have a distinct look and feel to them. Tell us a little bit about your technique.

The effect is achieved, in part, through HDR. Several images -- usually three or more -- are taken simultaneously using different exposure times so that the entire visible range of light is captured.

For example, one photograph is taken using a long exposure time, which serves to capture all of the shadows and dark areas. The second is a "normal" exposure, and the third is a short exposure that captures highlights and bright areas. All three images are then laid on top of each other using special software. The effect, as you see, is an image that resembles an illustration or drawing.

This panoramic shot is unreal. How did you pull this off?

That image is actually 50 separate photographs, or image captures. The camera was set up on a special panoramic tripod and rotated. Ten slices or sections where taken with five different exposure times each. The images were first merged to achieve the HDR effect and then stitched together to create the panorama. The entire process took about 40 hours to get the look I was after.

From Parkour to graffiti, Miami Marine Stadium has evolved over the years into an unofficial playground for creative types. In your opinion, what about the stadium inspires this?

Several things contribute to this. First, of course, is the stadium’s location -- on the water with a backdrop of downtown. It creates an almost unreal feeling of being on a tropical island with a direct view of Miami, the most beautiful city on earth. Second is the impossible structure. The stadium's cantilevered concrete roof is massive and just floats above as if weightless. The modernist icon is a testament to creative energy. It challenges you to do something creative.

And last but certainly not least, if you could describe Miami Marine Stadium in one word, what would it be?

Spectacular.

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If you find yourself in South Beach on Monday, December 3, please join us at the National Hotel (1677 Collins Avenue) from 7:00-9:00 p.m. for the opening of Jay Koenigsberg’s exhibit benefiting Miami Marine Stadium. Please click here for additional information and to RSVP.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

Architecture, Interviews, National Treasures