A photography study of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa
When photographing commercial architecture, capturing a variety of perspectives is key to showcase the building. From small details to the wider context, different perspectives have different goals. When used together, they provide a comprehensive depiction of a building or space.
Earlier this month, the National Holocaust Monument was inaugurated in Ottawa, Canada, designed by Studio Libeskind and Claude Cormier + Associés. Having seen the renderings, I knew it was a monument I had to photograph it. Ottawa is only 4 hours away from Toronto, so I decided to do a last-minute trip. It was a short one: I arrived in the Canadian capital at 11 pm on a Saturday, photographed from 6 am to 8 pm on Sunday and left the next morning at 7 am.
The significance of the National Holocaust Monument, both in terms of design and purpose, was clear to me. This is why I wanted a really comprehensive set of images. I decided to spend the entire day there and to even include some aerials. Please note that I have a lot of images from that day, but for this article’s purpose, I had to make a selection. To see the full collection, head over to this Flickr gallery.
The first step was to photograph the monument in wider compositions, from across the street. This allowed me to include the entire monument and include a little bit of the environment. The context here is pretty bare, as the monument is outside of the Downtown core and there are only a few buildings nearby. I also wanted images shot both during daytime and at dusk to show the impact of light.
Closer exteriors and landscaping
By crossing the street, I changed the perspective significantly. It allowed me to focus on specific areas of the monument. A big part of the monument’s exteriors is the landscaping, with its dwarf evergreens. I chose to feature it prominently is several images.
The entrance to the monument is also a major space that needed to be documented.
One of the best ways to add context and dimension to a building is to shoot it from above. It can be achieved in several ways: helicopter, plane, drone, rooftop… In this case, the lack of nearby buildings and the Canadian drone laws made the helicopter the best choice for me.
I knew I had to photograph the monument from above because it is shaped into a six-pointed star. The obvious first angle was a straight-down shot showcasing the star:
The two next images provide a little more context (the monument is mostly surrounded by empty parcels and roads) and give more dimension to the monument.
Interior spaces are the heart of the monument. As soon as you step in, you know you are in a special place. The first image is a wider composition that shows how the different spaces are organized.
I then proceeded to document individual spaces and their features.
Six murals by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky depict sites relevant to the Holocaust.
One of the most striking spaces is the “Sky-Void”, which features the Flame of remembrance. With the flame and the lit benches, a dusk image was definitely the way to go.
Arguably the most striking part of the monument, the “Stair of Hope” leads to the Canadian Parliament. Once again, the lighting made the dusk shot an easy decision.
Architecture doesn’t exist without people. It’s even more important in such a monument. Ideally, I wanted only a few people in each shot. The goal was to show people wandering through the space, contemplating the monument.
Finally, I focused on small details of the space. Images that show the intricacies of the design.
Finding new perspectives can be as easy as looking up:
Details show the quality of the design, the materials, and the craftsmanship.
Overall, the National Holocaust Monument is amazing to photograph, and it proved to be a great study case for commercial architecture photography. But, more importantly, its design is profound and appropriate. Walking through its space is an emotional experience, as it should be. The design team should be commended.