WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY Bill Hobbs
For more than two years, I photographed construction of downtown’s newest skyscraper, the 505 tower, for the purposes of a book of art photography commemorating its construction.
When I first approached developer Tony Giarratana with a proposal to photograph construction of 505 from start to finish, I envisioned it as more an art project than a simple matter of photo documentation. To me, a new skyscraper is a massive piece of artwork in its own way. Like any piece of art, it starts with one person’s vision, and like some large works of art it actually takes the work of many skilled craftsmen to make it happen. I wanted to make art celebrating the emergence of that new sculpture on the skyline—and honoring the hard work of the craftsmen, artisans, and others who turned one man’s vision into a 45-story, 522-foot-tall reality.
“To me, a new skyscraper is a massive piece of artwork in its own way.”
Before I began this project, I happened to see a big mural being painted downtown. The muralist, whose name would go on it, was standing on the ground, directing a couple of assistant painters who were up on lifts with cans of spray paint, filling in the details according to the muralist’s design.
That’s how I have come to see a major construction project like a new skyscraper—it’s a giant sculpture being created by hundreds of assistants executing the original vision of the developer.
In between mid-December 2015, when I photographed as workers poured the first concrete into the 70-foot-deep hole, and early August 2017, when I photographed as roofers installed the final layer of roofing material on the top of the 522-foot skyscraper, I made tens of thousands of images. Having never photographed construction before, I wasn’t bound to any conventional approach. I simply wandered the construction site, photographing things that interested me and things that captured both the beauty of the emerging tower and the gritty, hard work hundreds of men (and a few women) did in the sunshine and at night, in the heat and the cold, in good weather and bad, to bring 505 to life.
Nashvillians by now are familiar with construction sites but mostly from road level, seeing the construction fencing and the orange and white barriers and the cranes rising high into the sky. My goal was to give the residents of 505, who are getting copies of the 505 book, a real sense of what it was like to build the tower they now call home. In the book, up-close images of iron workers, electricians, plumbers, roofers, concrete workers, and more are mixed in with images of the tower itself piercing the Nashville sky.
As the tower rose and I continued to photograph it, I began to create more abstract images—and to enjoy the irony of making abstract photographs of something that is, quite literally, concrete. Things like rebar reaching skyward began to catch my eye, as did the view down an unfinished elevator shaft, a web of scaffolding so dense it nearly obscured a single worker within it, and, among my favorites, two images showing the skin of 505 reflecting the neighborhood where it now sits.
One of them reflects two sides of 505—the orange-red brick of St. Cloud Corner and the brown stone of Downtown Presbyterian Church—I call it Then And Now—and the other is a view of Church Street (and buildings beyond) reflected on the front of 505. That last one, I think, is a photograph Dutch painter Piet Mondrian might appreciate.
For more information, visit www.billhobbs.com.