Richard Johnson began looking at his own city with a new set of eyes when he and his partner moved to a 47th floor condo near Union Station. From there, he could see the temporariness of everything around him. Living up high, he also saw views disappearing, as new replaced old, and he discovered the unexpected effects of bouncing reflections, which he observed as sharing a similar kind of energetic pace to an allegro composition—in particular, Mad Rush by Philip Glass. The 16-minute piano composition, originally scored in 1979, is famous for its alternates between delicate slow sections that are imbued with nostalgia and jolts of shifting chords that get the adrenaline rushing.
To shoot Allegro, the photographer points his telephoto lens at a building located, one, two, maybe even three blocks away, and zeroes in on its structural grid. From this vast distance, he can see within the panes the surrounding environment, the odd glimpse inside an office or boardroom, and the unique swirling patterns that last only as long as it takes to frame and shoot. The moiré effect one sees is actually a trait of glass itself. Despite the solidity of buildings, they are engineered to sway, and that ongoing, incremental movement puts tension on the glazing, causing distortions that the eye can’t detect until there is actually a reflection to capture the warping.
Allegro reveals an unexpected beauty in the buildings that surround us. Amidst the sameness, Johnson has isolated what makes them distinct. The structural mullions of each tower provide an armature for consistency, while the sun does its playful magic, transforming these seemly blank façades into wildly energetic fields of visual drama; and making ordinary flat glass be anything but invisible.
Catherine Osborne is a writer and editor based in Toronto.