Taking the steps My photos, my words

I was searching for a photo in my files a few weeks ago when I noticed that I had a number of shots that included stairs or steps.

I hadn’t realized that I had been unintentionally gathering photos showing stairs or steps. But there were several dozen photos in my collection, some that I’ve liked and used in galleries on other subjects and some that were rather unimpressive and filed away. But when viewed as a group it was obvious that I had a lot of photos of this subject.

Maybe there was something subliminal that had me shooting photos of stairs. I’ve read that dreams about stairs are linked to progress – moving forward or backward in your waking life, reflecting feelings of failure, fear, falling, challenge or success.

So I guess that a dream about looking up a dark, stone stairwell with a silhouetted figure at the top could be a bit ominous.

Stairway inside the New York Public Library, New York City. Background photo is a different stairway in the library.

But I think the collection of photos of steps just means I’ve done a lot of climbing when I have my camera.

By the way, do these photos show stairs or steps? The words aren’t necessarily interchangeable and, as a long-time writer who is always searching for the right word to best communicate a thought or concept, I need to be concise. Steps are defined, in this usage, as a support for a foot of a person who is ascending or descending. Stairs, a shortened version of stairwell or staircase, is a vertical construction that allows people to ascend or descend to another level, or a collection of steps.

So these photos show steps. They also show stairs.

For some reason I’ve always considered stairs to be an indoor thing, although the definitions don’t confirm that thinking. For instance, when I see a collection of steps carved into a rocky cliff or rocks used as steps to provide safe navigation on a hillside I don’t call them stairs. I don’t talk about climbing the stairs to the upper level of a trail. I climb the steps.

Steps exit a tunnel carved through rock on the Old Man's Cave trail, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.
Steps on a trail in Carter Caves State Park, Olive Hill, Ky.
Steps carved in rock on the Old Mans Cave trail, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.
Steps between cliffs in Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.
Fallen leaves cover steps on a trail in Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

But I always refer to a spiral staircase as a staircase or stairs, not steps. Maybe it’s because the phrase “spiral staircase” paints such a clear image. It’s not just a linear collection of steps. It’s a work of art.

Looking up toward skylight from under a spiral staircase, Hotel Monaco, Washington, D.C.
Looking down a spiral staircase, Hotel Monaco, Washington, D.C.
Looking down the spiral staircase in the Trustees' Office at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Ky., Hopkinsville, Ky.
Spiral staircase, Trustees' Office, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Ky., Hopkinsville, Ky.

A fire escape is another example of a staircase or collection of steps with a formal name. I’d never refer to “the staircase hanging from the side of a building,” for instance, or to someone “taking the steps outside the window during an emergency.” It’s a fire escape. It has a specific purpose. When you hear the phrase you can picture what it is.

The November midday sun casts long shadows from a fire escape, New York City.
Fire escape casts shadows across red bricks, New York City.
Fire escape casts shadows across colorful windows, New York City.

I guess I photograph steps – or stairs – because the linear repetition and patterns created by the individual steps provide an interesting geometric focal point that links surround objects. The eye is drawn to the pattern and follows the lines.

The angle of view creates a fan effect for steps at A.P. Giannini Plaza, San Francisco.
Stairs curve up a hill on Broadview Avenue, Grandview Heights near Columbus, Ohio.
Walking past stairs to Exelon Pavilion in Millennium Park, Chicago.

Maybe all these photos of steps in my files indicate some issues buried deep in my subconscious. Or maybe, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, a step is just a step.

Created By
Pat D. Hemlepp


All photographs and text: © Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp

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