An In-Depth Look Into the National Cathedral’s Restoration

by January 3, 2013 at 9:00 am 0


Interior Scaffold, Washington National Cathedral by Colin Winterbottom. (Image from Washington National Cathedral website)

From Eliza French. Follow her on Twitter @elizaenbref; email her at eliza[AT]

“Gothic Resilience,” an exhibition of photographs by Colin Winterbottom of Washington’s National Cathedral, opens at Long View Gallery January 10. On display through February 10, the collection of photographs captures rare images of the Washington landmark. Working closely with the Cathedral, Winterbottom began photographing the building in 2011, after restoration efforts had begun to repair damage from the earthquake in August.

The show is part of an ongoing collaboration between Winterbottom and Washington National Cathedral. The Cathedral will house a companion exhibit and host related programming in March. Winterbottom will also continue his photography of the building throughout the restoration.

Winterbottom first became involved with the restoration when Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., the engineering firm hired by the Cathedral to assess the earthquake damage, hired Winterbottom to photograph the inspection.  “Most of my work I create independently,” Winterbottom wrote in an e-mail, “but this was one commission I was happy to take; and it was an amazing experience itself.”

After the damage has been assessed, the photographer presented some of the photographs in person to staff members at the Cathedral. “If things went well at that meeting I was simply hoping to ask if — as a favor — I could have a couple of hours in the Bethlehem Chapel (a small chapel on the lower crypt level) with a ladder and tripods to shoot all the details in the vaulted ceiling,” he recalls.

Needless to say, the outcome of that meeting far exceeded Winterbottom’s hopes. After reviewing the inspection photos and some of Winterbottom’s other fine art photos, officials at the Cathedral were interested in “exploring a broader partnership” that evolved into “Gothic Resilience” over time.

The Cathedral granted Winterbottom unique access to the structure, and the black-and-white and sepia photographs he produced capture the varied architectural character of the building. The collection includes arresting detail shots of hand carved ornamentation, striking views of the towers against D.C.’s skyline, and images of every scale in between of both the interior and exterior. Through these images, Winterbottom conveys the structure’s enduring resilience despite its structural damage; its ornate detail despite its grand scale; and its presence as a self-contained site despite its context among the many landmarks in the nation’s capital.

“I have always hoped that my photographs of D.C. had changed the way people looked at the city — and I think the Cathedral similarly wanted a series with a different perspective on the landmark.  “I think I… accentuate a kind of dynamic tension within monumental spaces; and I think … [Cathedral officials] wanted some of that perspective.” Undoubtedly, the photographs cast new light the Cathedral for most Washingtonians.

To RSVP for the opening reception next Thursday, January 10 from 6:30 to 8 pm, email [email protected]. The exhibit will remain on display at Long View during regular business hours until February 10. Winterbottom has also posted a preview of selected works from the show on his website.


  • “Gothic Resilience” by Colin Winterbottom
  • January 10 through February 10, 2013
  • An In-Depth Look into the National Cathedral Restoration
  • Long View Gallery, 1234 9th St NW Washington
  • Wednesday-Saturday 11 am to 6 pm; Sunday noon to 5 pm.

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