Madden Studio Blog

“San Francisco Tapestry: A View from Coit Tower”
August 25, 2010, 6:10 pm
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This Saturday a 20 x 30 mounted print of this photograph will be auctioned off at a Kiwanis Club fundraiser in San Carlos, CA. It is the fourth of an edition that will be limited to no more than 100.

San Francisco Tapestry

Because it has become one of my more popular images, I wanted to shed a little light on its history and discuss some of its significance for me. I took this photograph from Coit Tower in November of 2009. Previously, I had never been up the tower myself, but a visiting friend suggested we take advantage of the 360 degree view that it affords, and it did not disappoint. Coit tower itself (pictured below) was a gift of an eccentric San Franciscan, “Lillie” Coit, to a city she loved dearly. A brief but fascinating history may be found at

Coit from Base

Having lived in New York for a number of years, I always find it interesting to try to capture the spirit of a city in an image. Of course, it is really difficult for any one image to truly do justice to a great city, which is why I enjoy the project of trying to get as close as possible, even while recognizing the impossibility of accomplishing the task…”that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp” was my high school quote after all (from Robert Browning’s “Andrea Del Sarto”). And while this may seem an extraneous bit of information, I think it is important to add that I spent a number of years teaching Plato’s Republic to undergraduates at Lehman College, in the Bronx, NY. In Socrates’ attempt to defend the just life as a thing “worthy” in itself and not merely as a means to ends such as wealth or power, Socrates asks his audience to reflect on why cities exist in the first place and what is necessary to maintain their health and well-being. His answer to the first is that “none of us can do it alone”, we are interdependent and needful of each other’s help. A healthy city requires a class of guardians whose exceptional quality is that they do not forget nor neglect the fact of this interdependence. While “Republic” famously goes off the rails in trying to work out the implications of these insights –Plato suggests abolishing the family and private property amongst the guardians– that shouldn’t diminish the simple beauty of Plato’s basic insight.

So what does Plato have to do with Coit Tower and my photo of San Francisco?

When first getting to the top of Coit Tower I started by photographing the financial district’s towering skyscrapers, symbols of the city’s power and prestige.

San Francisco Skyline

There is nothing wrong with taking such photos, but I found myself drawn to trying to capture the the smaller, quieter, more subtle, interior life of the city. Looking from the tower toward North Beach, the array of colorful buildings and the lines of the streets interwoven like threads, made me think of a tapestry: so much history, so much life, so much joy and struggle, pain and perseverance go into making a city. At this moment in history, where there is so much division and stress within the social and political fabric, I think it worthwhile to celebrate some of what we have all accomplished together.  Each of these 20” x 30” prints is numbered and signed.   The edition is limited to 100.

The shot was taken handheld, with a Canon 40D using a 10-22mm wide-angle lens.


Upcoming Events
June 16, 2010, 8:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Bay area fans should be advised that my work will be available at the following venues this summer:

My Cheesy Advert

I am also going to be on display at two Redwood City “Art on the Square” Events. The first is this Friday, June 18th, from 6-8pm and will feature Zydeco music. The second is at the Salsa Festival September 24-25th.  The venue is on the downtown square near the Fox Theatre.

Next week, as a member of Avenue Art Gallery in San Mateo, I will be featuring a new work based on the San Mateo Bridge as well as a few things from some visits to Napa and the Fogarty Vineyard on Skyline Boulevard.

Pond at Fogarty Vineyard

Also, two of my photographs of the Doran Bridge will be part of a juried exhibit at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City from July through August.

I look forward to seeing many of you there.


April 10th Reception at Avenue Art
March 25, 2010, 10:21 pm
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I am pleased to announce that I will be one of two featured artists at Avenue Art Gallery in San Mateo, CA in the month of April. There will be a reception on April 10th between 6-9pm at 60 E. Third Street in San Mateo.

I will be featuring some new abstract work at the show, but I will also have on hand some of my new landscape work as well.  My website will be updated soon as well.  I know that this is long overdue, so here is a little taste of what I’ve been up to lately:

Vertical Sunset

Vertical Sunset

This was one of my favorite abstracts from my recent trip to Hawaii.

Here is another take on one of my favorite local bridges:

Doran Sunset

Doran Sunset

And for those whose taste runs more on the traditional side:

Pescadero Fields

Whatever your tastes.  I’d love to see you there.


With Deepest Gratitude and Respect
March 17, 2010, 5:31 pm
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I was deeply saddened to learn yesterday that Janine Hogan passed away, and although many who read this will not have known Janine personally, I hope that you will join me in celebrating the life and spirit of this beautiful person. Janine was a cherished and dearly-loved family friend and a tremendous source of encouragement to me as she was to many others as well. I would like to begin by also thanking her husband Kevin, her daughter Juliana, and her son Luke, for sustaining and nourishing her as she did them.

For much of her life Janine struggled with her health because of damage to her lungs that had resulted from a serious illness she had as a child. Over the past two years she spent four months in hospital rooms and often could breathe only with the aid of an oxygen tank. Her physical condition was such that she could have rightfully felt dispirited, bitter, and resentful, and none would have blamed her had she given in to self-pity. Yet instead Janine radiated kindness, gentleness and love, and though physically frail, her warmth and enthusiasm had the power of a force of nature.

The closest Janine ever came to expressing her own sadness to me was to ask for some photos that would “help immerse her in the beauty of a distant place.” I was deeply honored by her request and counted it a privilege to participate in her desire to dwell on, to encourage and to celebrate what is beautiful and good in this world. She always rewarded my work with the gift of her rich imagination and she would write me gracious emails detailing what it was she most enjoyed in this or that photo. The emails I received from “unflappable51” were always filled with gentle, good-humored exhortations “Live Long and Prosper: with poetic photographs…with happy possibilities…with photos of lovely things…with flowers to love…mysteries to solve…hummingbirds vibrating in the picture.” Her words of encouragement were as a soft summer’s rain.

In thinking of Janine, I keep returning to a passage that comes from the Buddhist tradition: “with a heart linked to friendliness…so she dwells, recognizing herself in all, suffusing the entire world with a heart linked to friendliness, far-reaching, wide-spread, unlimited, free from enmity or malice…Even as a mother watches over and protects her only child, so with a boundless mind she cherishes all living beings, radiating friendliness over the entire world, above, below, and all around without limit.” From when I first met Janine some twelve years ago, I have been treated as a friend and son.

Thank you Janine for gifts so freely and bountifully given, for breathing life and joy and hope into all who knew you…may you find rest in a peace that passes all understanding.

Cañada Road: The Beginning
October 13, 2009, 8:20 pm
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Interesting "temple" that is found just off Canada.

Interesting "temple" that is found just off Canada.

What follows is my introduction to the Cañada Road Series, which is an ongoing photographic project. Most of the photos belonging to it appear under the “Places” and “Nature” categories of my website.  In writing the blog, I decided to show some interesting photos that didn’t make the cut in addition to a few of those that did.  Please excuse the personal nature of some of what I write, but I have decided that I couldn’t do justice to the project as a whole without at least explaining where it began for me on a personal level.  This is installment number one, and I have yet to determine how many others will follow, but those that follow will likely explore the evolution of particular images or address specific locations that I enjoy.

The CAÑADA ROAD SERIES began last fall when my wife and I made one of those “life-changing” decisions to leave the Upper East Side of New York and venture to Palo Alto, California. It was an exciting period for us, but one that understandably conjured a wide range of emotions. The fact is that we both loved and still love New York and the whole frenetic vibe of city life. We were also leaving behind many friends with whom we had the joy of sharing food and wine, opera and tennis.

Manhattan looking West from 83rd St

Manhattan looking West from 83rd St

Unemployed and finding myself surrounded by the empty, white walls of our boxy, sparsely furnished apartment, the sense of isolation was acute. It reminded me to some extent of what I experienced earlier in life upon leaving Connecticut, where I was born and raised, to go to Vermont. Whereas in my youth I probably would have become despondent or depressed, I instead embraced the idea of taking the opportunity to discover what newfound beauties awaited me in this unfamiliar land, which led me to Cañada Road.


Broken Oak

Broken Oak

 I would set out on Sand Hill Road and head west to traverse the country lanes that roughly follow the 280 corridor. On many of these roads you are as likely to see a cyclist or equestrian rider as you are to see another car. On these journeys I rediscovered my love for the country. I often drove past the spotted hills of the Dish area in Palo Alto through the dense greenery of Portola Valley and from there to Woodside, eventually making my way to the Crystal Springs Reservoir, where the fog would descend with mesmerizing beauty over the hills. As locals will know, the road from Woodside to the Reservoir is called Cañada Road, and thus the title for the series.


Fog descending the hill near the Crystal Springs Reservoir.

Fog descending the hill near the Crystal Springs Reservoir.

Winter in this part of Northern California is without snow, but it brings rain and fog and moss-covered trees in the more lush areas. But there are also the naked oaks and spruce whose barren shapes spot the landscape.

Landscape off Sandhill Road

It was under these gray skies, amidst the fog that I began to appreciate the unique aesthetic qualities of my new surroundings.

Palo Alto Heights, i.e. the "Dish Area


In looking at the photographs I took in that period, I can see that I started shooting in color, but quickly changed to black and white, a move that allowed me to highlight the subtle textures of grasses, bark, and sky. A number of the shots feature isolated oaks in silhouette against the cloudy skies.


I also began trying out “fogscapes” -shots that attempted to capture the delicate veils half-shrouding the distant hills and mountains.

Early attempt at Fogscape

Early attempt at Fogscape

I offer a sample that approximates what I am going for, but I am hoping to capture it more precisely this coming season.  Of course, I also discovered the wonders of “Filoli” as well, a large estate with beautiful gardens, but I will leave Filoli for its own entry or two.  I thought for the first installment I might provide a few shots that were representative of what I was seeing…I hope you enjoy these. From here on out I will offer more detail about the evolution of the series and of particular images that comprise it.

As a parting shot, I will leave you with “Buck Shot”.  It looks impressive, but the subject was so nonchalant about the whole thing that I thought it best not to make too much of it. 

Buck Shot or Shot of a Buck

Buck Shot or Shot of a Buck

 Until later.



The Launch of
September 2, 2009, 6:45 pm
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I am pleased to announce and celebrate the launch of ( It will feature some of my best photography in an easily accessible format. Maddenstudio is linked to this blog as well as my website. The imagekind website is useful for seeing and ordering images in more traditional formats. To purchase pleximount images, the sleek, floating look that is featured at my shows, contact me by email at Prints and some framed images may also be ordered directly through me.

Lastly, I am grateful for the support and interest I’ve received, but I would especially like to thank Karen Dippel for her excellent design of my website.

Best Regards, Brian

Shakespeare, Nutshells and Infinite Fascination
August 12, 2009, 4:54 pm
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“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space” -Hamlet II.ii. 245-246.

I wonder how many times Shakespeare stared into nutshells, and what it is that he experienced upon doing so. If I were to venture a guess, I would say he observed not just the inner world of the nutshell, its subtle textures and intricate happenings, but perhaps he also observed the human capacity for what I would call infinite fascination: the capacity we have to explore even the most minute details of our world and to appreciate the complexity that underlies the formation of even its smallest parts.

Personally, I lack certain qualities and skills to be a physicist, but I nevertheless see the satisfaction one might get from trying to uncover the underlying elements that comprise our universe and to better understand how these relate to one another. With a camera, or the naked eye for that matter, one does not see as far into things as the tools of the physicist may allow, but one does get a sense of how interesting the smallest section of our universe might be.

In my photography, I often examine small moments, movements, or sections of larger objects. This is motivated in part by the thought that our appreciation of the vastness of the world is aided by our ability to capture a glimpse of its inherent complexity: a complexity inherent in the things themselves but also one inherent in how we as humans experience the world.