A collaboration between photographer Michael Oppenheim and writer Laura Hope-Gill, Look Up seeks to balance imagery and prose. It’s laid out rather like a collage, with 32 buildings (most of them located in downtown Asheville) each represented by a handful of images. Usually just one image (per collection) shows a given structure in its entirely and the balance dedicated to capturing each building’s details, many of which are not available to the casual observer and the naked eye.
It’s this aspect — the capturing of details — that makes Look Up such a treasure. For instance, did you know that there are blue-patina copper bouquets of flowers around the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church, a Native American-inspired feature motifs on Asheville City Hall and winged horses in bas-relief on the Haverty Building? There’s a certain sense of disorientation from the angles of the photos, looking up at corners and rooflines set against the sky. But with that disorientation, made possible by Oppenheim’s lense, comes the ability to see Asheville differently.
Hope-Gill provides a similar service through text. Each of the buildings selected for the book are historic and storied; Hope-Gill does a nice job of culling the most interesting anecdotes and morsels to accompany the artwork. Of the Kress building she writes, “Almost all Kress buildings are on the Register of Historic Places, including this one. Kress buildings are as resilient as their owner was shrewd: his business actually expanded during the Depression, due to the Woolworth-inspired practice of selling items at low cost.”
And of the Asheville Citizen-Times building: “For a building constructed the same year Hitler invaded Poland and two years after the fall of Nanking and Shanghai, Lord’s Asheville Citizen-Times Building reflects the launching of humanity into a new era, not only of architecture.”
At first, the white type on black pages, and the abundance of imagery is a little bit hard on the eyes. But that’s really the only shortfall of Look Up, and only a minor issue because this is a book meant to be savored rather than inhaled. It’s a coffee table book that will actually be perused cover-to-cover; it’s as much a gift book as it is a keep sake for the people who live in Asheville and see these buildings day after day. Consider Look Up both an insider’s view and a bird’s eye view: You’ll never look at Asheville again in quite the same way.
The book can be found in local bookstores and at Grateful Steps, 159 S Lexington Ave., Asheville.