When Colin Winterbottom climbed a ladder to the pinnacle of the Washington Monument during its 2013 restoration, he didn’t just look down. He crossed one arm over the other, pivoted so that he was facing outward, and took a picture.

“I was so amazed by what I was seeing, so taken by it all, I put any fear to the side,” he says.

That photo, and other examples of Winterbottom’s vertiginous work, are on display at “Scaling Washington” at the National Building Museum. The exhibit provides rare views of the Washington Monument and the Washington National Cathedral.

Both structures cracked during the 2011 earthquake and required extensive restoration. As the scaffolds went up, Winterbottom, who’s been shooting from on high since 1998, offered to take advantage of the unique visual opportunity.

“The ability to get up onto vantage points that people don’t generally get almost always reveals something really fascinating,” he says.


Winterbottom didn’t need any special access to capture this photo of the moon rising over the Washington Monument. He took it while standing on solid ground between the reflecting pool and Constitution Gardens. “The clouds started to roll in, and there were nice tree branches to give it a Sleepy Hollow atmosphere,” he says. Later, “I added a little blue tone to make it feel all the more spooky.”

Late at night, while perched near the ceiling of the choir loft, Winterbottom noticed that the men constructing the scaffolding by the entrance of the cathedral were framed in their own little boxes. Plus, “the structure of the scaffold itself was forming a kind of cross,” he says. To bring out the softness and texture of the stone, Winterbottom shot in black and white and added a sepia tone.

The view from the top of the Washington Monument is spectacular — and scary. “When it got windy, you could feel the movement in the scaffolding,” Winterbottom says. As the photographer peeked downward (those are his feet!), he noticed that the high-altitude marble is much prettier than the plaza-level slabs: “There is a kind of salmon-pinkish color to many of the stones, and more lively veining and grain.”

National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW; through Jan. 3, $5-$8.

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