As a professional photographer who is passionate about art, vision, and beauty, I always make time to discover, contemplate and treasure great works of art. What is even more inspiring is to see such achievements in person, as I got to do last week on vacation in Pennsylvania. That work of art was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater: a magnificent home built on top of a waterfall in Southern Pennsylvania.
Equally inspirational is a quote from my favorite novel, The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand’s description of the work of her book’s hero Howard Roark captures perfectly the essence of Fallingwater:
“They were sketches of buildings such as had never stood on the face of the earth. They were as the first houses built by the first man born, who had never heard of others building before him. There was nothing to be said of them, except that each structure was inevitably what it had to be. It was not as if the draftsman had sat over them, pondering laboriously, piecing together doors, windows and columns, as his whim dictated and as the books prescribed. It was as if the buildings had sprung from the earth and from some living force, complete, unalterably right. The hand that had made the sharp pencil lines still had much to learn. But not a line seemed superfluous, not a needed plane was missing. The structures were austere and simple, until one looked at them and realized what work, what complexity of method, what tension of thought had achieved the simplicity. No laws had dictated a single detail. The buildings were not Classical, they were not Gothic, they were not Renaissance. They were only Howard Roark.”
Fallingwater is only Frank Lloyd Wright.
If great architecture inspires you, see Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous work, and if you want to be inspired by great literature go read The Fountainhead. That book has aided my photography, in general, more than any other; it is one of the great works of literature: one to read, contemplate and also treasure.
“When a man entered this temple, he would feel space molded around him, for him, as if it had waited for his entrance, to be completed. It was a joyous place, with the joy of exaltation that must be quiet. It was a place where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find the peace of spirit never granted save by one’s own glory.” — The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. 343
Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877) was one of America’s first and most accomplished heroes of capitalism. Vanderbilt began life on a humble Staten Island farm and rose to be the wealthiest American at the time of his death.
Throughout his business life, Vanderbilt helped to transform American transportation networks and to provide a stable and cheap means of conducting business at a distance. Prior to the “transportation revolution,” Americans faced a daunting task when they attempted to move from place to place in the vast territory of the United States. With only draft animals and primitive dirt roads or wind power and sailing vessels, nothing in the world could move faster than 20 miles per hour. The advent of steam power, in both watercraft and later railroads, broke through those old barriers and made possible the transportation of goods and people across great distances.
Vanderbilt’s role in the adoption of steam power was a significant one. Facing a state-granted monopoly of steam navigation of New York waters, Vanderbilt and his partner Thomas Gibbons set out to smash the monopoly by proving that free competition and business acumen could provide the market with superior service. Working against the state enforced restrictions, Vanderbilt powered his boat the Bellona into New York harbor for six years in defiance of the state-protected monopoly. His mast carried a bold statement, “New Jersey Must be Free,” indicating his opposition to the quasi-mercantilist regulations imposed by the state monopoly.
Eventually, Gibbons and Vanderbilt prevailed when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) that the federal commerce power prohibited states from imposing such monopolies of commerce.
The immediate result of the opening up of trade was a massive reduction in prices (anywhere between a reduction by half up to a reduction by ninety percent) and a growth in capacity. Almost overnight, western rivers and canals had hundred of steamboats carrying the products of newly established businesses to distant markets. Harper’s Weekly observed “in every case of the establishment of opposition lines by Vanderbilt, there has been a permanent reduction in fares.”
The ability to overcome the physical barriers to commerce generated a spur to industry across the United States. The superiority of open competition demonstrated by Vanderbilt would later facilitate the creation of a vast railroad system that further advanced American standards of living through improved transportation, with Vanderbilt himself at the forefront in his creation of the New York Central Railroad system. Vanderbilt as a railroad tycoon built Grand Central Station, where a statue of him still stands.