Looking down the spiral staircase in the Trustee House at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Ky.

Steps exit a tunnel carved through rock, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.

Stairs curve up a hill on Broadview Avenue, Grandview Heights near Columbus, Ohio.

The November midday sun casts long shadows from a fire escape, New York City.

Doorway and steps lead to the roof of Corpus Christi Chapel adjacent to St. Barbara's Cathedral in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic.

Steps carved in rock on Old Mans Cave trail, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.

Looking up toward skylight from under a spiral staircase, Hotel Monaco, Washington, D.C.

Stairs between cliffs in Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.

Visitors silhouetted against the flames of a video billboard atop the ruby red steps in Times Square, New York City.

Diana, a statue created by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1893, stands atop the stairs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Great Stair Hall.

Spiral staircase, Trustees' Office, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Ky.

Vessel, an art structure, and buildings in New York City's Hudson Yards stand above stairs. Vessel is a 150-foot-high art structure of connected staircases.

A stairway outside Zwinger Palace in Dresden, Germany, leads to a rooftop pavillion off Sophienstrasse. The palace was built in the early 1700s.

Stairs on a trail in Carter Caves State Park, Olive Hill, Ky.

Looking down a spiral staircase, Hotel Monaco, Washington, D.C.

Walking past stairs to Exelon Pavilion in Millennium Park, Chicago, Ill.

Walking down stairs in New York Public Library, New York City.

Fire escape casts shadows across colorful windows, New York City.

Winged Victory of Samothrace stands above a stairway in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. The statue was created about the 2nd century BC and was discovered on the island of Samothrace, a Greek island, in 1863.

Visitors walk on the stairs to the Ferris wheel on Chicago's Navy Pier.

Stairway inside the New York Public Library, New York City.

Fire escape casts shadows across red bricks, New York City.

Fallen leaves cover steps on a trail in Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

The angle of view creates a fan effect for steps at A.P. Giannini Plaza, San Francisco.

04.23/Steps or stairs

By the way, do these photos show stairs or steps? The words aren’t necessarily interchangeable …

I was searching for a photo in my files a while back when I noticed that I had a number of shots that included stairs or steps.

I hadn’t realized that I had been unintentionally gathering photos showing stairs or steps. But there were several dozen photos in my collection, some that I’ve liked and used in galleries on other subjects and some that were rather unimpressive and filed away. But when viewed as a group it was obvious that I had a lot of photos of this subject.

Maybe there was something subliminal that had me shooting photos of stairs. I’ve read that dreams about stairs are linked to progress – moving forward or backward in your waking life, reflecting feelings of failure, fear, falling, challenge or success. So I guess that a dream about looking up a dark, stone stairwell with a silhouetted figure at the top could be a bit ominous.

But I think the collection of photos of steps just means I’ve done a lot of climbing when I have my camera.

By the way, do these photos show stairs or steps? The words aren’t necessarily interchangeable and, as a long-time writer who is always searching for the right word to best communicate a thought or concept, I need to be concise. Steps are defined, in this usage, as a support for a foot of a person who is ascending or descending. Stairs, a shortened version of stairwell or staircase, is a vertical construction that allows people to ascend or descend to another level, or a collection of steps.

So these photos show steps. They also show stairs.

For some reason I’ve always considered stairs to be an indoor thing, although the definitions don’t confirm that thinking. For instance, when I see a collection of steps carved into a rocky cliff or rocks used as steps to provide safe navigation on a hillside I don’t call them stairs. I don’t talk about climbing the stairs to the upper level of a trail. I climb the steps.

But I always refer to a spiral staircase as a staircase or stairs, not steps. Maybe it’s because the phrase “spiral staircase” paints such a clear image. It’s not just a linear collection of steps. It’s a work of art.

A fire escape is another example of a staircase or collection of steps with a formal name. I’d never refer to “the staircase hanging from the side of a building,” for instance, or to someone “taking the steps outside the window during an emergency.” It’s a fire escape. It has a specific purpose. When you hear the phrase you can picture what it is.

I guess I photograph steps – or stairs – because the linear repetition and patterns created by the individual steps provide an interesting geometric focal point that links surround objects. The eye is drawn to the pattern and follows the lines.

Maybe all these photos of steps in my files indicate some issues buried deep in my subconscious. Or maybe, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, a step is just a step.

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Photographs and text: Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be used without permission.

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