The Big Picture



Norma Lopez Molina

It was just over a year ago that John Wonner first noticed the giant hole in the ground across from his downtown high-rise apartment. Then came the construction cranes, the workers in hardhats, the noise of pilings being driven into the ground. Something big was in the works.

“I didn’t know about the project,’’ he recalls. “I didn’t know what they were doing. But I got so involved in watching the construction of it, so here I am.’’

Wonner is sitting on the seventh floor of the circular office building at Orange Avenue and Anderson Street, looking out at “the project’’—the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. From this vantage point, which is the center’s administrative headquarters, the view is quite stunning. But these days so is the view from the street, as the long-delayed project has finally risen above the fences with the promise of something truly grand.

Wonner, who has spent his life assembling and wiring things, was so fascinated by the construction that he started taking photos every day, both from an empty apartment in his tower facing the site, and from the street. Then one day last fall, he wandered over to the round building and introduced himself to center president Kathy Ramsberger. Before long, Wonner had been designated the official photographer/videographer of the project.

His photos now number well over 1,000, arranged in four thick books. The self-taught photographer’s images show the orderly disorder of a construction site—pillars, ladders, girders and, of course, the workers in hardhats and brightly colored vests, inspecting a beam, operating a crane or sizing up a welding task.

“If you look at my pictures, I’m focusing on the people working more than the construction part of it. Because that’s what you’re interested in—as in ‘what’s he doing?’ And I try to portray that.’’

Wonner takes his volunteer commitment seriously, spending as much as 6 hours each weekday, cameras at the ready, marveling at the center that had so many starts and stops over the decades. Many thought it would never be built—not with the bad economy, not with other venues and projects competing for money and attention. And yet there it is, evidence that commitment to the arts is more than just a noble thought, especially when private donors decide to open their wallets.

Sometime in 2014, the first phase of the performing arts center—a hall for Broadway touring shows and one for local theater groups—is set to open. Wonner says he’d love to be there on opening night, whatever the performance may be. For now, though, the photographic chronicler, who celebrated his 94th birthday in late October, says, “I’m going to take pictures as long as I can take pictures.’’ Because watching this sort of thing never grows old.

BARRY GLENN

BARRY.GLENN@orlandomagazine.com

Edit Module
Want to read the whole issue? Download and read this issue and others on Magzter.

Add your comment:
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags

Guides & Resources

2016 Premier Veterinarians

2016 Pet Resource Guide

Check out our searchable 2016 list of some of the best pet resources in the Orlando area.

Premier Realtors

Check out our 2016 searchable database of Orlando's premier realtors.

Orlando's Best Lawyers 2016

Our annual list includes hundreds of Orlando-area attorneys in dozens of areas of practice.

Orlando's Top Dentists of 2016

Our annual list featuring 224 of the area's finest dental professionals.

Guide to Private Schools 2016

Our searchable annual database will help you chart an educational course for your family.

2015 Premier Doctors

Our annual inventory of Central Florida’s Finest Doctors with details on hundreds of physicians in dozens of specialties.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

MoreRecent Blog Posts

'Orlando' Magazine Wins 8 Awards for Excellence

Recognition from Florida Magazine Association includes honors for design, writing, photography.

Weekend Happenings in Orlando Sep 23 to 25

Find the best events in and around Orlando for the weekend.

Messages of Peace

Offerings at the Global Peace Film Festival include a documentary about the Pulse nightclub tragedy.

Weekend Happenings in Orlando Sep 16 to 18

Find the best events in and around Orlando for the weekend.

Q&A: Zanna Roberts Rassi

“Marie Claire’s’’ senior fashion editor will host this weekend’s benefit during The Mall at Millenia's Fashion Week.
Edit Module