log: the roadmap


In addition to depicting places, photographs represent a “space of moods” which is an important aspect of their object horizon. I believe it is a component largely ignored by architects and publishers, at present. Through the production of photographs, archival research and interviews I examine the notion of an industry standard and invite the interlocked members of that industry to respond to a palette of atmospheric variations. These will be presented as alternatives to the sort of images currently found in the architectural press.

articles on atmospheres

1.  the idea as found – theoretically

1.1  boehme and zumthor

1.2 connagh, pallasmaa, leach

1.3 a day in the life of the architectural publication (1 month survey + archival comparison now and then)

2.  the idea as researched – photographically

2.1  working with architects: word vs text

2.2  working with students: plurality through plurality

2.3  working with an artist: insearch of the elusive real

3. the idea as interpreted – scientifically?

3.1  fashion is already there

3.2  foundations laid: coromina, iloniemi,

3.3  foundations to break:  thinking outside the plain white box


do images make buildings?  and what has this method to do with that question?

After interviewing several people in the industry, I’ve become convinced that the question is not whether images make buildings but how.  And given that images play such a key role in the industry, which in turn gives rise to new questions:

–       Why is there not more variety in this sort of photography given that innovation and novelty drive industry?  Can you recognise one architectural photographer from another?  The idea no doubt is to let the work of the architect shine through.  But if you looked at a series of buildings through the same rose tinted glasses, wouldn’t that impair your ability to distinguish each from each?

–       Why do the contributors not act as a driving force behind that innovation?

  • The architect is currently acting as the client, the AD, the stylist and the product designer.

–       Is there no room for innovation and collaboration?

  • Atmospheres project is a way of testing that question?  Is there room for innovation in the representation of architecture?

diary: the anti-roadmap

The other day I was reminded of the pitfalls of doing a small job as a favour to a friend of a friend.   It always pans out the same: an annoying, frustrating, time-consuming disaster.  Jobs like these go badly for the following reasons:

1-lack of clarity on the part of the client

2-lack of communication between client and photographer

3-20/20 hindsight bringing about the need for a reshoot

4-lack of true supplier/contractor relationship which sets the tone and greases the wheels

People in these situations just want their little baby (in this case, a shop) to look beautiful.  They want to share that beauty with the world.  But baby is never so lovely as in mother’s eyes.  And therein lies the problem: if mother doesn’t state explicitly what things she loves most about her little darling, she’s not going to get what she wants.  But instead of doing that, she just relies on “the magic”.

The difference between great photography and the ordinary snap-shot may seem like magic (since everyone can take a picture) but it more often than not depends on hard-work made possible through planning and understanding that is grounded in experience.  With or without a good line of communication, the third factor remains, but it cannot shine through without the first two, and these drop off as soon as someone says “just work your magic”.  In this particular instance, I could have taken it upon myself to ask all the necessary questions, but the so called client was there for only 5 minutes; in her stead, there were builders filling up the room and faffing about; and I became more aware by the second that this was not something I truly wanted to be a part of.  Which is a fourth, underestimated factor: motivation.  Money is a starting point, to be certain, but the difference between a well-paid job you love and one you hate is still apparent.  Feeling like you are shooting something amazing will almost certainly produce good pictures.

So upon submitting the first round of pictures the standard questions came up:  oh but you didn’t shoot this?  and what about the…? and haven’t you got any images of the…?  do you have one like this but with a bit more/less of…?  It never ever fails.  And conversely, never happens when the client is big (so professional and experienced themselves).  The difference is a detailed brief and discussion at the outset to really go through everything the client thinks is important.  The atmospheres project does not seek to alter that crucial step, but to expand it.  So this brings us to the fourth point.

Doing a favour for your friend is about the worst position to be on for both sides of the equation.  As the client, you don’t want to be pushy as you are dealing with a friend or friend thereof.  And as the photographer you feel you must tred lightly as well, going with what ever flow you are dropped into.  It’s all very friendly and light and seemingly fun, until the images come in and have to be redone.

Never again.  Until next time.

diary: some more blah, blah, blah

Thoughts about the first of two exhibitions.

The Architectural Real is hinged between an object-world and an image-world.  It is concerned with both construction and representation.  Notions of real objects do not stop at weights and measures, bricks and mortar, as the practice would have found itself without discourse a century ago when engineers took over structural matters and developers arose to deal with the business of building were that the case.  In the twentieth century, as everyone knows, architectural discourse became concerned foremost with the notions of minimal and functional representations.  I assert that these words are used as substitutes for the real just as they replaced former discourses about beauty and historicity.  Real must reveal function as soon as Loos returns from Chicago asserting that ornament is crime.  Where this notion begins to overlap with photography is at the design stage, where the building exists as an image returning at the end of the project where those designs are often used to point the photographer’s camera in the right direction.  Images are commissioned to depict architects’ designs with photographic (instead of graphic) realism, yet a problem arises with this notion of reality as soon as one scrutinises the architectural photograph.  Its notions are the inheritance of renaissance discoveries into vanishing points, turning photographic reality into axonometric projection.  The result of that inheritance is a sort of photography that follows a specific rule book not often applied to other forms of photographic practice and applies to buildings a way of seeing that is not normally considered real (or considered at all) by the untrained eye: non architects.

Photographic reality is also subject to two main strands of interrogation.  It famously questions our way of seeing, entering into media and psycho-sociological discourses addressed by Berger and followers.  It points out that fact that it points to something: photography is defined by Strauss (et al) as an index—a photograph is a photograph of something—it points to the world.  Hence the reality at issue in photography is concerned with construction and representation as well.  However it would be a misleading sort of word play to suggest that these common concerns make them two sides of the same coin.  Photographs are constructed by social conditions and use physical space, where as architects avail to use physical space to reflect or alter social conditions only at times, and quite often in word not deed. Even for the architectural photographer or the keen photographer architect these imbrications could suggest no more than a nodal point of intersecting interests.  However, that point of contact reason is enough to pursue the causes and effects of such a definition.

Non-Places: Architectural Photography after Alvar Aalto

The exhibition will consist of 2 parts. In the first, 2 to 3 plans from Alvar Aalto’s large repertoire of unrealised projects will be selected, of which scale models will be constructed and photographed. The photographs will be taken with a large-format camera and exhibited as large-scale prints, adopting the high-end production values of architectural photography. This mode of presentation, which tries to trick the viewer into thinking the locations are real, asks the question: where does the architecture lie? Is it in the building, or in the photograph?

While based upon the plans drawn up by Aalto, the models will vary in the level of detail used, and will not always stay true to the originals to the extent that additional elements (or even an entirely new building) may be inserted into the series. This approach foregrounds the question of evidential truth within the architectural photograph, and offers a playful entry point to the underlying themes of the work.

In part 2 of the project, residents of housing developments in the vicinity of Aalto’s unrealised Stenius Housing Estate will be interviewed about their experiences of growing up in the district. Using a photograph as a starting point, they will be asked for their spatial memories of the apartments in which they lived. Given that the area of Munkkiniemi is characterized by its high Swedish-speaking population, and in keeping with issues of communication, translation and dislocation within the work, the interviews will be conducted in Swedish. The subsequent Finnish and English subtitling will, similar to the models, be interpreted creatively and extend beyond a simple transcript of the conversations.

The exhibition calls in to question the dominant practice of architectural photography and its highly constrained approach to depicting the reality of the built environment. It is suggested that the medium’s claims to objectivity are a veneer for a practice that seeks only to represent the architect’s point of view, to the exclusion of the viewing public and the inhabitants of such spaces. Recognising Alvar Aalto’s passion for the humanising of architecture and design, the works foreground these issues while attempting to incorporate the lived experience of the occupants.

Atmospheres: everything surrounding and filling that thing that envelopes space

The trouble with this one is that I haven’t got a clever theory to explain it as I don’t think one is needed.  If you distance yourself just enough you can see that we see the world through images and not (just) the other way around.  Hence images have been a crucial means of encountering the world.  They are in part that thing we have instead of the thing in itself.  Our brains use our eyes to view the world through photographs.  Sad or wonderful this is my version of the truth.  So the photographs we take and especially the ones that are commissioned and published take on a heightened importance than just aesthetic trends or market truths.  This is a technology that can reveal aspects of the world which the producers and consumers of images had neither seen nor suspected prior to their production; or it can cover up, stultify, simplify, reduce the thinkable things we see to a very, very small number of options.  I know which media driven world I’d rather live in.  And that, simply put, is the reason for my project.  The idea about how to exhibit it can still be found at the beginning of this blog:  grids of 3×3 images rotated daily and presented simultaneously through hi-tech web browsers where the image quality is less but the means of deploying them far greater.

research log: thoughts towards a proposal

3xn – Architecture shapes behaviour.

This claim could easily be depicted by staging an event at their school in ørestad, a suburb of Copenhagen under construction.  The curving staircase and circular classrooms that dot the vast single open space that is this unique school could be filled with students – static and in motion – to show simply how the shape of the building shapes the students behaviour, how the school is the students, and how the space is singular open and unique.  None of this is achieved by the attractive but typical images featured in their publication.

Keywords: open, flexible, interaction, learning, collective, working-environment, relaxation, contemplation, revolutionary, international, awareness, on view, constantly milling universe.

I can see none of these words depicted in the photographs that accompany them.

Big – Yes is more.

Bjarke Engels reckons the exciting challenge for todays architect is to define yourself by saying yes to everyone, instead of the standard pouty, sulking ‘no’ of the avant-garde which remains seductive to the aspiring architect.  Yes begs the question: how to satisfy everyone, including yourself the creator.  In part, by listening and also by viewing creation as a synthesis of ideas rather a some personal violent revolution which must overturn everything that has come before it.  This view comes the closest to my current position on commercial – specifically architectural – photography:  that it should listen and synthesize the goals, passions, wants and interests of anyone and everyone involved.  In terms of my specific project, that would mean producing photos that are specific to every assignment.   Additionally, they will  distinct enough to be recognizable in themselves not just the buildings and spaces they depict.  The reason for that aspiration is to attract a broader public and readership than the few hundred graduates that come out from architecture schools each year.  Eschewing the standard – public be damned, I know what’s best – architectural cliche whilst still availing to give the architect exactly what s/he wants and more than s/he needs is a goal that makes me willing to be slightly exploited by BIG if I can have the opportunity to work with and learn from them in the coming months.

SHL  – Human need for identity is universal.

OK, thanks for the information – so what?  Making nice office buildings and schools is surely not satisfying that need.  And that is what bugs me about all of that architectural rhetoric you hear.  It’s fake.  Why can’t they just say something like:  SHL – you are far less likely to hang yourself in our atrium.  Their buildings are nice.  Why pretend you are deeply interested and invested in the human condition instead of stating what your are doing: making bad places better with great design?

Henning Larsen – It’s Scandinavian.

I have no idea what this is meant to mean or why they chose this as their slogan (or the idiots at the ad agency they used did) – the only answer that comes to mind is laziness.  Just make a brand out of being skando:  we make clean white boxes to shove you into.  Yeah, that’s a great marketing idea for the 21st century.  Were it not for the fact that I really like their IT campus and the new Rekyavic opera house and very much want to shoot both, I’d probably give them a miss purely for marketing themselves on the basis of that slogan.  They got enough bad press for the ugly opera house in Copehagen (so how the hell did they go on to build one in the capital of DK’s former colony?) are they actively seeking more with that great one-liner?

Cobe – Carefully consider the use of land.

I really like this idea, though maybe it’s because it is vague and open enough to be totally meaningless, hence seeming clever and true.  It’s like reading a horoscope, carefully crafted to sound specific, profound, exact and personal to the thousands or millions who read it.  Sneaky.  But I liked them all the same and would like to work with them in the future.

diary: a major setback

For the second year running, I have not been a recipient of a KONE fund.  And of course, that should come as no surprise.  It’s the third ‘no’ from a foundation this year.  The surprising thing was the two grants I did receive last year.  The trouble is, though, now that I have everything lined up in Copenhagen to implement my project, I need to find money in order to go there.  Until now I was worrying about not having the wherewithal to upgrade my equipment to an ALPA system in order to produce top-level work.  Now I am wondering if I’ll have the money to go there at all.  The path before me is so clear, but how to pave it?  I need more photography work or a serious grant.  All hopes now rest on being one of the 3 doctoral students selected.  Not good odds.