research log: different atmospheres or just different techniques?


diary: In the salt mines

…or more like bean counting…I am going through Ark from 1922 to 2012 (one issue per year to start with) to determine if there are recognisably trends such as the use of photography, changes in that use and  any reduction in the amount of text.  It is actually rather interesting, in a tedious, protestant work ethic kind of way.  Bit by bit, I feel like I get a better understanding of the photography in Finland and of Finnish architecture.  It is very interesting to see how past photographers worked and what the architecture they photographed looked like.  All the same, I can’t help but feel I have other axes to grind.

Granada is a truly varied place, and photography is tempting.  I have little or no artistic aspirations, but living in the Albaicin and decending into the 20th century constructions of the rest of the city make one inclined to structure an argument through photographs.  A series of images, each titled with a date, should do the trick without being pedantic.

interview 2 (2nd concept)

1.  Respond freely to the following images (slideshow derived from pdf)

2.  Identify images from pdf that correspond to the following five statements from our first interview (list statements for each)

3.  Which images would you publish?  Why?

4.  Which images wouldn’t you publish?  Why not?

5.  Which images would you like to publish (ie in a “perfect world”) but consider less than plausible to do so.  For what reason?

6.  Do consider any of the images to have emerged from the dialectical process we discussed in the first interview?

log: theoretical references – The Eye is a Door,

An outpouring of books and articles on imagery in recent years has promoted programs in visual culture and visual studies, but the focus is on images and their meanings rather than on the practice of image-making and its potential to transform understanding. Never have so many people owned cameras, and never have their snapshots been so widely distributed and shared. The world is being recorded, but to what end? Few use the camera as a way to think. Visual thinking is a crucial skill, and photography is one of its tools, but that potential is unfulfilled (Spirn xi).

Visual thinking is an art of pattern-seeking, of culling the significant from a welter of the irrelevant or peripheral. Photographers seek significant detail as metaphor to stand for a larger whole, to hint at the deeper meaning beneath the surface, to tell a story. “‘What Is There, Hidden and Real’” recounts how a photographer can divine the ideas latent in landscape, the camera a diviner’s rod, and how printing, editing, grouping, and sequencing are also means of drawing out the ideas embodied in photographs (Spirn xv)

In essence, I would say Spirn posits the snapshot against the fine artist’s practice, but I think it is fair to extrapolate from her argument to strengthen my own.  In commercial, commissioned photography, there is very little thinking or interpretation going on.  You have to study, interpret, learn and think at a very high level for a very long time in order to become a professional.  But then, once you have reached that level of expertise, all thinking, as it were, seems to stop.  You have a bag of tricks you carry around with you to every site and pretend you are using them to individually interpret each location you shoot.  And that is false.  You are applying a set of practices as and where they fit to each job.  Moreover, it is what is asked of you.  While on the surface something of a paradox, this transition speaks in my mind of a rite of passage or right of entry into an elite (largely male) club.

I had to work very hard to develop and hone my skills (learning from photographers and architects past and present), produce a print porfolio of high quality, shop that around, do the same with a website and then work my way up the ladder until I started getting some serious commissions.  But once that happened, the only work asked of you is a repeat of that which you have already done.  So even at this high level (and often, I would argue in the art world which is just another market for those who are successful in that world) the kind of visual thinking that Spirn is advocating rarely takes place.

Spirn continues here argument with a direct reference to atmosphere, hence a clear correlation between my project and a source of knowledge and investigative practice cited.

“I am in love with the ray and the reflection.” In the 1880s, Claude
Monet traveled in search of light, painting dramatic effects of color
and weather: bright yellow sun along the Mediterranean Sea; blue-violet
storms on the coast of Normandy; yellow, brown, purple fog in London.
His paintings were rapidly sketched notations on atmosphere. He called
his work researches.“Nature is my studio.” As a plein-air painter, he worked
in the open air, obsessed with weather. His letters home describe the
shifts in light and atmosphere from minute to minute that forced him to
switch back and forth among several canvases. His letters bemoan changes
in weather that prevented completing a painting. It took him two years to
paint his many versions of Rouen Cathedral because the light shifted so
radically from February to April (letter in March, “the light is already so
different from when I arrived in February.”) “At this time of year,” he
wrote to a friend in 1890, “the sun sets so quickly that I cannot keep up
with it. I’m becoming such a slow worker that it makes me desperate, but
the further I go the more clearly I see that I must work hard in order to
succeed in rendering what I seek: ‘instantaneity,’ above all the enveloping
atmosphere, the same light spread over everything.”
❂ ❂ ❂ ❂
Monet said he was attempting the impossible: to paint the air, the
spaces in between objects and sun, what he called the enveloppe or atmosphere, the mass of air that envelopes the planet (Spirn 73).

Again, the autonomous practice of the fine artist is the given example, yet I think that needn’t matter for the purpose at hand.  I have spent a year of my life investigating the atmosphere enveloping and filling certain spaces.  For me atmosphere means a focus on weather and light but also incidences (of the sort recorded by journalists) and frequent, repeated acts (a focus of ethnographers), presence and absence and in general, and anything that my be seen as a gateway (or door, to use Spirn’s phrase) to the senses other than visual.  All of this, I hasten to add, is offered in addition to architectural photography as it exists at the moment, not as a replacement.  After all, you can see far more by standing on a giants shoulders than you can by knocking him down.  From there, she makes the expected move from painting (past) to photography (present).

Two series of color photographs, one by Richard Misrach of San Francisco Bay’s Golden Gate, the other by Joel Meyerowitz of Cape Cod Bay, are successors to Monet’s series, each documenting light in the same place at different times of day and night, in diverse weather. Their cameras captured light in a split second or in minutes-long exposures, day by day, month by month, year by year. In Misrach’s book, Golden Gate, the images are ordered chronologically, each taken from precisely the same location on the photographer’s front porch, and framed identically. The unfolding drama takes place in the sky, the shallow foreground with the bridge and bay, its foil. Some photographs were taken only moments apart, a reminder that thirteen minutes might be a century, shifts that would have driven Monet to distraction. The identical frame and the curt captions (“10-29-97 4:35PM,” “11-10-00 12:50-3:40AM”) emphasize the camera’s role as a mechanical recording instrument. ❂ ❂ Roland Barthes described the
camera as “a clock,”; perhaps this was Misrach’s point of departure (“The book is also a clock,” he writes).107 Meyerowitz’s Bay/Sky, is not a clock, but a “book of days”: “today was crystalline, this day was dark, one day tHe OpeN DOOR brings to mind a flower petal, another the inside of a shell. Some days are metal: steely, leaden, silver, golden….Strange that density and hardness are used to describe something fluid and translucent.”
108 (Spirn 75).

One final important reference is her attention to light as a skill transmitted (or transferred) in the classroom.

My class in landscape photography begins with a month-long study of light. The first assignment is to keep a light journal; for the first
three weeks the students describe the quality of light as it appears at least six times each. They note the time, the place, the light’s intensity, clarity,
and color, how light responds to, exposes, or conceals materials, surfaces, forms, and creates shadows, how light, in turn, is reflected, absorbed,
and transformed by the landscape’s surface. I ask them to notice the sky and search for words to convey what they see; I suggest that they consult
poetry (Spirn 77).

She continues, crucially, with a reference to an architecture student’s increased appreciation and the importance of place in the atmosphere produced.

By the end of the semester, one architecture student was surprised to discover how much sharper his perception of light and color
had become. One evening, standing outdoors with a friend, also an architect, he noticed that the light was green and pointed it out; his friend
saw no green and looked at my student as if he were hallucinating. My student probably will be more skillful than his friend in employing and
playing with light in the buildings he designs. When my students (and I) gain an appreciation for the light of a place, in season, the range of its
expected and unexpected lights, the common and the rare, they can better see and photograph distinctive lights of other seasons and other places.
Every region has its own light with particular qualities of solar angle, brightness, clarity, and color, caused by the interplay of latitude and longitude,altitude, climate, the color and reflectivity of surfaces of rock, soil, plants, water, buildings. The sun’s angle, a factor of time of day and season and latitude, affects how much atmosphere (dust and moisture) the  light passes through. Humidity and dust change light’s quality variously –its color, clarity, and brilliance – from place to place. Add the reflective surface of the sea to clear, dry air and a special light results: the iridescent light of Southern California, the brilliant bounce of winter light in Sydney, Australia. Light provides a sense of place (Spirn 77).


research log: Table of (dis)contents



Volume 1

Abstract I

Acknowledgements II

Preface III



1.1      Research questions

1.2      Research context and assumptions

1.3      Research aim and approaches

1.4      Previous studies


Research Design

2.1      Research approaches: hybrid, interdisciplinary, international

2.1.1   Artistic research

2.1.2   Ethnographic research

2.1.3   Combining artistic research with ethnographic research

2.2      Research process

2.3      Data collection methods

2.3.1   Research data

2.4      Analysis of data


Foundation: Conventions in Architectural Publishing

3.1      Finnish Journal of Architecture 1922 – 2012

3.1.1   Content analysis

3.1.2   Image classification

3.1.3   Discussion of visual rhetorics

3.1.4   Implications for architectural photography

3.2      Survey of global publications 2012

3.2.1   Content analysis

3.2.2   Image classification

3.2.3   Discussion of visual rhetorics

3.2.4   Implications for architectural photography

3.3      Phaidon Atlas of Architecture

3.3.1   Content analysis

3.3.2   Image classification

3.3.3   Implications for architectural photography

3.3.4   Summary


Elevation: Artistic Research in Atmosphere

4.1      Background: Gernhot Böhme ,Peter Zumthor and Juhanni Pallasmaa

4.2      Fieldwork: collaboration with 6 architects

4.2.1   Hypothetical commissions

4.2.2   Interviews

4.2.3   Selection of project partners

4.3      Interpretation and analysis

4.3.1   Strengths and weaknesses of dialectical process

4.3.2   Sharing new knowledge

4.3.3   The problem of scale

4.5      Summary


Plan:  Artistic Research as Teaching Model and Bridge to Industry

5.1      The problem with atmosphere

5.1.1   Time

5.1.2   Money

5.1.3   A return to the decentred subject

5.2      The problem with art education

5.2.1   In need of bridges

5.2.2   In need of innovation

5.2.3   In need of autonomy

5.3      The means for removing both problems

5.4      Summary:



6.1      Who cares about architectural photography?

6.2      What language do you speak?

6.3      When to talk and when to listen.

6.4      Where is atmosphere?

6.5      Why do images matter now more than ever?

6.6      How to look at images.



7.1 General

7.2 The validity of the study

7.3 Limitations

7.4 Suggestions for further research


Volume 2

1   Image Gallery

2   1000 words

3   Website

4   Poster


research log: The second interview

1.  I would assert that the vast majority of publications are not sufficiently interested in deviating from standard photographic practice or order to do so because they consider it a risk to the success of their publication.  By standard photographic practice I refer to colour images of the following standardised elements:

  • times of day: midday, producing blue skies and strong contrast through shadows and highlights, at dusk when the sky is white and lights show up vivid yellow, immediately after, during “blue light”.
  • times of year: typically spring or summer in northern Europe so that the preceding light conditions can be easily achieved and rain, cloudy & overcast skies and snow avoided.
  • vantage points: corner and centre shots of rooms and elevations ranging from eye level (1’70-1’80m) to half way up a building’s full height.
  • renaissance perspective: vertical lines must not converge and vanishing points converge on a horizon at 1/3 or 2/3 the height of the image
  • condition of buildings: “box fresh” with all building works completed but before use and personalisation of the building can occur
  • lack of human presence in the majority of images: there is a convention of placing small blurry figures in vast spaces to indicate scale and a modicum of human presence
  • general lack of story telling found in books, journals and popular magazines:  this is still very much more show than tell

Other sorts of photographic depiction are viewed as messy, unattractive and unprofessional.  Do you agree with this statement and do you think anything can or will or should be done about it?  If so, for what reasons, by whom and through what means?

2.  Is there a place for atmosphere as a means of changing some of these conventions or adding to them?

3.  Is atmosphere the focus of images in this project and if so, in which images specifically and through what means?  Is it the atmosphere of the place as imagined by the architect?   Is it the atmosphere of the place as might be perceived in person by a vistor to the building or user of the site?  Is the atmosphere rather a discovery or production made by the photographer?

4.  Can you think of any ways to improve this investigation and go further with this method of photography?

5.  Are there any ways in which you will apply the research conducted through these images and/ or this method of interviewing with a focus on atmosphere to your work?  How might this scale up to the collaborative work between photographers and architects in your national sphere and beyond?

6.  Are there ways in which it is neither appropriate nor useful to the art, technical discipline and business of architecture?  After all, the fundamental research question behind all of this is how does photography effect the practice of architecture, so it will be important to establish to what degree each participant believes:

  • it is useful to focus on atmosphere instead of material objects – not just buildings but also the space between them, the events that occur in and around them, and their existence over time.
  • a dialectical process is feisible between architect and photographer for the production of images
  • things are fine the way they are and perhaps the driving force behind this project is innovation for innovation’s sake rather than a question of applying a different model of production to raise doubts and questions about the existing one

All of these questions should be considered in light of those raised during the first interview and photographs produced subsequently.

If anyone reading this blog would like to comment on these questions taking into account everything I have written and the goals which I have set myself with this project, I would greatly appreciate it.  I welcome nuances to these questions, suggestions for things left out as well as recommendations for things that might be left out from what I have written.

diary: What’s in a name?

Everything, apparently.  How else do you explain the publication of this amazing advice?

Legendary photographer Stephen Shore gives us 5 tips for better street photography:

Create a Visual Diary
Shoot Color for Visual Accuracy and Realism
Date Your Images
Experiment With Different Formats
Go Against the Grain

Research Question: 1 – What is an atmosphere?

I realise I am asking the same question over and over again but I would like to add a subtle nuance:  what is an atmosphere to my research question, do images make buildings?  It seems I would like to say, wouldn’t you like to let images make buildings in this way.  Here, let me show you, or at least let me try.

That is not the purpose of this research; can it still be one of the methods?  It certainly has been a method for questioning my own work, but what of theirs?  What of the relationship between architectural and photographic work (or more to the point the collaboration between architects and photographers)?  What can an interest in atmosphere tell us about that hinge?

Research Question: 2 – Investigation through art…can we still hope for it?

I am referring of course of the role of art to ask questions, point, reveal, depict…in this case photography as document vs. photography as discovery (or canvas of ideas and impressions).  Of course art in the hands of people like Olaffur Eliasson asks technological questions, involve extensive research and produce outcomes that can be said to bring phenomenology to a broad public in a way few other artists have managed.  But what of lesser mortals and their projects?

What about comission-based art?  Can investigation in this area of artistic practice take plac3?  Can’t you give the client what they want by giving them more (or other) than they expected, thereby pushing the boundaries whilst still working within market realities?