research log: key concepts

1.  architectural photography has become stagnant, entrenched, codified and dogmatic.  evidence through ark and phaidon atlas.

2.  working with architects to change this state of affairs can be started through interviewing them when taking commissions.  evidence: 6 case studies.

3.  students and architects working together on courses producing work for “real world” clients can change the tack this course is currently on. evidence: grey matter.

4.  photography can be a reference tool (for architects, photographers, publishers), not just a means of promoting work.  evidence:  grids of images / website

5.  academics do not know much about photographic practices and generalise causing misconceptions when discussing photography.  evidence: 4 buttons.

6.  hiring / commissioning could be reassessed: evidence – participant observation, personal experience, teaching grey matter, etc


benefits to changing conventions and practices would be as follows:

1. potential brand differentiation for architects (as discussed with PR agent in interview)

2. potential new design inputs for architects: matrix as pantone tool / feedback loop

3. potential new images for publishers: more selection and diversity

4. potential new concepts (ways of seeing) for everyone, including general public

5.   potential new job positions for architects / photographers


diary – a doctoral defence

I went to a dissertation defence (as they call it here) the other day, where the candidate couldn’t answer these questions:

  • what is the problem?
  • main contribution?
  • which field?
  • what’s new?
  • what does it change?
  • does the approach actually produce something better?
  • what is original in your work?

If you cannot answer those questions, it was clear, you cannot defend your thesis.

research log: instrument vs window frame

on the one hand i have instrumental hopes for this research.  it could act as a toolkit for the holy trinity i’ve so often mentioned.  in doing so, hopefully it would contribute in a small way to question and perhaps expand the definition of professional practices, ie established conventions.

on the other hand, engaging in the definitions required to produce that toolkit engages in the type of limited thinking which frustrated me enough that i left my comfortable little world and engaged upon this research.  i saw a problem:  there is a false consensus on the truth, that consensus limits what people are able to see, that limitation limits what people believe, consider, design, request, desire.  my desire was to help change that, even in only a small way.

but who the hell am i to produce 10 new commandments in the form of nine prescriptions, ie atmospheres, plus the existing universal atmosphere found in architectural photography?

one way around that would be to finally engage in the 1000 words exercise i have been contemplating from the outset.  1000 words is enough for dialogue, questions, descriptions, perspectives.  these could engage a representative image on the opposite side of the dps.  text on the left, photo on the right.  no rubric, definition or explanation.

the tookit then would exist for those that wish to use it: in the poster and the website.  but the galleries could remain free of definition through text, through names, through limited categorical thinking (which i will still engage in, just not so pontifically in this particular space).

research log: representation 6

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This is what I wrote a long time ago.  The first of two posters, fruition of that plan, can be seen below.

poster architecture side interactive

On this side the images are divided into 9  architectural projects, each featuring the same conventional architectural exterior atmosphere (blue skies day and night) and three interiors that make no attempt to deviate from normal commercial practice.

Then there is the second poster.

poster atmospheres side

On this side the images are divided into 9  atmospheres:  1 nostalgic, 2 abstract, 3 journalistic, 4 cubist, 5 grey matter, 6 low key, 7 high key, 8 time compressions , 9 draughts.  Clearly this is still very much a work in progress.  I need more photos and am sifting through thousands of photos already taken in order to find images that fit these categories.  I should have done a storyboard from the beginning.  I thought writing the concept down was clear enough in my mind, but I see now that it was not explicit enough a plan to follow.  That said, the plan was meant to emerge after research, and not the other way round.  So perhaps this temporary setback was inevitable, following this methodology.

I will work on a 3rd poster that combines elements of each:  9 projects, each with 9 diff atmospheres.

diary: reminder for the reader

Categories are as follows:

research log: activities and observations significant to research – my work, mainly documentation of images

log: things which maybe useful as reference material – others’ work

diary: personal events that should be earmarked – life as connected to work


Entries can be organized into one of the three categories by clicking on the category as indicated below.  So for example should wish to read all of the Research log entries all at once, you would click on that category.  Please see below for an illustration of how to do this.


research log: representation 5, technology, image, architecture

yet another instrumental use of photography brings architecture’s functional dependency on photography as a transparent tool ever closer to totality:

it would be amazing to develop an app that shows you that same building under various guises (represenations) together with information provided through texts.

log: arch photo book

‘Concrete: Photography and Architecture’ by Daniela Janser

Amazon Blurb:

The fields of photography and architecture have long been closely linked: photography provides a powerful way for architecture to be appreciated from a distance, and the camera lens alters and enhances buildings so that they can be appreciated anew, even by those already intimately familiar with them. Concrete: Photography and Architecture explores this deep and often complex relationship, with particular attention paid not only to how photography influences the perception of architecture but also the very design itself. Beginning with the invention of photography in the nineteenth century, this volume presents iconic images of urban architecture and townscapes that are organized thematically rather than simply chronologically. The editors have assembled over two hundred images from numerous notable photographers, including: Georg Aerni, Adolphe Braun, Balthasar Burkhard, Lynn Cohen, Walker Evans, Lucien Hervé, Germaine Krull, Stanley Kubrick, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and William Henry Fox Talbot. Originally published to coincide with an exhibition celebrating the Fotomuseum Winterthur’s twentieth anniversary, Concrete: Photography and Architecture is an exhaustive investigation of architectural photography and is as beautiful as it is informative.

BD article:

It is telling that this sort of thing is always published by and announced through and to the architectural community and not spoken of in the photographic world.

research log: representation 4

Barbara Bolt, Art Beyond Representation: “What is at issue is not so much representation in itself, but rather how,  in the modern world,  representation has come to be understood as the structure that enables representationalism to dominate our contemporary way of think.  representationalism  is a system of thought that fixes the world as an object and resource for human subjects.  As a mode of thought that prescribes all that is know, it order the world and predetermines what can be thought.  Representation becomes the vehicle through which representationalism can effect this will to fixity and mastery”  (12-13).

research log: representation 3

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Another key issue is the established standard: representation is reduced to a limited series of tropes, which determine what is shot, how and when.  At present they are as follows: exterior: corner and facade in bright sunlight and at blue light, show devoid of people or with tiny figurines setting the scene; general scenes are complimented with a few details where suitable. Images are shot mainly on extreme wide angle and often composites of several captures stitched together.

interior: atrium or family room, transition spaces (staircases and corridors), kitchens and bathrooms in homes, areas designed to house collections in cultural spaces, again shot with and without people, though figurines are normally replaced with smears or blurs and the occasional person imitating a mannequin.

The rest is summed up by Roger Connah in ‘How Architecture Got its Hump’: At present, there are just four types of the architectural photo:  establishing (general) shots which show the entire building, a conventional frontal shot (elevation), detail shots, and shots of something that happens by chance (53-54).

My Grey Matter course starts tomorrow.  In it we will take pictures under grey skies and in the rain.  Hopefully this will prove to be research into alternative forms of representation to eventually broaden the range of options.  We will start by choosing new ‘whens’ and see if that leads to a new interpretation of ‘what’.

research log: representation 2

Returning to the former entry, the article states the following: In the main, the makers of architectural drawings are not those who analyse their possible cultural significance, whether for reasons of insufficient critical distance or simply lack of ‘reflective’ time.

As I have said repeatedly, the same is true of photography, hence my research.  On particular aspect of image creation that needs unpacking is that of representation.  Yes, photography is a capture of something.  But when and how are as important as what in the persuasive depiction of architecture.  Below are some illustrations of that point.

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Variables are kept to a minimum in the first series.  Time of day is the main difference between shots.

In the series below, vantage point considerably changes the reception of the subject (of the photograph, ie the object photographed) as does the time of day.

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In the next series, skies have been altered and the photo converted to high contrast black and white.

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In my opinion, black and white significantly enhances the image below.  A reference tool of this sort would probably be an aid to architects, publishers and photographers alike.  But how to make judegements?  On the basis of what: it is better like that because I say so?  Presumably one needs to be an established, recognised authority to get away with arrogant statements like that.

Perhaps the clearest way to show ‘how’ is at least as critical as ‘what’ you show in terms of communication, persuasion, seduction, is to look at the way we respond to ‘bad’ photographs, considering how they were made, what factors they ignore in the image making process and how those oversights make the viewer feel about what they are seeing:

However, photographs need not necessarily meet the sterile architectural standard to communicate, persuade, seduce:

I am not a Daily Mail reader, I hasten to add.  But I am a big fan of Roger Connah.  The Kowloon project, together with so much fine art documentary photography brings to life Connah’s wish list for architectural photography:

  1. The fact that a building is an open form, not closed
  2. Movement makes the solidarity of material and culture incomplete
  3. The underlying structure is stunning and complex
  4. White modernist architecture is unapproachable, yet remarkable
  5. The building or site will mature when ruination begins
  6. What it will look like once lived in (67)

But why don’t we see more of these images in the architectural press?

log: drawing, again

Full article:


How can we understand drawings as expressions of a specific creativity, forming part of a history of creative thinking?

The status of the architectural drawing is perhaps only becoming harder to define. In the main, the makers of architectural drawings are not those who analyse their possible cultural significance, whether for reasons of insufficient critical distance or simply lack of ‘reflective’ time. And since the ‘invention’ of architectural drawing itself, in the differentiating of Architecture from the so-called Manual Arts, we have struggled to say what sets architectural thinking apart, largely relying on the perennial definition of ‘artistic’ ability combined with ‘technical’ savoir-faire.

The recent workshop Beyond the Documentary: Defining Mastery in Architectural Drawings, held at London’s Courtauld Institute, sought to reassess prevalent assumptions about architectural drawing, asking how these works can be understood not only as serving the act of building but as having a status of their own. In the words of Courtauld curator Stephanie Buck, the debate endeavoured to articulate how we might understand architectural drawings as ‘expressions of a specific creativity’, forming part of a ‘history of creative thinking’.

Studies from the workshop of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Rome, 1545

Studies from the workshop of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Rome, 1545

Study of seven entablatures © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Study of seven entablatures by Circa 1550-1570 © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London