This pair of articles is interesting because it reveals some of the limitations to the conventionalised way of speaking and writing about art, speculates on possible origins of IAE (French ways of speaking carried across (translated) into English) and offers food for thought on the importance of form to content.
Of the 3 pilgrimages taken, only the one to Villa Savoye was a disappointment. The building seemed cramped, institutional, ugly, cold and sad. Perhaps it was partly because it is in very bad condition. The German buildings were pristine whereas the one in France was falling to pieces. But it was more than just that. Both the detailing an overall presence of the other two buildings were a pleasure to behold first hand. Being there really was even better than looking at pictures for that reason, because it added to the sensory experience of the place and gave me an increased appreciation of the crafts of architectural design and construction. Corbu’s building was easy enough to photograph, but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend even a night there and was happy to leave when I did. In all of these trips to buildings, the sense of pilgrimage was, as Juhani Pallasmaa told me when I interviewed him, a part of the experience as well. Having to travel, so spending time, money and energy to get there. Expectations mounting all the while, the surroundings changing, the anticipation growing, together with the fact that you are by default part of a community of other people doing the same thing for more or less the same reason. Much of this shared experience exists online and through books and magazines of course, only we are not aware of it.
This assignment came with a rare compliment:
“This is the most peculiarly sensual and gorgeous picture of Aalto’s architecture I have ever seen. You are a wizard.”
I wanted to depict three very different spaces through distinct presentations:
- exterior: bright and crisp with a focus on the unique juncture of building materials
- interior: dark, cavelike, mysterious
- auditorium: a focus on the gorgeous, undulating lines and contrast of colours, with a final photo as a bow from the stage (this space is after all within the discourse of performance design)
It would seem I have succeeded!
Here I am faced with yet another possible moment of self contradiction, because this clearly is a successful way of comparing and contrasting spaces visually. A series of theatres is presented via the same axial photograph, the same letterbox format, the same lens, similar vantage points. In short, photographic variety has been reduced to a minimum, allowing you to appreciate differences in materials, colours, etc. But the apparent contradiction to my central argument – that photography could be used to taylor the depiction of architecture to specific needs of the client, identity of the brand, or things about the place and time in which the image and/or building was produced – are part of language. I mean, you get yourself into trouble by not thinking about and subsequently explaining things as fully and clearly as you should.
This technique has lots of helpful specific applications. As is the case here, it reduces one set of variables (those the photographer avails of) to allow the viewer to easily appreciate another (those of the built environment). The trouble is that this way of working has been so successful that it is used nearly all the time, with very few exceptions. That creates beliefs and practices that I have set out, with my thesis to scrutinise and argue against. It is not the practice that is bad, it is the rigidity of its application, the lack of lateral thinking and R & D in those areas which I believe most urgently needs to be addressed. It could be achieved through collaboration with no money spent and little time or effort on the part of architects or commercial photographers. Scaling that idea up should be done through teaching: what I hope to achieve somewhere upon completing my thesis.
Dresden is being rebuilt, as I write this, by looking a photographs and plans of the old city – images of the past. Before that, it was rebuilt in the shape of Eastern-bloc, postwar Europe: large cereal boxes turned on their sides with holes punched out of them. Coventry, twin city to Dresden, was also rebuilt on the basis of postwar ideology. It features the same ugly boxes in a much more dire state of disrepair (in Dresden everything is immaculate and looks box-fresh). But it has a forward looking, techie side to it as well. In the 60’s that meant chopping up the centre with ring-roads, slip-roads, flyovers and placing car parks and shopping centres in between those machine arteries. Transport and shopping: plus plus ça change… Things there have changed little, in terms of values, but quite a lot, visually. Coventry was once again rebuilt in the image of the future by MJP architects, via a project called the Phoenix Initiative for reasons to obvious to mention. I know Coventry quite well, as my first few commissions sent me there. I spent a couple of years visiting it repeatedly. It is a horrible mess, for the most part; an incredibly depressing place to spend even a few days. The cathedral is wonderful, of course. And it is central to the work done to reclaim the centre, which I was sent to shoot. Some of which can be seen here:
But Dresden’s centre is quite different. It looks to the past, also through images. Perhaps political and social differences are at root of these different paths to regeneration that followed similar paths for immediate post war reconstruction. Both have a certain beauty, at least in low light. Time will tell if the Phoenix soon looks dated and if the stone of the Dresden mock-up will take on a convincing patina. Look too closely it gets a bit Disneyland. Enter some of the churches at your peril. Or to your benefit, as it gives one much food for thought on the subject of taste, building, the relationship between the interior and exterior of a building and whether not they are different things or two aspects of the whole. At any rate, for all their flaws, the centre of Dresden and the centre of Coventry are vastly superior places to the post-war wastelands that surround them. Much of that has to do with recent investment, of course. But perhaps it is also because they were each designed through images instead of just arguments conveyed through texts.
This is what Coventry has to say, offically, about Dresden: http://www.coventry.gov.uk/directory_record/6210/dresden_germany
And this is what Dresden officially writes about Coventry:
In both cases, photos now speak louder and more eloquently than textual discourses. And perhaps for the image of a city that’s not a bad thing. However, I don’t know enough about life in either city to speculate beyond that surface layer.
Below are a series of photos I took of controversial centre rebuilt around the Frauenkirche. The final image sums up the two options the city faced, which I think are a choice between the lesser of two evils: the dystopic future presents of Brave New World vs 1984. Each is bad in its own way, with lessons for humanity. But given the choice between a boot in your face forever, or sex, drugs and a top down instrumented class system, which would you prefer? Of course, the question remains: what other options were and are there? But that is more the subject for Rhino and Grasshopper than Canon and Photoshop, I guess.
On how lucrative the work is in America:
The cost of hiring an architectural photographer
“Photographer charges by the day + one assistant. Shoots are usually two days and we expect to get 10 – 20 final images.
In architecture we usually pay $10,000 per day because of variables… time of day, weather, time of year, harder to schedule.
An article that links to my current article in the works:
The AR archive illuminates the story of modern architecture
In a magazine as long lived as the AR (founded in 1896), there is a perpetual sense of being a privileged witness to the history of modern architecture. In a fascinating sub-plot, you can also track the changing ways in which this history is presented; the medium as well as the message. When the AR came into being, photography was still in its infancy, so drawings were the main means of conveying all kinds of subject matter, from architecture to the decorative arts. The cover of the first issue featured an ink drawing by the then editor, Henry Wilson, depicting the Spirit of Architecture, a sort of Arts & Crafts goddess, heroically leading her sisters of the other arts towards the future. Now Wilson’s goddess would be brandishing an iPad, showing the way to new digital opportunities for both architects and publishers.
Since that first issue there have been another 1,402. The buildings, ideas and discourse that shaped and defined the modern architectural era are now contained in 234 bound volumes occupying around 9 metres of shelf space. To our knowledge, there are only two complete collections in existence, one in our London offices and the other in the RIBA Library. Leafing through our back pages is always a compelling experience, but clearly future generations of architects, scholars and other interested parties will not necessarily have the opportunity or patience to engage with a physical entity resembling a medieval chained library. So a key ambition, starting this year, is to digitise the entire archive in order to disseminate more widely the AR’s rich repository of ideas, insight and intelligence and in a way that chimes more aptly with the technology of the times and the needs of our readers.
Making our past more accessible will intensify the AR’s relationship with architecture and the global community of architects. Rather than a static physical entity, the archive’s myriad digital currents will feed into and sustain a complex and evolving organism in ways our predecessors could only have dreamt of.
As part of this engagement we are introducing a new section,Archive, which will examine key moments in architectural history and bring to life the changing relationship between the message and the medium. Curated by Steve Parnell, the first article (p96) considers ‘Towards Another Architecture’, a 1970s campaign to encourage architecture to recover its ‘grip on social imagination’, in the same way as the AR’s recent Big Rethink attempted to redefine the correlation between architecture, society and ecology.
Being a journal of record is a crucial part of the AR’s mission and appeal. But it’s not enough just to be a passive witness, ‘an architectural Debrett, the recorder and illustrator of an established aesthetic’, as Parnell notes, quoting from an AR editorial of 1976. Now more than ever, architectural magazines must be relevant and engaging, propositional rather than reactive, cultivating an agile and fertile reciprocity between different media to illuminate the past, present and future of architecture.
The history of architectural photography
22 December 2013
Exploring photography’s obsession with architecture as motif and metaphor, a cluster of exhibitions in Los Angeles ended by questioning the neutrality of the camera in the architectural assignment
Nikolaus Pevsner, who is relevant both as a precursor to critical realism and because of his awareness of atmosphere and the effects of image on design through the picturesque – all my topics.