Working Titles to choose from:
What Do You Mean by Photography?
Do Images Make Buildings?
Atmographs or Archmospheres?
Architecture’s Discursive Space: Photography
9 x 9
Away from the Universe of Technical Images
Non-Sense of Place
Bridge and Tunnel
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment
Of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy (is it possible to apply for a PhD not DA?)
Aalto University, School of Art, Architecture and Design
Helsinki, July 2014
Table of Contents
List of Articles iii
List Of Figures iv-
1.1 Ground 1
1.1.1 Questions 2
1.2.1 Research approaches
188.8.131.52 Practice-based vs Artistic research
184.108.40.206 Ethnographic research
220.127.116.11 Combining methodologies
1.2.2 Research process
1.2.3 Data collection methods
1.2.4 Research data
1.2.5 Analysis of data
1.3.1 Place of work
1.3.2 Academic Context
1.3.3 Commercial Milieu
1.3.4 Interstitial or Third Space
1.4.1 Overview of articles
1.4.2 Thesis structure and media
Photography Studies Literature Review
Architectural Photography Literature Review
9 facts About Conventions in Architectural Photography
Field-testing the Relationship Between Photography and Architecture
Architecture’s Discursive Space: Photography
Grey Matter: Teaching the Local
3.1 Who cares about architectural photography?
3.2 Why do images matter now more than ever?
3.3 Can you communicate without conventions?
3.4 Where is atmosphere?
3.5 Do images make buildings?
3.6 What do you mean by photography?
4.2 The validity of the study
4.4 Suggestions for further research
Appendix I – Blog & website
Appendix II – Sample interview and questionnaire
Appendix III – AIA standard instructions for architectural photographers
with supplemental additions derived from this research
Appendix IV– Using Grids as a Tool
Appendix V –Sample Work Flow
9 Grids, 90 Images and 9000 words
The desire to begin this study took root thirteen years ago in a train. It was roughly an hour’s journey from Goldsmiths University in south London to my sister’s house, and I had brought one book with me for the weekend – Privacy and Publicity, by Beatriz Colomina. I knew very little about Le Corbusier or Adolf Loos at the time, but found I couldn’t put the book down. Not for the journey or the weekend. I was spending most of my time reading about architecture or photographing it with a large format film camera. But little did I realise how the story Colomina told about these key figures of modernism – and their filial or phobic relationships with photography – would presage my own experience with architects for the years to come.
I finished my MA, spent a year putting together my portfolio, and in 2003 got my first big job. It was for the regeneration of an entire city centre, and I was terrified. The managing director of the firm gave me some advice that has stuck with me to this day. He told me to give them exactly what they were looking for, only better. I have been shooting with that in mind ever since. I love my work and consider each and every commission a privilege – at times of the sort so exhilarating you can’t eat or sleep. But the meanings behind that comment together with several other questions have built up over time.
The first came with the transition from large format film to digital capture. Excited by the potential of this new medium, I experimented with several means of capturing and depicting time-lapse in a single image and the unfolding of spaces, such as the surfaces of a building or the facades in a square, on to a single plane. Upon showing these images to the PR manager of my best client, I was told they were photo unrealistic and that the company wouldn’t purchase them. That response was to repeat itself. What was meant by photorealistic and what was causing this resistance to change?
Some time later I pitched a project to the publishers Thames and Hudson, who agreed to do a book based on these new concepts of light and space. Suddenly all of the architects I contacted were interested. Publicity – of the sort that comes with no strings attached – had apparently altered the private prejudices of this conservative practice against a new sort of image. Why the change of heart? Perhaps risk was the decisive factor in opening up a space for experimentation. Here was a finding worth investigating.
Before long I realised clichés were part of the vocabulary of photorealism. I have trudged around more half-finished buildings with architects holding tree branches than I care to think about. The same goes for watching the weather page for sunny skies, picking dates for shoots like a gambler placing bets on a horse. And of course flowers, personal items and people have no place in the empty world of architectural photographs.
Most of all, however, I found I wanted to know why there was so little dialogue between architects and photographers. Commissions were of two sorts. Either you were given an incredibly detailed brief with explanatory texts, plans, renders, indicated vantage points, focal points and camera angles to shoot very specific aspects of a site. Or you were told to “work your magic”. Either way, there was no interaction, even with established clients. In the former case, you were essentially ticking boxes in a wish-list, in the latter you often got nasty surprises upon meeting with the client to see what the “magic” had produced. I think the reason for this lack of interaction was summed up nicely by Manfredo Tafuri when he said it showed a “wish to contain all the problems within the architectural discipline, to avoid well-founded outside examination” (104). He claims the problem has been around since the 1930s and is a result of an out-dated but tenacious belief in the avant-garde. Perhaps then, there is little hope for change? Perhaps also, there is no need for it. My research has given me the chance to test those questions.
Roughly four years after my MA, I began teaching on a weekly basis. Doing so took me back to a relationship with photography that I had by then forgotten. On the one hand, students were eager to try new things and full of references I had never seen. On the other, many of my colleagues espoused ideological beliefs about photography which bore no relationship whatever with my practice, or anyone’s in my field. Here was another finding: for better or for worse, education exists in a bubble, even where vocational training is the order of the day. Here again I site an early motivation for this study, albeit a nebulous one at that point in time.
Years later, I can’t help feeling like a traveller with a foot in two different countries. I grew up mid-Atlantic, and have subsequently lived in five other countries for years upon end, so perhaps it is only natural. The result is that you start to wish you could pick the best from each place and share it with everyone. The coffee is better in one, the smoked salmon in the other. One place is organised, the other beautiful. If only it were possible to have it all or at least find a way to share what each place is good at. Perhaps it will be, eventually – at least in this metaphorical sense. In the meantime, my goal is to work as a translator between discourses and practices. It is all too easy to get carried away whilst writing and succumb to delusions of grandeur. Whilst this research has been of all-consuming importance to me for the past four years, I realise it will neither save the world nor change the state of affairs it addresses. The reach of a doctoral thesis is extremely limited, and the voice of its author typically carries little weight. But in addition to being an enriching technical exercise, it is an opportunity to share early findings with others. However small the circle of readers, I value and look forward to their feedback in order to take many more steps towards bridging the gaps between architects and photographers, industry and education.
This study seeks to add a photographer’s voice to the somewhat private discussion architects have been having about the photography of their work. In theory and practice, architects are extremely reliant on photography: as visuals for talks, illustrations for publications or the decisive factor in competition entries. Images – principally photographs – are at the centre of an architect’s work and education. Yet rarely are they treated as photographs: constructed views achieved through choices conditioned by ingrained rules, preferences and technical practices. Instead they are all too often taken for transparent windows onto the real work – the architect’s. Some of the blame for that no doubt goes to the star system of architecture and its modernist myths about polymath figures running the show. However, as in so many commercial practices, photographers have absented themselves from the discussion, and their silence has meant that the understanding of their practice has been defined by others.
By choosing to write, I hope to bring not only a new perspective to architects but also suggest an inroad to expand the field of photographic studies to the extent I am able. My research has convinced me that architecture would benefit from a more pluralistic reading, as would photography studies from a renewed interest in commercial practices. But with architecture’s insular approach to learning and photography’s focus on fine art and the snapshot, the current state of affairs is quite different.
Inherently interdisciplinary, this study sits on the periphery of two different practices and fields of enquiry, using photography to look at architecture and architecture to do the reverse. Hopefully architecture and photography will grow nearer and cross-pollinate one another in future as art forms, commercial endeavours and learning environments. It is the goal of this enquiry to work towards increased communication and connectivity between the two disciplines and practices, and to better understand the current relationship between them – both commercially and academically.
I have chosen practice-based research as the principle means of working towards these rather ambitious goals; however, discourse and content analysis have also proven crucial. In order to reflect on my own practice, I needed to better understand the practice of others – architects, editors and photographers alike – and situate my own practice within such contexts. I soon arrived at a study on conventions in architectural photography, which then led me to an exploration of unconventional photography and it’s commercial reception. However, I do not wish to introduce a false binary, here. As will become clear, conventional photographs operate as a normative standard but are one of endless atmospheres through which architecture might be experienced. That said, “custom is our nature,” as Pascal put it, so the conventionalised means of deploying architectural images are deeply entrenched and taken for granted as optical truths. The conventions of the architectural drawing were established at the Renaissance, and have been part of the photographic rulebook since the invention of photography. It is not my intention to enter into normative thinking about conventional photographs themselves, but rather to reveal and articulate such conventions, speculate on the rhetorical mechanisms behind them, and argue for a research-driven polysemic photography to better explain architecture through photographs and better differentiate architects from one another.My research looks at how the conventions of architectural photography stereotype its reading, ultimately limiting the ways in which architecture is imagined or understood.
As well as writing in the hope of making a small contribution to existing literature on the subject, I have worked at creating a comprehensive tool for architects and photographers to use. The tool is innovative as is the method, but each is very much in its nascent stage. Nonetheless, they are developed enough to share in this context and will benefit greatly from critique. I offer a method for visualising discourse through photography via a body of images which together with a collection of articles seeks to critique and expand the relationship between photography and architecture.
This study started with what seemed like a simple though provocative question: Do images make buildings? The next question was how to test such a hypothesis. Initially, it occurred to me to contact a small number of experts to interview on the matter. I met with ten architects in Finland and the same number in approximately in Denmark before arriving at 6 firms to partner up with for my research: AOA, JKMM, K2S, 3XN, PLH and KHR. I wasn’t long into my fieldwork, however, before I discovered the question was not at all provocative, nor was it simple. ‘Images’ might refer to illustrations, technical drawings or photographs. Architecture is about more than just buildings. But ‘make’ was ultimately the most complicated part for it could be taken to refer to several things including:
- An image’s role as a model for something to be made (the assumed role of technical drawings) rather than as simply a document of something already made (the default belief about a photograph’s ontology and function).
- The use of images in marketing, determinant in ‘making’ a career in architecture.
Given the first two points, could it be said that images had a decisive role in design. But it is possible to go further and limit the discussion to photography, asking:
- Are buildings built to be photogenic? If so, is photography’s role as a source for design and a testing ground of design underestimated or perhaps overlooked?
Much to my great surprise, experts were unanimous in agreeing that buildings were often built with photographs in mind. This was no discovery; it was taken for granted. Architects were polarised on what that relationship with photography meant, just as Colomina revealed in her portrayal of the media friendly vs the media phobic architect. Photography was either good or bad for architecture. But no one, it seemed, had considered the notion of multiple photographies and their potential for altering the focus of the debate. It was at this point my question shifted to an emphasis upon conventions in architectural photography and an exploration into alternative practices. As a result, a new research question emerged:
What do you mean by photography?
I have sought investigate that question by identifying some of the component parts of conventional architecture through literature, content analysis of photographs and through fieldwork. By using the same methods I located a potential candidate for alternative practices in the notion of atmosphere. The topic has a long history in literature (from Pevsner to Pallasmaa) but little application in commercial images. Using the research environment of the university as a means of developing and testing the viability of such images provided a second reason for doing practice-based research.
Conventions are crucial. There clearly is a rulebook which stipulates specifically what is and isn’t good architectural photography. But I found it important to test whether this was arbitrary set of rules that have become enshrined in practice, and why they were so resistant to change. Just as the 19th century was all about Greco-Roman Orders or Gothic windows, and the 20th century avant-garde was essentially a dogmatic, systematised response putting a modern universalised system in its place, contemporary architectural photography is about the adherence to a system based on a conventionalised beliefs about the right way of doing things – the only way. The amusing thing about those rules is a how silly they seem in retrospect. I have a book which illustrates that point, perfectly.
Written in Barcelona in the 1960s it is simply titled: Urbanity. A rule book for the would-be urbane, it starts off by listing duties to God, including: entering the temple, genuflexion, postures, during mass, of the sacraments, other religious solemnities, prayer and song, the ministers of God (9). These are not perhaps the key issues that concern the contemporary reader of Monocle or the New Yorker. The rules are several, precise and of the following sort:
When visiting the Mother Superior you must remove your apron.
Before entering her room, ask permission, and if the door is closed, tap lightly, waiting for an answer.
Once inside, you will neither examine nor look at what is on the table, and will maintain a respectful distance, without sitting unless indicated by the Mother Superior.
Upon entering, you will kiss the hand of the Mother Superior and will respectfully exposit the reason for your visit. Upon finishing, you will thank the Mother Superior for her time and you will once again kiss her hand.
Upon seeing the Mother Superior you must stop to greet her, let her pass and not continue on your way until she has done so.
It is not correct to telephone people who warrant respect (36).
Clearly, we are privileged here to a glimpse at another world. It is one that teaches an obvious lesson: rules change. That fact is key because it means that what seems like optical truth today becomes tomorrow’s flat earth. I think photography could serve architecture very well as a means of doing research into these sorts of conventionalised practices. I have aimed to test that final hypothesis – one which underlies all of the other objectives – throughout the four main stages of this research.
This study is predicated the following assumptions that contradict default beliefs about architecture:
- Architectural photographers work with physical, three-dimensional spaces to produce flat images; architects work with flat images to design three -dimensional spaces.
- Architects have defined photography in such a way that limits its role within their practice.
- Architects say very different things with words and pictures: eidos and logos are at odds and often contradict each other on the same page of a publication.
These points are important because they cause problems in the reading of architecture for specialists and non-specialists alike.
Equally, it has emerged during the course of this research that photographic studies have been:
- articulated mainly by people with little professional experience as makers
- centred on fine art and snapshot images
- operating on the assumption that the commercial photograph comes under the remit of media studies
This second set of assumptions is crucial because it adds to confusion about photographic practices of the sort I am conducting. As Christopher Bedford put it, a more complete understanding of photography “will require a rich and thorough understanding of the myriad decisions that precede production[…] ranging from the conceptual and obtuse to the mundane and pragmatic” (11). In short, I take it for granted that architects and academics, not photographers, have done most of the thinking and writing about architectural photography. This fact emerged first through gaps in the literature which were the starting point for my research. Additionally, however, they indicate certain deficiencies in commercial practice. My final assumption is that research and development conducted in academia – but connected to industry – is the best way to fill some of those gaps and investigate ways to bridge the several divides causing practical and theoretical disconnects.
To better understand the relationship between photography and architecture, I have focussed my attention on five principle objectives:
- Articulate and assess the conventions of architectural photography
- Seek categories of visualised atmospheres and critical, commercial responses to them
- Test for disconnects between visual and verbal architectural discourses
- Create a tool for the direct visual understanding of those findings
- Test application of atmospheres model in localised architectural photography
Critical uses of photography offer a concrete example of what might be meant an expanded field of architectural photography, instead of one which is currently bound by the perceived limits of promotion, persuasion and documentation. Photography, I have found, is a good medium for analysing architectural beliefs and practices, and is an undervalued research and development tool both for design practices and theoretical systems. It is a means for sharing ideas and works. Yet it is bound by false beliefs. I have sought to argue that notions of transparency are based on false premises about objective truth – instead of being one of many styles, narratives, atmospheres. I have tried to make the transparent a little more opaque, colouring the water so as to make it visible. All of this can be done without sacrificing photography’s established roles in marketing and illustration. It is not an either/or situation.
An expanded role for photography within architectural design might look like this:
That role is needed because of the current lack of information between commissioning architects and photographers. That disconnect falls into two main categories, illustrated below in figure two. The remaining four categories summarise two positions I have argued for during the course of the thesis (imagined states c & d) and a synthetic compromise which I see as a workable solution at this stage.
This tri-part division into thesis, antithesis and synthesis is of course familiar. I do not suggest that the synthesis of extant and imaginary states would necessarily result in the method of communication listed. Rather it is a direction which my analysis of the extant states suggests would be worth pursuing, one which I take as more easily put into practice than the imagined states listed in the antithesis.
In this next section, I would like to cover the history and process of my research. I shall begin with a discussion of methodologies and terminology. From there I shall discuss my research data and data collection methods. Finally, I shall close with analyses of the data.
This research is based on my own practice, but it is as hybrid as it is interdisciplinary. Thus its design required inputs from disparate sources in order to incorporate established methodologies from distinct disciplines into an emergent set of research practices. But this is not hybridity for the sake of novelty. Rather, it is as Edward Tufte has put it, content-driven rather than form-obsessed (34, 51, 64, 90). There were certain things I wanted to know, each stage of research being dependent on the former. I applied whatever method of investigation seemed most appropriate for the knowledge I sought. Each article was treated as a separate project with unique and specific questions. Overall this research is qualitative, relying heavily on interviews and the reflective practice of image making. Yet the quantification of data did prove useful and necessary early on for the analysis of images appearing in the Finnish Architectural Review. The methods employed for that investigation were later useful for the classification and content analysis of my own photographs. This is a perfect example of how research cycles from one step to the next, and how separate methods wind up creating feedback loops in a sort of productive contamination. Whilst it is clear that the most concrete results of this research are the many hours of interviews and hundreds of photographs selected from thousands, my belief is that a new view of architectural photography, with conventional practice classified in a system of atmospheres, is the most significant finding.
1.2.1 Research approaches
Research started with a critical reading of relevant literature, from there it moved to fieldwork which was followed by sharing findings and modifying analyses on the basis of feedback. My written reports on those findings have been published in a series of articles which make up the body of this dissertation. As this research has been practice-based, I shall start there.
18.104.22.168 Practice-based vs. Artistic research
This study draws on ten years of experience working as an architectural photographer, and seeks to build on that embedded knowledge (Gamble & Blackwell 2001) through reflection. By gaining insight into my work and the working relationships I have built up with architects and publishers, I hope to shed some light on the current state of architectural photography. Additionally it gives me the opportunity to consider the work of others present and past and offer suggestions for increased future connectivity and diversity. As a means of learning how to do so, Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt’s Practice as Research has been a constant companion together with The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, edited by Michael Biggs and Henrik Karlsson. The Routledge guide was invaluable as a means of becoming familiar with institutional definitions and expectations at the national and European level. From the Henk Borgdorff’s essay, the following three maxims were particularly instructive:
- It is not formal knowledge that is the subject matter of artistic research but thinking in through and with art (Biggs & Karlsson Ch 3 location 1608).
- Works of art and artistic practices are not self-contained; they are situated and embedded (Biggs & Karlsson Ch 3 location 1680)
- Research (and not only artistic research) often resembles an uncertain quest in which the question or topics only materialize during the journey and my often change as well (Biggs & Karlsson Ch 3 location 1911).
This Feyerabend-like perspective upon artistic research gave institutional support to my desired working (against) methods. This is not to say that there wasn’t a method, but that it should fit the research and not the other way around. This is what I take Bolt and Warren to mean when they claim that this kind of “research may draw on conventional research methods and practices, but is emergent, not completely pre-determined or fixed” (198). I cite professor Juha Varto as another key influence in the emergent rather than fixed method view on practice-based methodology. Insert quote
A word about nomenclature is needed before going any further.
I could have very easily defined my work as artistic research, and indeed have published in the Journal of Artistic Research and presented papers at conferences centred around that theme without any hesitation. The old debate about whether or not photography is an art form ran out of steam long ago. However, I am more interested in publication and commercial practices than in the world of galleries and exhibitions. I have had one solo exhibition and curated another during the course of my research. So this is not to say I am uninterested in the art world. Rather, the relevant media for a study of architectural photography are books, magazine, journal and online publications, juried competitions, and lectures where images are used. I think architectural photography would benefit greatly were it to draw from the art world, yet this is not the case as far as I can see. In short, the milieu of the art world was less relevant for what I wanted to know. So I have chosen the term Practice-based research to define my study. There are reasons of protocol behind the nomenclature, as well.
Aalto University prefers the term practice-based / practice-led because my dissertation will not include separately pre-examined artistic productions and will therefore, quite formally, not be one of those works that seen as typical of “artistic research”. Confusingly, in Finnish practice based research is often termed as taiteellinen tutkimus (literally: ‘artistic research’) partly because, it has been explained to me, the Finnish term for ‘practise’, käytäntö, doesn’t sound correct in this context. So it might appear that I am doing artistic research in Finnish and practice based research in English, whilst of course the research is the same in all cases.
Terminology aside, texts on both artistic and practice-based research have influenced the methodology of this research. I have taken thousands of photographs both for commissions from architects and as projects of my own devising for this research. Ultimately, my goal is to use photographs to envision information and reflect both on the practice of making and editing those pictures but also the procedures along the way which have so much to do with the final outcome. This study is about collaboration not the private workings of someone in an ivory tower. My work can be used to interpret architects’ work. It can dialogue with their work and also look at how their work dialogues with others and the world.
22.214.171.124 Ethnographic research
In contrast with the familiar practice of taking pictures, fieldwork and scientific writing were an exciting and challenging new experience. The learning curve was steep. Processes included: participant observation, recorded interviews with experts in the field, content analysis, data collection / analysis / visualisation, the creation of a visually driven questionnaire, and of course a conventionalised means of reporting results: IMRAD, which ultimately went against everything I was researching! For general guidelines on interviews and working with qualitative data, I relied principally on the Basics of Qualitative Research (Corbin and Strauss 2012) and Qualitative Data Analysis (Miles and Huberman 1984). For scientific writing, my invaluable cheat sheet was provided by the University of Oulu’s Tips For Writing Scientific Journal Articles (Belt, Mottonen, Harkonen 2011). I confess I had a love / hate relationship with each of these manuals. For on the one hand they prevented me from having to reinvent the wheel whilst doing fieldwork. Corbin and Strauss explain clearly how to conduct research for the production of grounded theories. Miles and Huberman explained procedures for working with data. And Belt, Mottonen and Harkonen provided the clearest breakdown of steps required to produce a text suitable for peer review that I have come across. But on the other hand, I couldn’t help feel that there was something terribly wrong with standardised, conventional data collection and reporting in a study which seeks to address the potential shortcomings of standardised, conventional “reporting” of architecture through images. As a result, some of the articles are more conventional than others in terms of what and how they report. Ultimately my position is not that conventions are bad, only that the default universal application of them needs scrutiny.
For specific examples of how to work with images I was initially overwhelmed with the panoply of options available from the field of visual anthropology. Sarah Pink’s The Future of Visual Anthropology made me aware of just how vast the field actually is, as well as some of the ethical considerations one must consider when using photography in research. The trouble with literature in this field is that it was written for the most part to instruct ethnographers on the ins and outs of working with images. Its audience is skilled at research but amateur when working with images. My situation was the reverse. Moreover, I am not using photography as an appendage to my real work – I am attempting to use photographic practices to research visual discourse and the relationships between artists and commissioners in the field of architecture. I wondered for that reason how much of what is written on visual anthropology would be relevant to my study.
Luckily, I came across Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials (Rose 2011). Her overviews of topics like the scopic regime, the theory that the ways in which we see things are culturally constructed (Rose 7) and her breakdown into three sites to consider an image (where the images is made, the formal and informational content of the image, and where it is viewed) and three modalities (technological, compositional and social) of images were useful means of thinking categorically about the content, production and reception of images (Rose 2011). An important diversion, which influenced the structure of questionnaire I put together for my research, was the subject of photo-elicitation, discussed by Rose in her book on visual methodologies. On the same subject, Douglas Harper argues in ‘Talking about Pictures’ that due to the fact that “the parts of the brain that process visual information are evolutionarily older than the parts that process verbal information […] images evoke deeper elements of human consciousness that do words; exchanges based on words alone utilize less of the brain’s capacity than do exchanges in which the brain is processing images as well as words (Harper 13). Moreover, he states that the type of photos used can clearly effect the response elicited, arguing that it is important to “break the frame” i.e. not follow the beaten path (20). Thanks to some additional suggestions from Professor Joaquín Roldán at the University of Granada, who has extensive experience using photo-elicitation in his teaching and research, I was able to formulate a simple questionnaire applying principles of photo-elicitation that would differentiate responses to photographs of the same building shot different ways. It was designed to measure responses to photographs which were in turn made and selected to test preferences over purchases. It gave me the information I needed but required only a few minutes of each participant’s time. Significantly, the section at the end which was entirely text based Q & A was left blank by some participants whereas all filled in the photo-elicitation section.
For content analysis of images in the Finnish Architectural Review, which ultimately led also to the structuring of my own images into grids visualising nine categories of discourse, Van Leeuwen & Carey’s Handbook of Visual Analysis (2001) was indispensible. Their methods for visual analysis – the break down of concepts into values and variables (17), the use of quantitative results in tables (20), and the importance of describing features that are significant to viewers in order to start with adequate concepts (26). Equally crucial was Liz Wells and Martin Lister’s essay within that book which discusses pictorial and social conventions that photography has inherited as well as the rhetorical significance of the frame, the gaze and the camera position (60-89).
126.96.36.199 Combining artistic research with ethnographic research
Clearly my research spans different areas of enquiry each requiring different methodologies to suit the task of data collection and analysis of each. In short, I was seeking a way to bridge several gaps, as illustrated below in figure three. The anagram of the word ‘bridge’ is tongue and cheek, but still useful as a mnemonic device: Brand Identiy Gap Elimination. It is also included here because I wish to align the notion of bridging gaps in scholarship and between academic and commercial sectors with the idea of brand identity. Attention to what is specific about an architect’s practice (location, design ethic, office culture) could be visualised through specific, tailored photographic practices instead of the universal, conventionalised architectural photograph. Through my research I have availed to show how the research environment could be used to develop such practices. Hence, creating bridges between the commercial and academic worlds. The anagram is tongue in cheek, however, as it sounds like the sort of commercial jargon the Yes Men would present at a conference. Hopefully there is some place for humour in academic research, as long as it is not gratuitous. I believe it is important to be critical of the so-called entrepreneurial turn in education, and do not wish to suggest that the classroom must suddenly be in service of large companies. To do so would be to lose one of the enormous benefits of studying in Helsinki:
Nordic universities are tuition-fee-free, and in many cases students are given proper research grants for their work. The artists in the various programmes have a luxurious opportunity (in terms of both finances and time) to focus on a long-term, four-to-five-year project that is content-driven, and not market-orientated (Hannula 3).
However, real world practice could be opened up if certain industries such as architecture began to see areas of study like photography as ripe for research and development for the images they use. Such a bridge would be mutually beneficial, in ways argued by Will Hunter in the Architectural Review. Describing what he calls proto-practice, another name for embedded learning, he says, “the school could embed itself within a community, one where there is opportunity for architects, and all the project work should be set locally and engage with real issues” (Hunter 2012). A series of articles on the topic of education by Beatriz Colomina, Peter Buchanan and Will Hunter appeared in the Architectural Review in 2012. They speak to a real need to consider the direction that architectural education is taking and advocate real work experience (what I am calling a bridge) for students, not only for companies but also for the schools themselves: “this in turn could be of benefit to practices themselves: the ones involved in the teaching, and beyond into the profession” (Hunter 2012). Another argument for doing so is to avoid the insular tendencies to which research is sometimes prone, as savagely attacked by Buchanan:
PhDs who appoint other PhDs who, in knowing more and more about less and less, are not a natural fit with a generalist subject such as architecture. But these are the people who boost the research ratings and so the funding of schools, no matter how worthless that research to the practice of architecture.
He highlights the “disproportionate numbers of such scholars who lack the skills and experience to contribute much to the rest of architectural education”. And concludes on a note particularly alarming for anyone engaged in doctoral research: “studying for a PhD can ruin promising students, leaving them fit only for a career in architectural education” (Buchanan 2012). If Buchanan is right, then a bridge is needed for students, teachers, researchers and commercial practitioners alike.
A final ludic quality of this model is the familiar lines upon which it is based. It is no accident if this image reminds you of a football pitch: I wish to invoke the ideas of a state of play and established rules of a game. Lastly, I have also borrowed from the visualisations in Peter Buchanan’s The Big Rethink series of articles in The Architectural Review for the concentric circles at the heart of the image due to their graphic excellence but also to align this proposal with his.
1.2.2 Research process
In early 2011 I began contacting architects in Finland in order to arrange meetings to discuss my project. The silence was deafening. In an entry made in November that year in my research log I complain about the fact that I have not been able to meet with anyone in Finland, and begin contacting architects in Denmark. Within one week in Denmark, I had met with BIG (Bjarke Engels), COBE, 3XN, PLH, KHR, Dorte Mandrup, Entasis, SHL, Henning Larsen and CF Møller. So I moved to Denmark for a few months and kept writing to Finnish architects from there. Eventually I was able to meet with the three that interested me – JKMM, AOA, K2S – because they were building what I considered significant buildings in or near Helsinki. As for Denmark, the initial ease of contacting people was matched with a lack of commitment. BIG, whose motto is ‘yes, is more’ and that you should say yes to everyone, eventually said ‘no’. They pulled out explaining a change in policy after several weeks of unanswered emails from me; COBE and SHL simply went quiet. In the end I decided to work with KHR, 3XN and PHL because they are very different practices and because it would mean I could shoot two schools side by side, one just finished and one ten years old as well as the metro that runs in front of them. I moved into a building five minutes walk from the schools, and had a truly immersive experience in the architecture of all three sites. Additionally I photographed Henning Larsen’s IT Campus though eventually chose not to use it. Later, I returned to Finland and was able to photograph AOA’s university library and K2S’s Chapel of Silence from construction through to completion and inauguration. Additionally, I spent many days in the crèche designed by JKMM observing children of different ages at play as well as during meals and other activities.
Key stages of this fieldwork are as follows:
- Arrange meetings to discuss the project
- Agree upon collaboration
- Conduct 1-2 hour interviews to learn about the architect’s work and explain the idea of atmosphere as a mode of working (see appendix)
- Photograph the building over the course of several months and several days
- Send images in pdfs
- Send a questionnaire comparing personal preferences with commercial preferences (see appendix)
- Present the work at conferences for feedback
- Report on findings in a peer-reviewed journal
A more in depth explanation of the project is provided in the JAR article included in this dissertation, entitled: A Hinge: Field-testing the Relationship Between Photography and Architecture.
Whilst I was excited by the opportunity to interview architects about their work and their views on photography and the potential for atmosphere, I was growing increasingly certain that this work would only be meaningful if compared with something else. The obvious something was standard operating procedure. So I opted for content analysis of images appearing in the Finnish Architectural Review (ARK) from 1912 to 2012. I chose ARK for several key reasons. It the third oldest architecture review in the world, after Deutsche Bauzeitung (1866) and the Architectural Record (1891). Whereas the other two journals are produced by large, populous, culturally diverse countries, the case with ARK is just the opposite. Finland is a country of 5.5 million people with regrettably strict immigration laws. Living in Helsinki meant easy, constant access to the staff and archives of the journal. Fact-checking after content analysis was made a great deal easier by speaking with their staff. Lastly, not speaking Finnish was a decisive factor, strange though it may seem. For when in the process content analysis of images there was no temptation correlate them to accompanying text. Content analysis was focussed entirely on images.
Key stages of this fieldwork are:
- Become familiar with the full data set
- Study images for obvious categories
- Log image tallies
- Visualise data
- Share information in conferences and through writing
This project is explained in the article entitled: Photographers, Architects, Publishers or Dictators? 9 facts about conventions in architectural photography
The next project was a commission to photograph theatres for a book about event space. Initially, I took this as job and did not consider it for my thesis. It is worth mentioning here that most of the commissions I have received during the past four years are not included in the thesis. However, upon meeting with the author, who is an architect, a professor and an expert in the field of performance design in ways which correlate directly with the theories of Gernot Böhme (whose work I had relied on heavily for the first project) and Mark Wigley, it became clear that this was more than just a job. Her study situates different stages of event space design – from the gilded baroque spaces that were the default mode of the nineteenth century to the standard black box of twentieth century modernism – and gave me the opportunity to respond photographically to each.
Key stages of this fieldwork:
- Meetings with the author
- Reading the text
- Arranging access to the theatres (which was as much of a challenge as ever)
- Photography of the theatres
- Reread the text
- Meet with the author to view images
- Send images in pdfs
- Work on contrasting visualisations: systematic vs site-specific
Some of the work for that project can be seen in the article entitled Photography: Architecture’s discursive space. More can be seen in Dr Hannah’s Book: Event Space.
Finally, the Grey Matter project was the synthesis of my former work and the opportunity of testing the validity of my assumptions by working with a team and measuring their responses and the received success or failure of their work. Additionally, it was a means of further testing the Br.Id.G.E. model for increased connectivity which I began with my research into atmospheres. The opportunity came in the form of my teaching requirement. Instead of a basic course in architectural photography for architectural photographers, it was an opportunity for experimentation: for architects it meant considering images and strategies outside the norms of the architectural way of seeing, for photographers it mean a hands on opportunity to learn what those norms were. Consisting of 6 students from the architecture programme and 6 from photography, it was interdisciplinary course. Students were required to work as pairs to produce work responding to one of three buildings in the final phase of construction in Helsinki. The buildings were all corporate headquarters, and were contiguous. I had met with the architects of each project and they supplied me with renders and texts. The result was a synthesis of antimonies produced by hands on learning in a “real world” environment. Additionally, I met with the director of the Finnish Museum of Architecture, who agreed to exhibit the work, the editor in chief of the Finnish Architectural Review, who agreed to publish a story about the project, and we received a generous grant from Aalto Arts to fund the project. So instead of being an academic exercise, students had the opportunity (and pressure) of showing their work in two key venues and working with the architects for feedback.
I taught the course with my adjunct supervisor who is head of the school of architecture.
- Meet with all parties of the project and secure agreement for participation
- Select images
- Exhibit and write to share work
A simple overview of these four projects can be seen in the following chart.
1.2.3 Research data and collection methods
Data has meant different things in this research.
Firstly, there was the data amassed by doing content analysis of images in the Finnish Architectural review. That was data collected by coding and quantifying pictures in nine different categories. I followed followed guidelines provided in The Handbook of Visual Analysis (Van Leeuwen and Jewitt 2001) and Basics of Qualitative Research (Corbin and Strauss 2012). Chapter two of the Handbook of Visual Analysis was particularly helpful for learning the procedures of content analysis. It was from there I also received reassurance that it was possible to first observe the data and second structure and analyse and not the other way around – even when looking at images (39-59). Corbin and Strauss provided further support with their explanation of Grounded theory and coding procedures. My data collection for this study was based entirely upon these two methods.
Secondly, there was the data from fieldwork with architects consisting of expert interviews, participant observation, and my notes about the success and failure of photographic alternative practices through atmospheres. The three crucial elements were: the questions to ask and their wording, the inter-subjective performance of interviewing, and the sifting through hours of recordings for relevant remarks whilst avoiding the creation of a false interpretation by removing statements from their context. (reference here)
Finally, there was the data produced through my own photography.
In the first project I sought to visualise different atmospheres as well as architectural discourses through images. But I wanted these to become evident through the process of shooting, not shoot in search of certain predetermined images that would fit a set of predetermined categories – the standard way of working. It would have been easier to just tick boxes in a list, but the stage of getting lost in the process was needed for the formulation of categories themselves. I wanted to see what categories made sense from my encounter with each space and via my reflective practice, which is the method for Grounded theory as explained in The Basics of Qualitative Research (Corbin and Strauss 2012). Later I wished at times that I had made my life easier through predetermined categories but it would have been pointless or even fraudulent. Working with the basic precepts of grounded theory meant I was able to essentially invent a set of concepts in order to build a body of knowledge and seek to impact practices (Corbin and Strauss 2012).
In the second project, about event spaces, it was easier to see patterns emerge early on, both because I had the experience of looking for them with the first two articles I had written and because of the nature of the work. Here I was being systematic in my procedures and producing patterns by doing so. However, I was also responding to the text written by professor Hannah, which differentiated the many spaces I was visiting, and the differences I could experience first hand upon visiting each theatre. So I decided this was the perfect opportunity for comparison between things, which is one of the fundamental points Edward Tufte insists upon for the visualisation of data (32). The data from this project would seek to show how the same spaces can be differentiated or homogenised through photography depending on the photographs selected. One can very easily create a photographically similar body of work from architecturally distinct spaces via the repetition of a set of procedures at each location. This point is crucial, because I argue that it is what takes place through architectural photography all the time, all around the world. Here was the opportunity to collect data to test that hypothesis.
By the time I reached the photographic third project, I had a clear picture of my working method -the data needed and the collection methods I would employ. As I saw it, the students were a team of researchers testing a simple hypothesis: you can create architectural photographs that show what Helsinki is like in the autumn and still promote interest in the buildings. That interest would extend from the architects of the buildings themselves to other architects and further afield to the general public. Data would consist principally of photographs. The means of falsifying the hypothesis would be public response to the photographs and the responses of individual architects. Both were positive; in the latter case it resulted in sales for the students. The research was both an experimental application of my earlier studies in atmosphere, a way to test my belief that research can increase connectivity and an update on Dewey’s pragmatic, embedded approach to learning.
1.2.4 Analysis of data
Words, actions and images have all needed analysing for this study. A means of making sense of such a mountain of information is provided in the book Qualitative Data Analysis (1984). Authors Miles and Huberman separate the analysis of data into three different phases: data reduction, data display, drawing conclusions.
Data reduction has meant selection, summary and categorisation. This has taken many forms: the extraction of key points in the literature and key statements in interviews, the selection and categorisation of photographs in the Finnish Architectural Review and my own photographs, the condensing and refining of student work for the production of an exhibition.
Data display has taken two forms: the charts which visualise content analysis of images in the Finnish Architectural Review and the grids which visualise both photographic practices and architectural discourse. Each of these can be found in relevant articles. Additionally, the 9 grids and 9 constituent images from each are provided in the images section of the thesis.
Drawing conclusions meant the ability to recognise patterns in the data and make propositions on the basis of these. Again, both are clearly explained in the articles relevant to each. It is worth noting here, however, that without the learning experience of conducting qualitative research, I doubt very much I would have arrived at the artistic practice of producing grids of images to visualise architectural propositions. As I am presenting these grids as a key finding an a suggested new method for discourse analysis leading to a clearer reading of architecture and an extended field for architectural photography, that step was crucial in this practice based research.
Because a sense of place is central to architectural discourse, and because it has proven so important to my work, I think it is necessary to discuss three different aspects of my work environment.
1.3.1 Place of work
My research proposal was accepted in both Finland and the UK, but I chose the former for several reasons. Firstly, I was interested in a new environment so as to start from scratch and see with fresh eyes. I also thought it would be useful to move to small, somewhat culturally homogeneous country for the sake of research. Much as Iceland was suitable for the genome project, it seemed to me Finland would be a good place to learn about architectural photography. It is a place with a manageable number of variables. However, despite it’s size, Finland has a big presence on both architectural and photographic maps. So whilst operating on the periphery, it is still very much an operator. These assumptions proved correct. Thanks to resources, support, excellent facilities and in order to take advantage of a healthy active vibrant photography and architecture scenes, most of this work has been done in Finland. Reading was conducted there in order to take advantage of the extensive library network available to everyone in the country. Content analysis took place entirely in my office at Aalto University, a decision taken to assure a consistent working environment for looking at images. Photography took place in Finland for the most part, although four projects were shot in Copenhagen, and ten theatres were photographed for a project that spread across Germany, France and the UK. Four interviews and ten meetings were conducted in Denmark with the remainder taking place in Finland. Writing, retouching and the editing of images and texts took place in Finland, Spain and France.
1.3.2 Academic Context
As I must keep repeating, this work is split across several hyphens and prefixes. It seeks to unify four separate environments – architecture, photography, academia, industry – under one perspective. Hence the previous studies I looked at fell under two different categories: work written about architecture and work written about photography. For clarity it seemed necessary, therefore, to divide literature research into two separate reviews. A fusion of literature from architectural and photography theory into a sole review would have been forced and tedious to read. This is not only because the subject matter does not clearly overlap, coming from the work of people in different disciplines. It is also because the subject addressed with each is different. The history of architectural photography is one thing; the history of photography as a form of cultural studies is another. What they have in common is the fact that photographers have contributed very little to either. For that reason, the subject matter of each was strangely irrelevant in many ways to my topic. Architects have looked at the plusses and minuses of photography in their field and use countless photographs to illustrate buildings are architectural concepts. But their awareness of photography as a medium is either limited or has been considered a superfluous issue. Because it does not appear in the literature. Academics in cultural studies have used photography to talk about everything under the sun – linguistics, power, identity – everything except photography, that is. A book like Alan Trachtenberg’s Classic Essays on Photography, shows clearly that this was not always the case. Filled with essays about photography by photographers, it provides evidence that ones work need not speak for itself, nor must one leave it to others to do the job. Leaving art critics aside, there is obviously a great deal written about photography and architecture but surprisingly little about what it means to photographers themselves. Additionally, however, it seems architects have written a great deal about the photography of architecture without paying attention to what is being said about other photographies; likewise, much of contemporary photography is concerned with built environment, but very little of it is informed by architectural discourse. I feel passionately that there is an opportunity missed there by all concerned parties. Hence, in a small way this thesis attempts a missing synthesis of ideas stemming from the two branches of academic enquiry. The literature reviews are outlined in greater detail below in the overview of articles and can be read in full in the articles section.
1.3.3 Commercial Milieu
In terms of commercial practice, I would situate myself within architecture rather than photography. I suspect that would raise a few eyebrows. But it is where I focus my attention. Each day starts with a review of Building Design, The Architectural Review, and often continues with a survey of Mark, Frame, the Finnish and Danish Architectural Reviews, Japan Architect, El Croquis and so on. I do also read Alec Soth and JM Colberg’s blog each day, but these are not trade magazines – unless of course you are a fine art photographer, which I am not.
The same is true of my professional network – it consists almost entirely of architects. Again, the pragmatic reason for this is obvious for professional working in a given field. But it also extends to a fascination with the subject matter. For both reasons, this research has been envisioned from the start as a means better know and understand the world of architecture beyond the scope of meetings and emails that circulate around a given commission. Hence, interviews and participant observation have been a valuable part of this study – for myself, certainly, but also I hope for the insights such observation and interaction might reveal about architectural practice from a photographer’s point of view. Similarly, I must argue in favour of practice based work here, for I doubt very much I would have been granted so much time and such close access without my background as a photographer which can be easily looked into. All of the architects I met with were eager to discuss my topic, they were also eager to buy photographs.
Without these interviews, which comprised a practice review adding great insight to the literature reviews I had undertaken, few if any of the conversations I have had with leading European architects would have taken place. Pekka Helin would have been very unlikely indeed to remark “I have never been asked to make a beautiful building” when I asked him about his designs and the difficulty of photographing some of his exteriors. This comment is crucial because it works as a counterweight to many of my assumptions on a verbal level – that images are designed to look good in pictures. Yet he has commissioned me repeatedly to make sure his buildings are translated into beautiful images. The building can be ugly, but not the photograph. Strong statements about the current status of architectural mythology that stems from the 1920s but acts as operating principles to this day were of equal interest. Martta Louekeri, who does PR for Finnish architects in China, remarked over lunch: “in Finland architects think they are the ones who can decide [everything]. Compared to [the situation in] China, they have a lot of power. In China the architect is kind of like a waitress.” She was equally frank at discussing the lack of differentiation (brand identity) between different offices: “There are two images. The huge mega-company that makes buildings like machines. Or the super-stiff, awkward, cold, artist offices.” There are differences between offices, she thinks. However, they all employ similar buzz-words, such as sustainability, to the effect that those differences are not communicated effectively. “It would be so easy to make them more alive some how” according to Louekeri. “Viewed from the outside they all seem dead. It would be really easy to change that but no one kind of dares to do that in Finland.” In a final example, the relationship between images and buildings was put clearly by Adam Mørk, Denmark’s top architectural photographer: “you choose what the spectator sees; and if you choose carefully you can enhance the building; you can cut away the weaknesses in architecture; you can add an extra layer to the building or how it is perceived.”
1.3.4 Interstitial or Third Space
The relevance of my topic, therefore, exists in the many gaps it indicates and takes a tiny step towards bridging. I am operating in the space between several areas. On the one hand it is situated in a study of the work of others across several binaries: Commercial / Academic, Architecture / Photography, Finnish / Danish. At the same time it is a reflection upon my own work in exactly the same fields. This of course creates another binary: subjective / objective. In is fashionable to talk about false binaries at the moment. I must confess I wish that these were. Nothing would give me greater pleasure that to witness the removal of the walls that have been put up between each of these different practices – all of which would benefit immensely from cross-pollination or feedback-loops, depending on your preferred metaphor.
It is equally fashionable to cite the phenomenologist of the month to explain how we are simply in the world instead of split across a subject / object divide. I do not which to disparage phenomenology, particularly as several of my mentors are themselves phenomenologists. But I do wish to leave it aside to refrain from cherry picking for the sake of impact from areas which are far beyond my expertise. Several theories have been used to inform and illustrate different areas of enquiry found in the separate articles. That itself might be called cherry picking. However, I have applied theories on a project-by-project basis in the form of articles. I am not attempting to convince the reader that each of those parts adds up to a new revelation about Merleau-Ponty or Heidegger, for example. Whilst I enjoy reading both philosophers, I doubt very much I have any great insight to offer about either. Nor do I see a need for a unified theory, either as an umbrella under which to situate all articles, nor as a club one must belong to for the research to be taken as valid. Everything about this study is a mosaic of facts, arranged in such a way that certain assertions are made visible. But each piece takes on a separate topic, and only as a mosaic do they form a whole. That whole seeks to investigate the initial hypothesis that photography has influenced architecture in ways that have been overlooked. From that hypothesis emerged the initial research question: do images make buildings? From that start, the rest developed.
Ultimately, as I have already stated, it proved richer and more interesting to reframe the question into one about the ontology of photography according to different actors operating in different networks. What you think photography is, it turns out, is highly dependent on what you want from a photograph, what you do with it and what you do in general. For all of those reasons, this thesis is comprised of a series of articles that addresses different perspectives remaining consciously and opening situated in my own perspective – one conditioned by my practice. What I want from photography, and from this research, is to identify, analyse and question gaps between practices which I believe I am ideally situated to observe.
1.4.1 Overview of articles
It may prove helpful to state the development of ideas as a means of understanding what unifies these articles. Some might call that the red thread running through each. Sticking to metaphors from the built environment, I prefer to think of it as a look from a high tower which grants a view of the panorama in three hundred and sixty degrees. Each article has been an experiment in methods of testing and analysing architectural photography. As I’ve just stated, no one theory unites them, because I was not interested in seeing how they might illuminate such a theory but rather was interested in unpacking the prejudices and practices of the field. However, it may be helpful to use Kierkegaard’s knights of faith and resignation as a reference point. The former is crazy in love like Beyonce – a madness that gives life meaning, or at least produces the sort of compression Dewey argued was necessary for expression (77). The knight of faith is the embodied by the stereotypical (but often real) artist – the creative individual who, lives, eats and breathes her work. She is transformed by defining moment in which the whole of her being is concentrated into a glance towards heaven (or perhaps a tall building?) She is defined by faith, passion, love. In the biblical story, that passion comes from religious faith, an awe-struck ant submits to the will of the deity, erased in a sort of sublime experience. The monstrous, lunatic act of Abraham cannot make sense to anyone else in the world. Yet he is driven on his course by something other than sense. The reader is left to make sense of his act and decide whether he must be held to account by ethical standards heretofore understood as universal if they are to have any meaning. This is the point of the story for Kierkegaard, besides the religious question. At least as I have understood it. The protagonist of the tale is struck dumb, for he has not human language with which to express the meaning of the singular madness of his act. Words – a universal system (where each tribe is a universe unto its own) break down. Subjectivity is incommensurate with objective or inter-subjective reality. So how to speak about it and what to do with it? The other knight has an answer. He lives by an established set of patterns, resigned to the fate of remembering things past. This is the lot of the architectural photographer, a service provider. We can go still further with Kierkegaard’s point. The current separation of fine and commercial art is entrenched in language: we still think of amateurs vs. professionals. But do we ever reflect on what we are saying? One means to be in love with something, the other comes from the idea of the solemn declaration one makes when joining a religious order. Professionalism in this case means the production of restrained, un-evocative images in the name of transparency and objectivity. The less you see the work of the photographer, the better. The knight is resigned to his role and we are resigned to look at its effects. Am I engaging in normative thinking along the lines of a binary opposition, here? Possibly. But I am not trying to suggest that architects must cease to expect a service and simply put their faith in the work of inspired artists. Rather, I am arguing that the creative impulse which leads photographers and architects alike to study need not be cast of completely once it is time to do serious work. Within the market place the use of images is extremely conservative, within academia more so, yet the bridged space might offer a way out as “proto-practice shouldn’t merely be just like being in practice; it should offer the opportunity to experiment, to push and test ideas away from commercial pressures….” (Hunter 2012).
Photography Studies Literature Review – Primary
Step one was to look at what contemporary photographers were writing about photography. Alec Soth and JM Colberg were a good place to start. But there was no homologue in commercial photographers, nor did academics seem particularly interested in topics relevant to my research. Hence, the first article was written to ask my second research question: What do you mean by photography? Books like Alan Trachtenberg’s Classic Essay’s on Photography show how much the voice of photography has changed over time – not only through images but also through texts. That history has shifted from issues which concerned practicing photographers to ones which interest to cultural theorists. The voice which emerges from the shift is problematic for my study in two ways. For on the one hand, it has apparently alienated a number of photographers who might have otherwise enriched it – otherwise, why have they stopped writing? As Andreas Gursky put it, why is it none of the things written about his work ad to it? On the other, it has been defined in such a way that it cannot be understood as something medium specific. David Bate calls for a study of the way institutions use photography at the outset of his Key Concepts (1). Geoffrey Batchen argues early on in Burning for Desire the collection of practices articulated as the subject of cultural studies is problematic for the understanding of photography as medium specific.Photography becomes a means of talking about things like communication, hegemony, power but is never seen as a thing in itself – either a formal artefact worth analysing or a practice whose integral workings are interesting enough to scrutinise. As Juha Varto put it, “if we for instance apply the methods of cultural studies to art education research, we get cultural studies as an outcome…there is no such thing as neutral research” (Nelson 155).
The article is also a playful poke at conventions. Written as a science fiction story with extensive citations from key theoreticians of photography scholarship, it clearly deviates from the format of a standard scientific article. The reason is not a simple exercise in form or genre. Science fiction forces a reconceptualization of the practice of knowledge. Discussions on photography tend to circulate around reality, transparency, power, authorship and meaning. Convincing narratives have defined how photography has been used and thought of. It is taken for granted that history follows the arrow of time, thus is written after things have happened. But narratives create ruptures, changing the future of the past. Therefore, instead of looking at photography from the present backwards, what if you look from the future instead? What would that tell you about the present?
This article was co-authored with artist and photojournalist Maija Tammi.
Architectural Photography Literature Review
From there it was time to look at what had been written about architectural photography. A return to Colomina was the first step, followed by Antti Ahlava, Laura Iloniemi, Kester Rastenbury and Petra Čeferin. Each in their own way writes about the relationship between publicity, publishing and architecture. A second group was comprised of Roger Connah, Neil Leach and Juhani Pallasmaa, who are more interested in the many ways PR is bad for the practice of architecture. A third group consists of architects and philosophers that focus on the topic of atmosphere: Mark Wigley, Gernhot Böhme, Christian Noberg-Shulz, Peter Zumthor and Dorita Hannah. That history lacks the concerns of photographers in order to create a more multidimensional picture, hence the forth part of the review comes from interviews I conducted and my own reflections upon them in relation to the other three sections. When architectural photographers do write, it is to produce how-to books or talk at great length about their interesting lives. The goal is presumably to sell books and promote the career of the photographers themselves. But reflective practice on architectural photography is severely lacking. Barring books by Julius Shulman and Eric de Maré which do indeed offer a first hand account of architectural photography as a field as well as some reflection on their practice, there is only the occasional essay here and there which the Canadian Architectural Archives have done a great job of tracking down. Finally, there are the magnificent historical surveys by Cervin Robinson and Joel Herschman, Robert A. Sobieszek, and Robert Elwall. But none of these books are critical about the relationship between architecture and photography or architects and photographers, and all look to an ever-more-distant past. It seems, as Baltazar Korab’s biographer said of him, that they wanted to be though of as architects who engaged in photography, and not the other way around. The goal of this literature review, thus, is to write as a photographer deeply engaged in architecture.
Photographers, Architects, Publishers or Dictators? 9 facts About Conventions in Architectural Photography
Having immersed myself deeply in other peoples’ research, it was time to do a bit of my own. The obvious place to start was with the Finnish architectural review. I spent some weeks browsing the period from 1912 to 2012 looking exclusively at the photography until categories suggested themselves and not the other way around. Eventually I decided upon a nearly even split between when I recognised as editorial decisions – size and number of photographs per page or per journal – and photographic decisions such as composition, depth of field, the weather and the exclusion or inclusion of people. Of course, each of these could be the result of editorial decisions made from a selection of photographs. Equally the photographs might have been conditioned by the editorial decisions. But what I was interested was how many of each appeared in the journal over time. Were there any patterns, trends or changes that could be extracted from the data?
A Hinge: Field-testing the Relationship Between Photography and Architecture
At the same time I was reading about atmosphere, interviewing architects on the subject and starting to take pictures. In fact, the article on atmospheres appeared in the Journal of Artistic Research long before the article on conventions was published. This article seeks to share the methods and preliminary results of an artistic research project in the field of architectural photography. A central concern is the representation of atmosphere in place of the standard depiction of objects. Important also is an attempt at co-design through an interview process with architects based on the notion of the dialectic. This aspect of the study is important not only for this experiment itself but is also crucial for analysing the scalability of practices pursued in this investigation. Findings include excerpts from interviews and examples of photographs. More than just a project about photographic practices, however, this study is part of a larger investigation into the relationship that has developed between photography and architecture, focussing especially on Finland and Denmark, and the institutional practices of architects, publishers and photographers working in collaboration.
Photography: Architecture’s Discursive Space
Grids have been used by artists and theoreticians in countless ways, some of which will be explored in this article. But I am writing more specifically to relate how I have used grids to visualize certain patterns in architectural photography. Additionally, I will argue that the visualization of multiple images can be used effectively to show gaps between image and text which point towards a certain inconsistency in architectural discourse. Those gaps are also important because they indicate a blind-spot within photography studies: the commission-based photograph. Furthermore, findings will be used to argue that photography might have an extended role within architectural practice were practitioners to demonstrate the value of that role.
Grey Matter: Teaching the Local
How would Helsinki School of Photography appear if it was about architectural creation? What kind of architecture could be called “Helsinki School of Architecture”? Maybe this already exists. Which could be exemplary works of architecture in this genre? We think that it should be simple, simultaneously bohemian and Spartan, romantic and ascetic. It could be called almost sacral, but it can also depict everyday life in a mood of sacredness. It should preferably be colourless, but it can never be mediocre. The images showing Helsinki School of Architecture should deliver a feeling of loneliness likewise with the photography movement.
1.4.2 Thesis structure and media
The structure is divided into three parts and split across two forms of media. The first two parts appear in print: a body of texts and a photobook. The two dialogue with each other, but I hope each can be appreciated separately. In addition, the online content is designed to enter into dialogue with printed material, each revealing strengths and weaknesses of the other. That said, I was not eager to publish a thesis exclusively online because I know many people share my preference for reading the printed page and looking at photos in books rather than on a screen.
The body of research is related through articles which are reproduced here as they were originally published in peer-reviewed journals.
The photos which appear here are the results of three projects conducted during the course of study from 2010 to 2014: the atmospheres project, the event space project and the grey matter project. They are artefacts, evidence, illustration, documentation, argumentation but hopefully will also provide some enjoyment on their own. Each grid represents a different proposition, a response to a unique problem. Each of these problems should be apparent from the grid, but along side each is a brief statement – 1000 words long – that offers some insight should that be needed. In addition, a selection of 9 images has been made. These small portfolios are included so that the reader can examine a selection of the photographs in their original formats. The grids force a crop which creates a sense of uniformity. It is important for the sake of transparency that the reader have the opportunity to make their mind up about the assertions behind each grid by viewing some of the images. Nine was chosen as a suitable number both to keep the total number of images show to a reasonable minimum, and for the sake of consistency: the conventions article features nine facts, the grids are mostly composed of nine rows by nine columns. There is no occult practice of numerology at play behind the scenes, however.
This project is expanded in terms of flexibility of categories and quantity of images via a website:
Here the full 81 images per grid can be viewed individually or in comparison with other images. Furthermore, the visitor is encourage to use the shuffling mechanism to create their own collections of images on the basis of atmosphere, architecture, type of building, location. The website was essential in order for images to be available as a tool and not merely a fixed means of exhibition. I hope to have expanded the range of what is normally considered architectural photography via the printed grids. But they are still a fixed presentation, albeit a whole made of 81 parts. With the website I wanted to let visitors choose various ways of comparing images. Ideally in the future, it will be possible to expand on that starting point and let visitors make their own comparisons between any and all images, devise their own categories, create pdfs according to their needs and even alter images through cloud software. It may be instructive to compare it with another site developed early to test the commercial response to this research:
Additionally, a blog, which is a research log documenting ideas and key advances in the research for the period of 2011 to 2014, can be viewed here:
In closing, I would just like to state that I hope I will be forgiven for using the first person singular verb tense repeatedly. It is not because I wish to shift the focus from the research to myself, nor because I was unaware of certain academic conventions whilst writing. I simply do not see how the scientific view from nowhere can be squared within the circle of practice-based research. Nor do I think the linguistic gymnastics involved in description of personal reflections on personal practice via the agentless 3rd person will make the reader’s job any easier. I am here to report what I did; however, “this is not an artist studying him/herself, but an artist articulating something through works, and through reflectively writing his/her interpretation of the given research theme within and through his/her practice” (Hannula 4).