Monday, February 29, 2016

Architecture and Photography: Cheese

EPFL Quartier Nord
byRichter Dahl Rocha & Associes
Earlier this month the British Journal of Photography posted an interesting article on their blog. It was entitled Constructing Vision, and it introduced the opening of an exhibit that explores the connection between architecture and photography. Photography presents a fixed moment in time, represented in flat, two dimensional form. Architecture can be visited at any time and is expressed through three dimensional constructs. To quote Charlotte Harding, the article's author, "Since the photographer's conception, the two have been inseparable." This connection, between architecture and photography, deserves more exposure!

View from the Window at Le Gras
by Nicephore Niece
Interestingly, the oldest known camera photograph is also the oldest know architectural photograph. It depicts a view of the buildings and countryside of the photographer's estate. All would concede that viewing this photograph is not the same as actually being in the space and looking out the actual window. But, if one cannot be there, viewing this photograph may be the next best thing. Photography has long been established as a method of documentation, different and arguably better that written documention. At some point however, photography became more than just a method of documentation.

At some point the person behind the camera went from being a documenter to being an artist. By extension, the photographs went from being simply documents to being works of art. An early example is Bill Hendrich's photograph of Fallingwater. The composition, the vantage point, the time of day, were all carefully planned. The shutter speed, the focal length of the lens, and the developing techniques likewise contributed to the outcome of the photograph. The result conveys the photographer's interpretation of the building on the site. The effect is dramatic.
Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright)
by Bill Hedrick
Any post addressing architectural photography must include a mention of two pioneering architectural photographers. The first is Julius Schulman, whose client list reads like a who's who of prominent 20th century architects: Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Meis van der Rohe, and Frank Gehry. Schulman was the go-to photographer for decades among prominent west coast architects. His photographs illustate how architects' delicate modern glass houses are planted in enchanting landscapes. His photographs are often devoid of users, except as required for scale. Despite this, his images managed to convey a sense of sophisticated humanity.

 Kauffman House (Richard Neutra)
by Julius Schulman
The second noteworthy photographer is Ezra Stoller. His client list is at least as impressive as Schulman's: Alvar Aalto, LeCorbusier, Eero Saarinen, Paul Rudolph, and Philip Johnson. Where Schulman carried the west coast, Stoller carried the east coast. He studied architecture at New York University before eventually deciding to focus on photography. This training served him well throughout his long and storied career.  He strove to not only capture structure and materials, but also to portray space. And like the architects whose works he photographed, Stoller became a master of manipulating light.

Salk Institute (Louis Kahn)
by Ezra Stoller
Despite the many changes in technology that have occurred since the days of Schulman and Stoller, architecture today is still shot in much the same ways that thy pioneered. In addition to the obvious change from black and white to color, there is another deviation which seems noteworthy. I first noticed this in Dwell magazine. The staging is more casual and the buildings occupants are now at home, splashing in the pool of preparing dinner in the kitchen. Depending on your perspective, the image conveyed is either that architecture is more relatable or architecture has lost some of its sophistication.

Although visiting a building will always be the best way to truly experience it, the truth is that sometimes a good photograph is as close as many of us will get come. The connection of architecture and photography will remain forever strong, whether they are populated with human figures or not. This segways to the the next post, which explores the connection between architecture and the human body. Join me next month for The Measure of Man.