Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Architecture As Subject

The latest issue of Lenswork (#72) has some lovely images of Walt Disney Hall, designed by the famous Frank Gehry (he of the Bilbao Gugenheim). The other day I saw a lovely image of a spiral stairway and my first reaction was, what a wonderful photograph. My next reaction though was to note that it was clear the architect set up this view deliberately, the sweeping curves were there to be recorded.

So how much credit goes to the architect and how much to the photographer?

Bruce Barnbaums wonderful cathedral images only show what was built by artisans sometimes almost a thousand years ago. Should they get most of the credit? Well, I have been seeing cathedral pictures in one venue or another my whole life, from TV and magazines to photo books, and Bruce's are outstanding - so if most of the credit went to the builders, how come we didn't see the kind and quality of Bruce's images in the work of most of the photographers?

Frank Gehry chose that brushed stainless steel specifically for it's light reflecting properties. He'd already used it in previous projects and knew exactly how it would photograph - so do we discount entirely the images of Bilbao and Walt Disney Theatre?

Obviously there is technical skill in recording the images, but what about the framing of the image - deciding where the borders go, and what to focus on, where to stand and how to line things up? Does the photographer get any credit for choosing the perfect light and for making a rich image of wonderful tonalities? The architect makes an interesting three dimensional object and the translation into a really good two dimensional image of finite edges is a whole other art and I suspect that once a few obvious views of a building are made, anything new and good is likely to have earned a goodly share of the credit for the photographer.

What are your thoughts - is photographing architecture a poor cousin to real photography?


Anonymous said...

There is good architecture and bad architecture - and good photography and bad photography. That leaves four possible combinations. I think they are all equally likely.

Anonymous said...

Good architecture and good photography are more rare than the bad versions of either.

I resist typical genre definitions. I like to treat architecture as landscape, both representing the physical context in which we live.

Having said that, to take a picture of a piece of art on a museum wall, or a single piece of graphiti, or a carefully designed and framed (by the architect) architectural detail, however interesting these images may be, aren't art in and of themselves. Their value seems to be in proportion to the image's novelty for us. Imagine seeing the stair case in person, and then seeing the image. The intrinsic value of the image is how much it has shown us that we did not--or, lacking the photographer's vision, could not--experience directly.

George Barr said...

Nicely put Matt - and really is that any different from being in Yosemite vs. taking a great photograph there. Did the photographer add anything beyond 'being there'? It ties in with people who have searched out Ansel's tripod holes and not found anything inspiring or majestic.

Anonymous said...

"is photographing architecture a poor cousin to real photography?"


just as hearing an orchestra perform a piece by Beethoven or Mozart isn't a poor cousin to real music. interpretation, baby. it's all about the interpretation.

António Pires said...

What is "real photography"? A photographer does not make the objects he photographs. They are all made by human beings or by mother nature. What's the difference? The photographer sees pleasant aesthetic configurations when he looks at the environment and then he frames and shoots them.
Of course, there are buildings designed by architects. When a photographer makes a postcard (using Michael Reichmann's classification) of such a building, what does one admire, the building or the postcard? Probably, the building. But if the photographer produces an image, then it's the image to be admired (it adds value to the building).