Copan, 2002
Photograph: Andreas Gursky/VG Bild-Kunst/DACS/Sprüth Magers

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age

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Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age

Since the earliest days of photography, architecture has been the medium’s most willing accomplice. The long exposure time required by the first cameras favoured the static attributes of buildings, making them a far more reliable subject than the human figure.

Over time photographers have felt compelled to document the qualities and characteristics of our ever-changing world and at the same time photography has contributed to the international dissemination of architectural ideas. This symbiotic relationship has changed the way we think about architecture and even the way architects work.

The exhibition traverses a broad spectrum of photographic approaches and themes. From the emergence of documentary realism and the pioneers of commissioned architectural photography, the exhibition explores artists’ responses to vernacular buildings, streetscapes and sites of industry, landmark modern and postmodern buildings, and the impact of globalisation and urbanisation on cities and communities.

Fundamental is the understanding that photography which takes architecture as its subject matter has the ability to communicate wider truths about society. However diverse their aesthetics each artist or photographer challenges the orthodoxy of architectural photography by not only interpreting the intentions of architects, but also by revealing through the photographic medium the lived experience and symbolic value of our built world.

 

The rise of the Modern: The 1930’s Abbott & Evans

The exhibition takes as its starting Point the interwar years of the 1930s. This period was marked by economic, political and social uncertainty that saw unprecedented industrialisation and modernisation as well as the crippling economic crisis of the Great Depression in the USA, which sent shockwaves across the Globe. Against this unstable backdrop both Berenice Abbott and Walker Evans, living and working in New York, went on to create two iconic bodies of work that defines their age, Abbott with Changing New York (1935-39) and Evans with his work for the Farm Security Administration (1935-36). Turning their backs on the prevailing aesthetic of pictorialism, which they openly criticised for obscuring the ‘real’ in favour of creating a manipulated image, rather than simply recording it, Abbott and Evans introduced a photographic language that was distinctly modern in its very directness.

Changing New York (1935-39)_Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott was an artist enchanted by New York City. In the early 1930s, upon her return from Paris she embarked on an ambitious project to fastidiously document Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs that were experiencing unprecedented growth and rapid urbanisation powered by the inevitable march of progress in the name of Modernity.

In 1935 she embarked on an assignment which she described as capturing the ‘past jostling the present’ with towering skyscrapers replacing old low-rise buildings as well as the hustle and bustle of urban living. The black and white photographs she took from 1935 – 39 — nearly 1000 images captured a skyline punctured by skyscrapers, which served as a damning metaphor for the city’s vast wealth. Conversely, Abbott’s photographs, with their dramatic angles also sought to interrogate this new urbanity by confronting the city’s dark underside, capturing the tenement blocks that reflected New York’s social reality.

All works are silver gelatin prints

Night View, New York, 1932 Photograph: Berenice Abbott/Getty/Howard Greenberg Gallery

Night View, New York, 1932
Photograph: Berenice Abbott/Getty/Howard Greenberg Gallery

Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1932. Photograph: Berenice Abbott/Getty/Howard Greenberg Gallery

Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1932. Photograph: Berenice Abbott/Getty/Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

 

Farm Security Administration (1935-36)_Walker Evans

While Abbott was documenting Manhattan, Walker Evans was on assignment for the Resettlement Administration of the Department of Agriculture to undertake a survey of rural America as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative that sought to improve the economic conditions of subsistence farmers whose livelihoods had been devastated by the Great Depression.

Employed in 1935 alongside photographers Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn among others, Evans travelled through Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina armed with his 8 × 10 inch camera ‘to carry out special assignments in the field’ or in Evans’s own words, ‘still photography, of a general sociological nature’. Focusing his large format camera on the vernacular architecture characteristic of the Deep South — modest timber churches, road-side architecture, street scenes, shops, cafés and signs — Evans’s indexical strategy highlighted commonalities and variations in architectural forms and presented a highly personal vision of architecture.

All works are silver gelatin prints.

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Frame Houses and Billboard, Atlanta Georgia. 1936

Frame Houses, New Orleans, Louisiana

 

The rise of the Modern: The 1950s Schulman & Herve

 The post-war period ushered in a spirit of optimism in terms of photographic practices, embracing the seductive possibilities of colour photography and its subsequent widespread use in the illustrated press, which presented architecture as framing contemporary lifestyle. Equally modernist architecture that reconciled rapid technological advancement with the modernisation of society gained in popularity after the Second World War.

The Modernist project was not the exclusive preserve of the West. As Europe’s empires commplased after World War II, the wave of countries becoming independent was without precedent or parallel. At the beginning of the 1950’s , the first prime minister of independent India, commissioned the renowned architect, le Corbusier, to design Chandigarh, a model city intended to symbolise a new India that embraced Modernity and democracy. The city would replace Lahore, the capital of the Punjab lost to Pakistan after Partition in 1947. Intending the city to symbolise a new India that embraced modernity and democracy, Nehru declared that the new metropolis was to be of a design ‘unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation’s faith in the future’.

Julius Schulman

Closely aligned with California Modernism, Julius Schulman became the poster boy for architects such as Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra and Pierre Koening, as they sought to promote their brand of Modernism. Carefully composed and artfully lit, Shulman’s images promoted not only new approaches to home design but also the ideal of California living – a sunny, suburban lifestyle played out in sleek, spacious homes featuring glass, pools and patios, populated with the social archetypes of the day.

A notable feature of Shulman’s photography is his inclusion of people suggesting that Modernist architecture despite its rigour was also desirable and accessible.Equally emblematic of his signature style was the importance he attached to landscape, highlighting the fluid transition between interior and exterior spaces.Shulman’s images — favoured by magazine editors — could illustrate an article far more evocatively than any rendering or plan and were instrumental in attracting publicity for the architects which in turn propelled his career forward.

 

Case Study House #22 (Stahl House, Los Angeles, California, architect Pierre Koenig), Pool 1, 1960 Photograph: Julius Shulman/Getty Research Institute/J Paul Getty Trust

Case Study House #22 (Stahl House, Los Angeles, California, architect Pierre Koenig), Pool 1, 1960
Photograph: Julius Shulman/Getty Research Institute/J Paul Getty Trust

 

Case Study House 22__Stahl House by Pierre Koenig

Case Study House 22__Stahl House by Pierre Koenig

Eames House (Charles and Ray Eames, Los Angeles, California), 1950

Eames House (Charles and Ray Eames, Los Angeles, California), 1950

Lucien Herve & Le Corbusier

An amateur photographer himself, Le Corbusier understood and harnessed the power of photography to articulate and disseminate his personal vision. In 1949, when he was introduced to the Hungarian-born photographer Lucien Hervé (1910 – 2007), Le Corbusier proclaimed that he had the ‘soul of an architect’, and went on to collaborate with him for almost two decades, until the architect’s death in 1965. Working in expansive series, as opposed to relying on a single image to represent Le Corbusier’s designs, Hervé’s images portray the spirit of places rather than the actual buildings.

In 1955 and 1961, Hervé travelled to Chandigarh to record both the construction and completion of Le Corbusier’s ambitious civic complex, including the High Court of Justice and the Secretariat Building which Hervé photographed under the dazzling Indian sunlight to create high-contrast geometric compositions inspired by Constructivism. Hervé’s photography is characterised by the use of dynamic contrasts — light and dark, rough and smooth, mass and void — an approach that enabled him to create the illusion of three-dimensionality by capturing the sculptural attributes and expressiveness of concrete.

Renowned for his contact sheets, which were hand cut, annotated and carefully arranged on the paper, Hervé’s cataloguing process solicited a creative dialogue with Le Corbusier about how his buildings should be consumed and mediated through the illustrated press. Although never intended for direct distribution, the sheets served as a documentary tool, as a commercial catalogue for Hervé and as an instrument of communication for Le Corbusier.

High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955 The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Photograph: . Lucien Hervé

High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955 The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Photograph: . Lucien Hervé

High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955 The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Photograph: . Lucien Hervé

High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955 The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Photograph: . Lucien Hervé

 

Celebrating the Vernacular: The 1960’s

The cultural and ideological mood shifted radically in the 1960’s giving way to a general malaise which manifested itself in photographic terms with artists seeking to reflect the everyday experience of the built world: here car parks, deserted streets and in dustrial ruin take centre stage. influenced by the documentary tradition of Walker Evans, the artists of the next few images are joined not only by their objective or ‘no-style’ photographic language, but also by their representation of peripheral spaces and structures.

Ed Ruscha

Interested in banal and pedestrian architecture, Ruscha focused his camera on the cultural curiosities typical of the Southern Californian landscape — swimming pools, gasoline stations, apartment blocks and parking lots — in his typically dead pan style. Ruscha stipulated that the photography should be quick, casual and unprofessional.

Dodgers Stadium,  1000 Elysian Park Ave Photograph: Ed Ruscha

Dodgers Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave
Photograph: Ed Ruscha

5000 W Carling Way, 1967/1999 (Los Angeles) Photograph: Ed Ruscha

5000 W Carling Way, 1967/1999 (Los Angeles)
Photograph: Ed Ruscha

 

 

 
Bernd & Hilla Becher

Architectural photography in the strictest sense does little to articulate social space, and the studies by Bernd and Hilla Becher of factories, gas holders, water towers and other industrial sites were very deliberately denude of people, function and activity. Rather, the Bechers appreciated the inherent beauty of these incredible objects, which they referred to as ‘anonymous sculptures’. their formal approach to photography five decades is perhaps the logical apotheosis of Evans’s influence and has produced a comprehensive taxonomy of industrial structures that occupies a critical position in the intersection of photography, art and architecture.

Lessines, Belgium, 2010

Lessines, Belgium, 2010

Goole, great Britain, 1997

Goole, great Britain, 1997

Thomas Struth_ Unconscious Places (1977-2012)

This collection of photographs, developed over long period and across diverse locations, is a typological examination of urban space, revealing cultural nuances in the way streets are designed and occupied.

 

Clinton Road, London, 1977 Photograph: Thomas Struth

Clinton Road, London, 1977
Photograph: Thomas Struth

 

Stephen Shore_ Uncommon Places (1973-78)

Architecture is the form in which many cultural forces find expression and become therefore accessible to a mute, visual medium.’ Fascinated by the empty suburban back streets and garish mass culture of 1970s America, Stephen Shore’s explosive colour series Uncommon Places (1973 – 78) examines the everyday world in unprecedented detail. This kind of intense focus had previously been reserved for grand landscape photographers, such as Ansel Adams, yet under Shore’s photographic gaze the prosaic and mundane are elevated to the same status. Rather than focus on the dramatic mountains and lakes he passes on his epic road odyssey, Shore recounts the banal built environment that often interrupts the view.

As a teenager Shore photographed Andy Warhol’s Factory scene and in 1971, at the age of 24, he became the second living photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the same year Shore, who had inherited Warhol’s fascination with popular culture, moved from black and white to colour photography and published a series of ten postcards showing some of the banal municipal buildings he photographed while visiting friends in Amarillo, Texas.

Inspired by the travels of Jack Kerouac, Shore embarked on a series of road trips through North America. ‘In the early 1970s, Hilla Becher and I had a conversation in New York City that clarified for me what my intentions were for my work. She suggested that I just photograph main streets across America. My reaction was that that wasn’t right for me. Thinking about her suggestion made me realize that what I was after was not a study of main streets (or gas stations, suburban houses, shopping centers, etc.), but the quintessential main street’.

Through his highly detailed images of buildings and streetscapes in often unexceptional towns and cities Shore intended to ‘show people what they were not seeing’.

Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1974 Photograph: Stephen Shore, 303 Gallery, New York and Sprüth Magers, London

Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1974 Photograph: Stephen Shore, 303 Gallery, New York and Sprüth Magers, London

Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974 Photograph: Stephen Shore/303 Gallery, NY

Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974
Photograph: Stephen Shore/303 Gallery, NY

 

Reflections on Architecture

Differently to the artists featured above who took an empirical approach to the recording of space, artists such as Luigi Ghirri, Luisa Lambri, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Helene Binet adopted a radically different critical position to their subject matter. The photographers have been inspired to interpret the work of modern and contemporary architects, providing layers of narrative meaning to the physical space as a way of understanding the architect’s intentions in relation to the lived reality. The work touches on notions of iconography in architecture – challenging a building’s perceived fame or infamy while at the same time reasserting the iconic status.

Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992)

Working predominantly in Northern Italy in the 1970s and ’80s, Luigi Ghirri employed photography as a tool to map the world around him. His lyrical colour images stand out against a European tradition of black and white photography and capture the iconic landscape of Italy in a tightly cropped, almost geometrical grid. A magazine commission to document Aldo Rossi;s San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena was the catalyst for an ongoing and fruitful dialogue between Ghirri and Rossi based on shared conceptual and intellectual interests. Taken by the geometric forms and ‘unpredictable vitality’ of Rossi’s architecture, Ghirri photographed his buildings across the region taking particular interest in their placing in the landscape.

Cemetery of San Cataldo, Modena; the ossuary in winter. Photograph: Luigi Ghirri 1986

Cemetery of San Cataldo, Modena; the ossuary in winter. Photograph: Luigi Ghirri 1986

Luisa Lambri (1969-Today)

Paying attention to intimate architectural details, and offered in response to the celebration of form and facade in so much architectural photography, Luisa Lambri’s photography emerges from a  curiosity about how people inhabit modern buildings. having spent time in houses designed by Luis Barragan, Richard Neutra, Alvar Aalto and other Modernist architects, her photographs an be read as self portraits, reflections on her own movement through space, wit reference to the work of performance artists such as Francesca Woodman. Lambri’s rejection of the often celebrated and recognisable exteriors of buildings in favour of presenting unfamiliar and often overlooked aspects of their interiors such as corners, windows and cupboards leads to unconventional readings of space. Frank Lloyd Wright’s ambitious California Hollyhock House, for example, is distilled to a sigle surface: a glistening expanse of gold paint on a wall.

Untitled (Darwin D. Martin House n06),2007

Untitled (Darwin D. Martin House n06),2007

Helene Binet ( 1959- Today)

Helene Binet’s predominantly black and white photography has roots in the work of early modern photographers such as Lucien Herve. An exploration of light and shadow in space, Binet’s approach consists of creating suites of images which, when assembled as a series construct a virtual experience of the whole. Her studies of fragments of Daniel Liebskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin are inescapably bound up with the history that the building was designed to memorialise. the photographs, takes as a trespasser while the museum was under construction, present Deconstructivist architecture in its purest form as a metaphor for the trauma and fractured history of the Jewish people.

542a1b46c07a80c9ea00024f_constructing-worlds-photography-and-architecture-in-the-modern-age-_26-_helene_binet__jewish_museum_berlin__daniel_libeskind__-1000x1000

Hiroshi Sugimoto (1948-Today)

Hiroshi Sugimoto reflects on some of the most iconic buildings of the twentieth century, from Le Corbusier’s Villa savoye to frank Lloyd Wrights’s Guggenheim Museum in New York, in an attempt to trace the emergence of the modern age through architecture. His blurred forms erode the facades and evoke the passage of time, muting the architectural details to offer an essence of the building. Sugimoto’s images soften the concrete walls and harsh angles of Modernism, entombing the architecture in the process.

World Trade Center (Minoru Yamasaki), 1997 Photograph: Hiroshi Sugimoto

World Trade Center (Minoru Yamasaki), 1997
Photograph: Hiroshi Sugimoto

Marina City – Goldberg Associates, 2001 (Chicago) Photograph: Hiroshi Sugimoto

Marina City – Goldberg Associates, 2001 (Chicago)
Photograph: Hiroshi Sugimoto

Andreas Gursky (1955-Today)

Bridging the transition to the final part of the exhibition, which explores the contemporary urban conditions, Andreas Gursky’s singular monumental photographs of individual buildings draw attention to collective behaviour in contemporary global cities , best exemplified perhaps by Paris, Montparnasse (1993). the photograph represents the Mouchottte Building, paris’s largest purpose-built residential block, designed by Jean Dubuisson in 1959, and a landmark project in the history of post-war brutalist architecture. Composed by combining two photographs into a single composition, the image presents the viewer from afar with a giant patchwork block of an apartment building and close up with the representation of each little rectangle, in which the viewer can identify curtains and glimpses of interior details and inhabitants. The digital manipulation conveys an impression of impersonality and highlights the duality that lies at the very heart of the building and the image itself: with the facade presenting a closed, harsh Modernist exterior that hints simultaneously at the individuals who inhabit this unique place and the collective nature of that lived experience.

Copan, 2002 Photograph: Andreas Gursky/VG Bild-Kunst/DACS/Sprüth Magers

Copan, 2002
Photograph: Andreas Gursky/VG Bild-Kunst/DACS/Sprüth Magers

Paris, Montparnasse, 1993 Photograph: Andreas Gursky/VG Bild-Kunst/DACS/Sprüth Magers

Paris, Montparnasse, 1993
Photograph: Andreas Gursky/VG Bild-Kunst/DACS/Sprüth Magers

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities and urban populations are likely to swell to 5 billion people by 2030. While the urban environment has proved a popular subject throughout the twentieth century , with attention focused on American and European cities, recent waves of urbanisation are providing new sites of research as the majority of urban growth is to be found in Asia and Africa. The final bodies of work in the exhibition are by photographers who document the shifting morphologies and infrastructures that have resulted from urbanisation and globalisation and who reflect on the contemporary experience of developing cities.

Nada Kander

In the spirit of Berenice Abbott’s documentation of New York in the 1930’s, London-based photographer Nadav Kander has conducted a project to research changing landscapes across China, a country transforming at an unprecedent rate. over a period of three years, wander took multiple trips to chart the course of the Yangtze river from its mouth on the East china Sea to the source in the Himalayans and the cities through which it passes. His epic photographic project documents the lived experience of a country in the process of modernisation in a thought-provoking way, juxtaposing local inhabitants with the colossal architectural structures that permeate the ever shifting landscape.

Kander does not appear to place himself within the subject directly, in the way that the presence of Lambri and Ghirri is felt in their narrative constructions, but stands back as an outsider. The small-scale figures in his photographs seem to reflect the helplessness of the individual amidst such colossal change and, although not overly political at first glance, the apparently romantic images are imbued with dark undertones: the haze that hangs over the landscape, creating images evocative of JMD Turner or German Romanticism, is unnatural and the result of industrial pollution. While the scale and speed of transformation in China is hard to comprehend, Kander’s images go some way to marking the changing landscape and illustrating the impact its having on everyday lives.

Nadav Kander Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic), Chongqing Municipality, 2006

Nadav Kander Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic), Chongqing Municipality, 2006

Nadav Kander Chongqing XI, Chongqing Municipality, 2007

Guy Tillim

Considering Africa’s Urban environment, Guy Tillim’s acclaimed body of work Avenue Patrice Lumumba (2007)  takes as its starting point the Congolese city of Kinshasa and its late Modernist era colonial buildings to explore architecture’s power to transmit memory and the utopian dreams latent in these decaying structures.

Guy Tillim Grande Hotel, Beira, Mozambique, 2008 © Guy Tillim.

Guy Tillim Grande Hotel, Beira, Mozambique, 2008 © Guy Tillim.

Simon Norfolk’s

Similarly to Tillim, Simon Norfolk’s project Chronotopia (2001-02) and his Burke + Norfolk series (2010-11) show how the scars of the past are revealed in the architectural present. Photographing in Afghanistan in 2001, prior to the US military invasion, and again in 2010, Norfolk travelled with his cherrywood plate camera recording the charred and twisted remains of destroyed buildings that represent the desolation of war, the impermanence of civilisations as represented through architecture, as well as our fetishisation of the architectural and cultural ruin.

542a1b25c07a80548f0002a0_constructing-worlds-photography-and-architecture-in-the-modern-age-_24-_simon_norfolk-_former_soviet-era_-palace_of_culture-__-1000x800

Simon Norfolk Former Soviet-era ‘Palace of Culture-_-, Kabul, 2001 – 02. Courtesy of Simon Norfolk

542a1b74c07a80c9ea000251_constructing-worlds-photography-and-architecture-in-the-modern-age-_25-_simon_norfolk__a_secuirty_guards_booth-__herat__2010-2-1000x750

Simon Norfolk A security guard’s booth at the newly restored Ikhtiaruddin citadel, Herat, 2010 – 2011

Bas Princen

Urban transformations in Turkey and the Middle east  are the subject of Bas Princen’s photographic project Refuge, Five Cities (2009). prince employs photography as a tool to research and critique changes in the built environment and, in a similar manner to the New Typographics, focuses his attention on the urban peripheries to explore how cities are expanding and taking new forms. Shooting in Istanbul, Cairo, Amman, Beirut and Dubai, Princen shifts his attention between gated suburbs and the worker camps that are driving urban expansion, to record the spatial polarisation increasingly evident in the contemporary city.

Bas Princen Cooling Plant, Dubai, 2009. Courtesy of Bas Princen

‘Mokattam Ridge’ (Garbage Recycling City), Cairo, 2009 Photograph: Bas Princen

‘Mokattam Ridge’ (Garbage Recycling City), Cairo, 2009

Iwan Baan

Iwan Baan’s documentation of a 45-storey skyscraper in Caracas focuses on a single site to celebrate people’s ability to adapt to contemporary urban conditions. Torre David has remained uncompleted since the Venezuelan economy collapsed in 1994 and has since been occupied by over 750 families who have carved out homes and created an informal vertical community, which provides an alternative model to the favelas through the reuse of redundant office buildings. The redemptive transformation of the tower into a residential and mixed-use environment also resonates with current issues of housing demand in london and other major cities, where questions are being raised over the supply of housing and provision of sustainable models for urban living. This body of work is especially poignant as, officials are now relocating residents to a new social housing complex outside Caracas.

Torre David – Facade, 2011 (Caracas) Photograph: Iwan Baan/Perry Rubenstein Gallery, LA

Torre David – Facade, 2011 (Caracas)
Photograph: Iwan Baan/Perry Rubenstein Gallery, LA

Torre David, 2012 Photograph:  Iwan Baan

Torre David, 2012 Photograph: Iwan Baan

Torre David , 201. Photograph: Iwan Baan Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles.

Torre David , 201. Photograph: Iwan Baan Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles.

Architecture and cities are shaped by man and in turn shape pur lives. While the work presented in ‘Constructing Worlds’ spans a phenomenal period of change, from the 1930’s to the turn of the twenty-first century, it is clear that many of the subjects and themes addressed are prevalent today: the economic and political forces shaping our built environment, the physical manifestation of communities and the symbolic value and lived experience of architecture. Presented together, the photography in the exhibition sharpens our reading of architecture and urban environments as metaphors for the society that inhabit it.

More at:

http://www.archdaily.com/552568/constructing-worlds-photography-and-architecture-in-the-modern-age/

http://www.barbican.org.uk/news/artformnews/art/visual-art-2014-constructing-wor

& exhibition catalogue

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