Page 1

ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY Photography: a versatile tool in Architecture during Modernism Taubman College Architecture + Urban Planning University of Michigan Arch 701 _ Theory of DT Amy Kulper Ana Faria Delfino MS_Digital Technologies November 21st, 2013

Photography: A VERSATILE TOOL IN ARCHITECTURE DURING MODERNISM Photography is a mechanical technique and an applied art. It is a tool that has the capability to capture in an accurate and rapid way a moment that won't be repeated again. In architecture it has been a tool with great influence on the study and practice of the discipline. From the point of view of photography, architecture is one of the classic subjects that allows the photographer to create a concept and charge the image with personal style. Photographers use the process of editing, such as framing and trimming and other photographic techniques as an expressive resource to communicate their point of view. It is possible to see this more in architectural photography because it has a fixed subject that doesn't change during the photographic act, in contrast to two other main subjects: landscape and portraiture. It is a tool to perceive architecture. As Eric De MarĂŠ said, it is "building with light" 1. Through history it has developed different facets as a tool for representation, documentation, persuasion, promotion and dissemination of architecture; this evolution goes hand in hand with the emergence of new photography technologies. Even the creation of the camera was an evolution of a tool that already existed in the 19th century: perspective. Photography as a tool discovered different instrumentalities during the Modernism, becoming increasingly more powerful as an instrument in the field of architecture. Its main goal is communicate, to represent to others something that it is not accessible at the moment. It is a point of view that can be influenced by the ability to hack the tool. From the composition of the image to


De MarĂŠ, Eric. Photography and Architecture. (New York. The Architectural Press London1961) pp 13.

2 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

the technical issues of the camera, the photographic output can change and with that the perception of the viewer. It was during the 1920's under the sensibility and experimentation of Modernism that photographers, architects and artists became aware of the different instrumentalities of both the camera and the film the photography and the power of composition. They knew that these were their eyes to a new vision of photography itself. Until 1940's all the representation was black and white and light was what built the photograph. This period is fundamental to current architectural photography. It is important to underline how the instrumentality of photography has changed with the history and society since its invention in the 19th century, being always avant-garde and improving its output according to the requirements of the moment. During interwar period experimentation prevailed but this approach changed with the beginning of WWII when society needed to document the existing buildings because of the possibility that they could disappear. After the war photography was used as a tool for promoting new architecture and life styles, understanding its value in the market as a product. Under this premise, it is possible to individuate three approaches to photography: experimental, objective and commercial 2.

EXPERIMENTAL During the interwar period photography experimented with the techniques of the camera and composition. Artists such as L谩szl贸 Moholy-Nagy started to use techniques in an exaggerated way to emphasize ideas and concepts. Close ups, bird's and worm's eye views plus experimentation with the exposure degenerated in compositions such as superimposition and photomontage 3. He said in his book (which is more like a manifesto) Vision in motion how the fourth dimension is missing in photography and how through different techniques it is possible to reproduce movement. He did a classification of photography based on these techniques making photographs just objects and underestimating their contents. The main goal was instrumentality itself in order to represent "concepts and dreams" 4 but actually it was the techniques and the "how to" instead of the "what for" that prevailed in his research:

Classification by the author. The superimposition consist of a double exposure photograph or of printing photographs over each other. The main goal is to try to record dreams through -as Maholy-Nagy said- transposing insignificant singularities into meaningful complexities. 4 L谩szl贸 Moholy-Nagy refers to the output in his book Vision in Motion as "concepts and dreams". 2 3

3 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

"The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of the 'How to do'. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment. The experiment has not preconceived idea about photography. He does not believe that photography is only as it is know today, the exact representation and rendering of the customary vision. He does not think that the photographic mistakes should be avoided since they are usually 'mistakes' only on from the routine angle of the historic development. He dares to call 'photography' all the results which can be achieved with photographic means with camera or without., all the reaction of the photosensitive media to chemicals, to light, heat, cold , pressure, etc." 5 In modernism, architecture was conceived to be photographed, it was designed for photography itself. It was a fundamental tool in the construction of the architecture aesthetic during this movement. As Andrea Haus said in his paper Photogenic Architecture: "Architectural photography finally ceases to be pure illustration [as in the 19th century] and it fundamentally transformed into the proper and ideal medium for the existence and presentation of architecture" 6. Le Corbusier is an example of how architects in modernism took advantage of photography as a tool for representation and communication of the concepts in different kind of ways. He once said " the eye is a tool of registration. It is placed 5 feet 6 inches above the ground. Walking creates diversity in the spectacle before our eyes. But we have left the ground in an airplane and acquired the eyes of a bird. We see, in actuality, that which hitherto was only seen by the spirit." 7 This idea can be corroborated in his work where he used the camera as a tool to reproduce on mass his eyes, his perception of his own architecture. Le Corbusier had always in his mind the house as a drawing that was elaborated under the premise of how it was going to be photographed. He conceived architecture based on the a idea of the replication of his concept through photography. On the other hand he also introduced the presence of life in his photographs through inanimate objects such as hats, sunglasses, dolls, shoes, in specific position that recall the idea that there was a person around. The look into these photographs become "a forbidden look. The look of a detective, a voyeuristic look." 8 From a conceptual point of view Le Corbusier also thought the house as a camera itself. Windows became lenses and screens. Architecture for him was related to sight more than the site, where the windows are photographs of the Moholy-Nagy, L谩szl贸. Vision in Motion. (Chicago. P. Theobald,1928) pp.197 Haus, Andreas. Photogenic Architecture. (Daidalos 66. December 1997) pp. 90. 7 Colomina, Beatriz. "The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism" pp.50. 8 Colomina, Beatriz. pp. 21 5 6

4 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

place where the house is inserted (sight) 9. The window becomes one more flat image. For him, to "inhabit means to inhabit the camera. But the camera is not a traditional place, it is a system of classification, a kind of filing cabinet. To "inhabit" means to employ that system. Only after this do we have placing, which is to place the view of the house to take a picture to place the view in the filing cabinet, to classify the landscape." 10

Le Corbusier sketch (1942) Footnotes of the picture:

"Palm and banana trees; the place is enlivened with tropical splendour. One stops before it and brings out a chair. Crack! A frame around it. Crack! The four oblique lines that indicate the perspective. Your room is erected in front of the place. The whole landscape enters your room. The pact with nature has been sealed! Thanks to the mechanisms of urbanism you can include nature in your rent contract. Rio de Janeiro is a notorious place. But there is also Algiers, Marseille, Oran, Nice and all the Cote D’Azur, and Barcelona and many other seaside or continental cities with incredible

The penthouse that Le Corbusier did for Chales de Beistegui on the Champs ElysĂŠes (Paris) is one of the best examples. 10 Colomina, Beatriz. pp. 37 9

5 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

As did Le Corbusier, every architect explored different ways to represent his own architecture through photography. Adolf Loos used it to split interior and exterior and humanize space through the sensation that someone has entered the room. It is a static position, just the contemplation of the space. He was representing the stage for the inhabitants that are the actors of life. He wanted to represent the feeling of spaces. The most dramatic case is Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and how his architecture was practically distorted through the use of techniques giving the idea of false spaces. The dimensions of the space were altered but the impression of proportion to the eye continues to be accurate. One example of this is the photographs of the Atelier de Sandalo of the Tugendhat House. The use of wide angle lenses make the house much lower and longer than the real one. These three brief cases can exemplify how photography as a tool can be manipulated differently to arrive at the point of distortion, of hacking the photograph as a way of communication. It becomes a fake representation that prevail forever. "Captured in the photographic process, the object is immortalized as a delicate shadow image; it becomes unalterable and therefore timeless" 11

Villa Savoye. View of the roof garden. Architect: Le Corbusier.


Haus, Andreas. pp. 85

6 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

Flat for Hans Brummel, Pilsen.1929 Bedroom with a sofa place against the window. Architect: Adolf Loos.

Atelier de Sandalo, view towards onyx wall of the Tugendhat House. Brno 1930-1931. Architect: L. Mies Van der Rohe.

How does fake representation in architectural photography, as the photographs of the Tugendhat House, or the censuring of the point of view by a preconception of architects can affect the history of architecture and the future generations of architects? The photograph is the lens though which the evolution of architecture is observed and analyzed, tacitly playing a major role in the establishment and promotion of the past and future movements. Modernism knew how to explode this but also created many false archetypes for contemporary architects. It is impossible not to underline the difference between reality and photography in this period where people could see only what architects want them to see in order to reinforce their ideas and concepts present in the design.

7 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

OBJECTIVE Another instrumentality of architectural photography is as a tool for documentation. The evolution of this kind of photography lays in the framing that encloses only the details of the building, only the things that are important. In this way minimalism also arrived in photography; the most well-know exponent of it was Albert Renger-Patzsch. He developed a dispassionate, sharply precise style. His photographs are characterized by accuracy but also by the ability to communicate textures and materials such as glass, steel or concrete in an abstract composition with the idealism of capturing an image that can be timeless. Hermann Muthesius described it as "restraint, sobriety and objectivity in conformity with the purpose of the object." Robert Elwall describes this kind of photography as one that "was concentrated on the clear articulation of surfaces and the depiction of formal elements isolated from their context to force consideration of these commonly disregarded details. The latter was especially important in leading to a wider acknowledgement among architectural photographers that more could often be revealed about a building though the judicious highlighting of a significant fragment or motif that through a general view." 12

Bauhaus. Walter Gropius. Photographer: Albert Renger-Patzsch Elwall, Robert. Building with Light. (The International History of Architectural Photography. Italy. RIBA and Merrel Publishers Limited, 2004) pp. 121


8 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

Photography became a way to communicate architecture as it is, in order to transmit the essence of the building bringing reality and photography as close as possible. It was similar to the return to the documentation of the 19th century but with more expertise and focus on meaning. Different from the experimental, in the objective photography the techniques seem absent but actually they are more present than ever in order to communicate the object as purely as possible. "The photo only replaces the object; it is unusable as a picture in the conventional sense" 13 Bernd and Hilla Becher, for example, took architectural photography to the boundaries of art. They photographed industrial buildings and structures in order to represent typologies. However, the meaning of their objective work goes farther than that. Their work is full of techniques that became the "how to" of their work. Bernd and Hilla select their location based on detailed research, plus they have the knowledge of how to present and reproduce an object with little influence from subjective factors. In order to control these factors they work with frontal views, no human beings, no influence of stimulating light, no influence of weather, no perspective. They control how to use the camera to get the output they expect.

Industrial Facade. Photographers: Bern & Hilla Becher Architects: Unknown


Becher, Bernd. Bernd & Hilla Becher: Coal Mines and Steel Mills (Schirmer/Mosel. M端nchen, 2010)

9 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

The "what for" becomes a deeper meaning that just a catalog of industrial structures' typologies. "Their work seems cool controlled and detached but an endless variation of vernacular industrial form in fact is based on a desire to engage the viewers in the mentality of a particular time -the era of heavy industrial production" Through a formal and aesthetic abstraction, they try to document the society that produced these huge structures that are the symbol of the massive presence of people and when abandoned underlines the mentality of the industrial age. Even the contrast in people's imagination between the classic diagonal view of industries that emphasize their greatness and the frontal view of a building in decay is a way to engage the viewer with the photograph. Bernd and Hilla also tried to document the evolution of these unknown architectures in other latitudes and keep record of them before they were demolished. As Bern Becher said: "We show objects predominantly instrumental in character whose shapes are the results of calculation and whose processes of development are optically evident. They are generally buildings whose anonymity is accepted to be style. Their peculiarities originate not in spite of but because of the lack of design" 14 Architectural photography started to change and it is not architecture for photography anymore but photography for architecture and its documentation. It is not having the possibility to only communicate dreams and subconscious that can be interpreted in different forms but to recall the collective memories through and objective point of view of a structure or building that is familiar to everyone.

COMMERCIAL After WWII and before advances in technologies; architectural photography became a kind of "rendering" or commercial visualization for architects and society in that period. It helped to construct a public perception and to promote modern architecture after the war. "It is surely that photographic coverage of an event can convey more about it to more people that any number of words...However, remembering that the purpose of architectural photography is to convey information about the design, one should beware of the photograph which call too much attention

Becher, Bernd. Bern & Hilla Becher, Robert Smithson: field trip: Museu Serralves, Museu de arte Contemporanea. (Hopefulmonster Editore. Torino, 2002) pp.


10 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

to its own art, thereby detracting from the art of its subject matter. Such a photograph is not truly a work of art for it can fail in its purpose." 15 Indeed photographers as Ezra Stoller and Julius Shulman played an essential role in the visual construction of modern architecture in America and the professionalization of commercial architectural photography as a business. Stoller contribute to the definition of modern house on the East Coast and Shulman on the West Coast. At this point techniques were no longer an issue. They only represented reality using the perfect point of view. Architect and photographer became a team such as Shulman with Neutra for example. Shulman thought about architectural photography as a tool to create affinity with people. As he said: "Although architectural photography can be defined as a physical recording of the image of design, the photographer can develop and ability to transcend the mere physical recording. The photograph can then become instrumental in evoking empathy with the design. It is also true that experience in taking architectural photographs until eventually, with application, there will evolve a freedom and creativity of expression that will make the photograph a work of art in its own right." 16 He placed people in his photographs in order to communicate not only scale but life style. Architectural photography become not only documentation of the project for the architect but also promotion of a live style that was lost during the period after the war. His photographs just said "This is how you should live in California."

Case Study House 22. Pierre Koenig Photographer: Julius Shulman

15 16

Shulman, Julius. Photographing Architecture and Interiors. (Whitney Library of Design. NY 1962) pp.1 Shulman, Julius. pp. 2

11 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

On the other hand, Stoller was more "objective" than Shulman. "His approach to photography was formed by the functionalist tenets of Modern architecture. He believed in the honest ability of photography to reveal the structure, function, and material qualities of a building. His commitment to the visual transcended the need for words: it one could look at an image, then text was redundant. And if a photograph were second to physically being in the space, verbal descriptions were further removed from the architectural experience." 17 Stoller is the one who has taken most of the iconic photographs of modernist buildings that are the references for architects of today. Architectural photography mutated after the war into a profitable business and its instrumentality evolved in the awareness of all the possibilities that comes with it. It is a dichotomy between architecture and photography, a partnership between architect and photographer.

Seagram Building. Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson. Photographer: Ezra Stoller

17 Rappaport, Nina and Erica Stoller. Ezra Stoller Photographer. (Yale University Press. New Haven and London, 2012) pp. 7

12 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

However, some of the idealism of architectural photography remains even in Stoller and Shulman's photography. They were still looking for that good point of view and eliminating the noisy information. Cars, crows and everything that distracts the viewer from the architecture as an object should be eliminated or introduced in a very well studied composition. However, in this way photography remains far from reality. As Hans-George Gadamer said: "One of the best ways of forgetting how a work of architecture really is, is by coming in touch with it through photographs. Thus, every picture taken of a building makes it more picturesque than it is or was intended to be. I believe that a genuine piece of work cannot be understood through a few photographed images... you must enter, walk through it, grasp the building, so to speak. Naturally, in the case of public buildings you must also use them for the purpose for which they were designed."

NOW AND THE FUTURE In the present, photography is a powerful tool with unique qualities that can be used as a means of expression and communication in many disciplines but It has become indispensable in the field of architecture. However, in architectural photography, even if through history we can demonstrate its influence in the discipline, now it is implicit in the practice. We don´t have the capability to understand photography as a point of view of one person in one particular moment. We understand photography as the representation of an eternal concept, an eternal building that represents a style in architecture. Architects always want to know what is going to be the final frame and now with different software they are able to pre-visualize the result of their design. Certainly architecture continues to want to be in control of photography because of its power of communication. One photograph can say more than a thousand words. On the other side the use of photography in architecture has evolved in a cross disciplinary way too. Think about the digitalization of objects through the 3d scan. One object, a camera, software and photographs as outputs are just one step to achieve a greater goal. From this point of view photography in architecture has been transformed into an indispensable tool in the digital age. Therefore it is possible to see how in modernism architectural photography passed from experimental phases where techniques prevailed over meaning and with time and the needs of society the instrumentality of the camera and photographs itself changed giving more importance to the content than the techniques applied to obtain it. However the control of architects in the photography of their projects still prevails.

13 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

Bibliography Becher, Bernd. Bernd & Hilla Becher: Coal Mines and Steel Mills Schirmer/Mosel. München, 2010. Becher, Bernd. Bern & Hilla Becher, Robert Smithson: field trip: Museu Serralves, Museu de arte Contemporanea. Hopefulmonster Editore. Torino, 2002. Colomina, Beatriz. "The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism". in Raumplan versus Plan. Libre. Adolf Loos / Le Corbusier ed. Max Risselada. 010 Publisher. Rotterdam, 2008 De Maré, Eric. Photography and Architecture. New York. The Architectural Press London1961 Elwall, Robert. Building with Light. The International History of Architectural Photography. Italy. RIBA and Merrel Publishers Limited, 2004. Haus, Andreas. "Photogenic Architecture" Daidalos 66. December 1997. pp. 84-91. Kuspit, Donald. Albert Renger-Patzsch. Joy Before the Object. J. Paul Getty Museum. New York, 1993. Moholy-Nagy, László. Vision in Motion. Chicago. P. Theobald,1928. Naegele, Daniel. Object, image, aura: Le Corbusier and the architecture of photography. Harvard Design Magazine. Fall 1998. pp. 37-41. Naegele, Daniel. “Le Corbusier and the Space of Photography: photo-murals, pavilions, and multi-media spectacles” History of Photography 22 no. 2. Summer 1998. pp. 127-138. Naegele, Daniel. “Photographic Illusionism and the ‘New World of Space’,” in Le Corbusier, Painter and Architect. Aalborg, 1995. Rappaport, Nina and Erica Stoller. Ezra Stoller Photographer. Yale University Press. New Haven and London, 2012 Rosa, Joseph. A Constructed View. The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman. Rizzoli. New York, 1994.

14 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT

Shulman, Julius. Photographing Architecture and Design. New York, 1962.

Interiors. Whitney Library


Steinweig, Marcus. Fotografia nell'arte tedesca contemporanea. Clauia Gian Ferrari arte contemporanea. Milan, 1996. Wilde, Ann and Jurgen and Thomas Weski. Albert Renger-Patzsch. Photographer of Objectivity. Thames and Hudson. London, 1997. Zimmerman, Claire. “Photographic Modern Architecture. Inside the New Deep" Journal of Architecture 9:4. Fall 2004. pp. 331-354.

15 Photography a versatile tool in Architecture

Ana Faria Delfino MS_DT


Photography: a versatile tool in Architecture during Modernism

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you