A high art _ photographer
Bringing the man-made to life
By Robert Landon
Paul Clemence gives a new spirit to architecture with a click of his camera Photographer Henri CartierBresson spent his life in pursuit of the “decisive moment” – that fraction of a second when an idea and its ideal expression coalesced in his viewfinder. To capture that moment, Cartier-Bresson says, he “prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, ready to ‘trap’ life.” It is in this same spirit that photographer Paul Clemence goes “hunting” amid the world’s built environment. A graduate of one of Brazil’s most elite schools of architecture and now a resident of New York City, Clemence has a visceral understanding of architecture’s essentially sculptural nature. And yet he has made it his calling to achieve the seemingly impossible – to capture the experience of three dimensions in a rigidly twodimensional medium. To achieve his goal, Clemence, like CartierBresson, pounces on the instant when, within his viewfinder, he sees not the entirety of the building itself – impossible task – but the moment-by-moment experience of moving through it. When capturing the vast curves of, for example, one of Oscar Niemeyer’s iconic buildings, Clemence doesn’t just stand back to “document” the whole building. Instead he keeps circling the work until, in an instant, he knows that “by capturing just the beginning of the curve, I can express 263 A
A high art _ photographer
just what it is – a two-dimensional image, a photograph.”
“Architecture is like music,” says Clemence. “Even when we stop paying attention, it’s there in the background, subtly influencing us.” And it is exactly in these peripheries of perception that Clemence goes hunting. “I try to give form to those illusive moments where we connect to buildings, perhaps without even realizing it,” he says.
Clemence began his photographic career shooting some of the world’s most iconic architecture. His book on Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House is a masterpiece, and his book on Miami’s Art Deco district is one of the definitive works on the subject. However, he reserves special praise for Rem Koolhaas who, like Clemence himself, explores the periphery of the senses. “His buildings are not just full of surprises,” says Clemence, “they offer many kinds of surprises. Light, shape, color and texture are constantly in play.”
In the process, he is gaining increasing recognition for his work, including a first-place prize from the American Institute of Architects, inclusion in MoMA’s Mies van der Rohe archives and invitations from major design events like Milan’s Fuori Salone and São Paulo’s BOOMSPDESIGN. Sometimes, as Clemence keeps looking and looking, a building disintegrates under his lens, becoming something close to pure abstraction, or, as he explains it, “an image with its own values, derived from the experience of the building, but also becoming A 264
In recent years, Clemence’s purview has expanded beyond canonic works to include the entire “built environment,” from industrial sites to paint spilled on a humble tar rooftop. Scaffolding is a particular favorite. “With its haphazard harmonies and filtering light, scaffolding can enshroud an otherwise workaday building in beauty and mystery,” says Clemence.
Now, Clemence’s work is taking a new turn, as he weaves largescale photographs into urban environments. In Hollywood, Florida, Clemence wrapped the glass façade of a cultural center with translucent images of ghostly blue scaffolding. In the process, he transformed the building – by noted architect Margi Nothard – both inside and out, sensitively integrating his own images into Nothard’s design. And in Milan, he turned a highly urban street scene into an island of green by superimposing a photographic abstraction of trees onto the stairwell of a busy train station. In the words of Milan curator and aMAZElab founder Claudia Zanfi, Clemence’s installation transformed a cement wall into “a window onto an imaginary forest.” “It’s so exciting to go from the intimate scale of a classic silver gelatin to a format large enough to transform a complex urban environment,” says Clemence. “It’s like coming full circle, as the architectural image merges into the architecture itself.”
the feeling of that curve, and suggest the way it grows.”