How much editing is acceptable in architectural photographs? And what if those edited photographs are the basis of judging a design competition? Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin explored these questions in a recent column after an altered photo led to a Design Excellence Award from the Chicago chapter of the AIA. The building in question, the El Centro campus of Northeastern Illinois University designed by Juan Moreno, was one of five recipients of the chapter's honor award, the highest level of recognition. But one of photos submitted to the award jury had been digitally altered by the photographer to remove a prominent row of large air handling units on the roof that marred one of the best views of the building.
Admittedly, no two-dimensional media, whether photographs or drawings, can ever fully and accurately represent the three-dimensional spatial experience of a building, but Kamin nonetheless asserts that architectural photography is supposed to have a certain honesty. By contrast, Kamin notes that the AIA National Awards require at least one juror to visit each short-listed building, while the Pritzker Prize jury travels extensively to visit potential recipients’ buildings. Acknowledging that most awards programs cannot match the standards of the Pritzker Prize, he proposes a new standard: “Photographs that doctor the reality of a building or omit key perspectives of it will be considered outside the pale of ethical standards and will cause a project to be eliminated from consideration.”
Read Kamin’s column, and see the original offending photos, here.