As a way of representing architecture, photography has certain undisputed qualities. With it, it is possible to present to a project from a distant corner of the globe to people anywhere in the world, showing everything from general views to internal spaces and constructive details - extending the reach and, in a way, the access to the architecture.
But like any other form of representation, it is not infallible. Even as technological advances allow for ever more well-defined images and editing software offer tools to retouch and even alter aspects of the built space, photography by its very nature lacks the means to convey sensory and tactile aspects of architecture. It is not possible - at least not satisfactorily - to experience the textures, sounds, feelings, and scents of spaces through static images.
As part of our February monthly theme - representation in architecture - we talked to Lorena Darquea, Montze Zamorano, Manuel Sá, Laurian Ghinitoiu and FangFang Tian, all international architectural photographers, to learn their thoughts on the virtues and limits of photography in the representation of spaces. Their perspectives, after the break
"There are several levels of virtue in architectural photography. For example, photography played a major role in bringing architecture closer to people who would never have been able to visit the buildings in person. It also allows the public to understand different narratives and perspectives of the same building, based on the looks and intentions of different photographers.
However, we should not forget that photography is just a type of media, so it could never replace the experience of visiting a building. As sound moves within a space, the feeling of materiality and texture, the light on glass and reflections, etc., are physical interactions that can not be truly perceived in a photo. Photography is a very important way to explain architecture, but we should never judge architecture based on just one photograph. "
"Architecture photography, from the late 19th century to now, has remained essential in presenting novelties to the world. Projects that would probably never be known are able to enter a circuit of worldwide architectural success. Peter Eisenman once joked that if Corbusier had not published his books at the beginning of the 20th century, we would probably never know of the existence of these iconic works scattered in the quiet interior of France. As a technique of representation, the limits of architecture photography live in constant tension.
In particular, the transition from chemical to digital photography, which is still being digested as a possibility, brings the photograph closer to painting, because, less concerned with recording the moment, it often ends up aligning with the original vision of the architect, both through manipulation of the image as well as through exposure features, colors, lights, shadows, and photo layers. At the end of the day, architectural photography is still simply photography, governed by what lenses and cameras provide, but there is no doubt the digital manipulation allows new frontiers in the perception and understanding of the project while sometimes moving away from the decisive moment and plunging into a sea of layered information. "
"One of the virtues of architectural photography is that it acts as a conduit for different architectural spaces and experiences, which allows you to know the user's behavior with the project and its context. It is a medium that connects projects from one place of the world to another, allows one to live it, to study it and to understand it completely. The close relationship that this medium of representation has with light is so delicate and complex that the results are magnificent when done correctly.
Ironically, one of the limits is technology itself. It's easy and quick to take photos, lots of photos, for that very reason, it's very easy to give up and live the space to shoot - something that was not possible before because you had few photos."
"Photography has the power to capture a very specific state of architecture. Besides focusing on the architecture itself, it’s atmosphere, light, scale, and materiality, I’m trying trough my documentation to put architecture in time and context. Architects design spaces as a choreography, where the light movement is mostly predicted and people’s behavior it’s either part of the design or changed and directed in a specific way - and you can easily see from the pre-visualisation/renders. I’m very attracted by the unexpected, I always search for unique and random situations, a spontaneous synchronization of “decisive moments”, the daily life around designed architecture within the built environment. In my opinion, capturing the context with its informality is as valuable as the architecture itself, and photography is one of the tools to achieve that.
Although we’re able to capture movement or time through our work, photography has its limitation. I often feel that photography is too rigid to represent space which pushed me to experiment with video. Together with Arata Mori (filmmaker & visual artist), we founded anothertwo (another:) as an approach to expand the field of view, which had never been perceived."
"I think the architectural photography discussed this time is a relatively narrow architectural photography, which is the kind of architectural photography usually served by architects. It is based on the architectural design itself, it’s an objective expression also a re-creation. The advantages of architectural photography are obvious, especially in this era of information. Which is an important medium of communication. When a building is built, through photography, the focus that the designer wants to express can be refined, and the architect's design ideas can be transformed into an easy-to-read image language, which is then widely and rapidly published through publications, websites and various social media.
The limit of architectural photography lies in the deception of photography itself. In the early stage of shooting, different composition and lens selection can bring different spatial feelings. In the later stage of photography, through the retouching software, you can cover up many flaws, so you can rely on photos. Knowing a building is especially questionable. Secondly, the limitation of photography is that it can not completely replace the feeling of the space, the touch of the material, the intensity of the light, the change of the sound, the taste of the space...
So many awards juries insist on going to the project site. This is important. As an architectural photographer, we should actively explore the boundaries of architectural photography, foster strengths and avoid weaknesses, and use the special medium of photography to serve the industry and actively promote the dissemination and exchange of architectural culture."