I met with Juan Alberto Andrade and Cuqui Rodríguez from the JAG Studio in Ecuador during their conference for the sixth edition of EARQ (PUCE-SI). The young couple dedicate themselves to documenting and writing about Ecuadorian architecture. By covering the now famous works of Al Borde, Daniel Moreno Flores, Natura Futura, Rama Estudio, among others, the couple have become the unofficial emissaries of their country.
We sat down with the couple for World Photography Day where they shared, not only their start in and work in photography, but the role of photography in contemporary architecture.
Fabián Dejtiar: How and when did you begin to photograph architecture?
JAG Studio: We started to photograph architecture by accident. It was something organic. It's something you don't do on purpose like with everything else. It's more like somebody sees you, waves a wand, and poof. We believe in natural events, starting with our first assignment in August 2013.
It was 2012, and I (Juan Alberto) was an architectural student at the UEES in Guayaquil, Ecuador. I had my first camera, a gift from my parents, stashed away in my drawer with no intention of using it. During my last years of studying, that time when you start questioning everything, the camera became my way of answering my own questions, of exploring the city, of discovering architecture. I was determined to demonstrate that photography was a useful tool in architecture.
- House of the Flying Beds / AL BORDE
- Casa Lasso / RAMA studio
- Flying Tiles House / Daniel Moreno Flores
- Don Juan House / Emilio López Arquitecto
Along with Cuqui, who was studying medicine at the time, we scoured the city looking for places to photograph but, thanks to absurd city regulations, many places chased us away.
Two years passed wherein many things happened: Cuqui quit medicine and switched to audiovisual communication and I prepared myself to save the world with my camera. They were children's dreams, a time of exploration.
FD: What inspired you to follow this path?
JAG: It was a steady stream of inspiration that I feel I should explain in chronological order. First, we found inspiration, as usual, in references, in people we admired, people we wanted to connect with, and people who, one way or another, gave us the push forward. In my case in particular, to give an example, it was Jesús Granada, who was kind enough to direct me to lectures and even introduce me to Julius Shulman. In fact, we even invited him to our wedding.
Next, we found inspiration in projects, both in the exploration phase as well as the execution. For us, they represent experiences; visiting cities, meeting people, usually architects, being exposed to different ways of living, all of this coupled with the satisfaction of documenting everything we come across. Most of all, we are supporting Ecuadorian architecture.
Finally, we find inspiration within ourselves, in the ability to reinvent ourselves on a daily basis. It goes hand in hand with our personalities and with our work.
FD: I understand that you dedicate a lot to your photography and your work. Would you say that your photography is an architectural project in itself?
JAG: Yes it is. At first, I thought I was just fooling myself for thinking that, as a way to tell myself that we weren't just standing on the sidelines of architecture. With time, we came to realize that our processes were similar to the ones that make up a work of architecture. We work according to two principal elements, the user and the sun, and from there we encounter additional factors (context, logic) and around them we build our photographic project.
We have very well-defined processes that are premised on capturing a variety of factors in one shot. First, we have to identify two truths about the project: ours and the architect's which of course comes with their own process, their decisions, and their frustrations. Afterwards, it's all about production and fieldwork--pure adrenaline.
FD: How do you deal with the demands that architecture puts on you nowadays, especially related to the speed needed to work?
JAG: First we need to have a clear idea of what our work entails. For us, as architectural emissaries for Ecuador, a position that wasn't even given to us but that we took ourselves, the implicit mission of our work is to document--show our country to the world through a medium that is ours. Of course, this isn't the only or even the best way to accomplish our mission, but it's our way of doing it.
In keeping with our mission, we've had to leave behind our stationary office to become nomads, bringing our office to all the places that we visit.
- House Between Blocks / Natura Futura Arquitectura
- La Casa del Profesor de Historia / José Miguel Mantilla
In physical terms, our work demands all of our strength and attention, including even the most trivial conversations at the breakfast table. It's a lifestyle. Today, we're by the beach and tomorrow we're 4800 meters above sea level photographing a cabin beside the Chimborazo volcano. We've had to find balance within our multi-disciplined work. We trust in our complimentary abilities and each of us stick to our own methods and opinions with the goal of adding to the projects we take on.
FD: In relation to new trends, what are your thoughts on photography's role in architecture today, especially since architects are the ones taking and sharing photos via social media?
JAG: A photographer's job in architecture has evolved a great deal. They've taken on more duties, gained more enemies (laughs), become more relevant (even more so than when pursuing their own projects) and are finding themselves in altogether new territory. In our case, we go for months working on a project that takes up every ounce of our artistic energy and creativity.
- Casa El Camarote / Sebastián Calero Larrea
- Cabañón DLPM / Juan Carlos Bamba, Ignacio de Teresa, Alejandro González
It's an online platform that highlights the architecture of Ecuador. We've labeled this project "mapping architecture" and it's a complete compilation of our photography along with graphic materials from the architects that we've covered. We call it a summary because we feel that we can and should document and share every step of the process and always from an architectural standpoint.