Photographic language for impermanence | ArchDaily

Photographic language for impermanence

Photography is often equated with a visual language. The “most literary of the graphic arts”[i] is after all a formal system with a commonly accepted structure and recognizable patterns.

Ezra Stolerwhile using the analogy of “photography as language”, positioned the architectural photographer between the architect and the public, in the role of interpreter and communicator of the architectural idea[ii]. Such an approach invites several questions: to what extent can this interpretation be idiosyncratic, to what extent it depends on the visual language of the photographer and finally if the particularities of an architectural space invite or prohibit the use of a specific photographic vocabulary. While in the fifty years since Stoller wrote this article, media platforms for architecture have exploded in number and variety, it remains true that we communicate architecture primarily through images. However, instead of witnessing a parallel growth of photographic “dialects”, the opposite is happening: an increasing homogenization of the image, often motivated by the need to present architecture as an easily consumable visual product. , believed to survive extremely short attention spans in an environment of information overload. If alternative approaches exist, they tend to operate on the margins of commercial architectural photography, using buildings as a pictorial element in a photographic practice that is not, in principle, concerned with architectural communication. This type of photography is rarely, if ever, commissioned by architects and belongs primarily to the world of fine art.

Water glass in Atami.  Image © Erieta Attali
Water glass in Atami. Image © Erieta Attali

Rather than providing a descriptive representation of specific buildings and landscapes, I chose as a photographer to focus on the relationships between architecture and its ever-changing environment. Architecture in my practice as a photographer is used as a lens that reflects, filters and translates the landscape; at the same time, however, human constructions are treated as “found objects” that have surrendered to nature, leading the photographer’s gaze to explore and rethink the world.

Glass wooden house.  Image © Erieta Attali
Glass wooden house. Image © Erieta Attali

I often use materials in architecture such as glass and superimposed layers of reflections in order to capture a multiplicity of points of view. Although this often happens when I photograph the work of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the methodology is expanded by the inclusion of transparent natural elements as well as the juxtaposition and combination of multiple photographs in diptychs and the collage technique.

Private house in Japan.  Image © Erieta Attali
Private house in Japan. Image © Erieta Attali

The idea of ​​permanence and the related illusion of timelessness are common in architectural photography; it often produces photogenic entities that are autonomous, explicit and disconnected from any notion of senescence. The architecture however, unlike its photographic avatars, does not in any way appear permanent; countless human geographies have come and gone, strewing natural landscapes with ruins as they follow an inevitable cycle of decay and renewal. Materials age and decay; plant life grows to reclaim any space deprived of human activity. These are the mediated icons of singularity and permanence that recognize neither temporal variation nor situated context, which the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma chooses to call “objects”. Architecture, however, is not immutable; it reacts to daily and seasonal transformations, inevitably anchored in any environment, be it natural or man-made, as well as a cultural substrate. Performance requirements are defined by local climatic conditions, available materials and established lifestyles. While the image enjoys autonomy and can be evaluated as an autonomous object, the reality of architecture is a messy web of dependencies, which changes over time and without which we cannot have a full understanding of the built space. Awareness of this context not only allows us to better understand the architecture photographed; it also offers insight into the natural processes that act on it and, in theory, shaped its original design.

Coeda House.  Image © Erieta Attali
Coeda House. Image © Erieta Attali

What I hope to contribute to the ever-expanding but not necessarily diverse field of architectural photography is to communicate the concerns of the photographer and the architect to a wider audience and to open a dialogue for the use of photography as a tool of interpretation in the study of space. . Architectural photography has an underutilized ability to capture transitions and therefore inform the viewer – or the architect – of the rich web of interrelationships between the building and its context. The use of architectural photography as an analytical tool further enhances its potential as a visual language with considerable flexibility; a language that welcomes manipulation in ambiguous puns, thus testing not only the limits of the medium and its expressive spectrum, but also a perception of what is ultimately a real, faithful or useful photographic representation of architecture.

[i] Evans, Walker. “Photography.” The Massachusetts Review 19, no. 4 (1978): 644-46
[ii] Stoller, Esdras. “Photography and the language of architecture.” Perspective 8 (1963): 43-44.

Michael E. Marquez