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- PublicationUnconscious Places - Thomas Struth and the Architecture of the City(Society of Architectural Historians, 2014-04)At the 2012 Venice Biennale, Common Ground, an extensive selection of photographs by the German artist Thomas Struth was displayed at intervals along the length of the Arsenale, punctuating the architectural installations and exhibits. Struth’s scrupulous, sober, lucid photographs became a kind of recurring register against which the explorations and propositions of the participating architects were to be measured. Encompassing more than thirty years’ work and a geographical spread from Lima to Tokyo, and including both black and white and colour images, the photographs focused not on signature buildings or new set-pieces but rather on the ordinary fabric of the city, and included buildings of varying age and quality as well as the accumulated evidence of occupation and use. A larger selection of images appeared in the simultaneous publication Unconscious Places. The reprise of the title of Struth’s very first exhibition catalogue, published in1979, emphasised the longevity of Struth’s project, understood in Richard Sennett’s accompanying essay as the bringing to detailed attention of episodes in the urban landscape which would otherwise be absorbed unconsciously. Although usually associated with the notionally 'objective' documentary methods of his teachers Bernd and Hille Becher, Struth’s practice, as he describes it, is in fact much more alert to the psychology of both viewer and photographer. His description of the resulting photographs as 'urban portraits' extends this psychologising to the built fabric itself and finds echoes in broader theories of the relationship between the architecture of the city and the unconscious, from Freud to Halbwachs to Rossi.By exploring such connections, this paper hopes to elucidate the nature and potential of the encounter staged at the Biennale between Struth’s photography and contemporary architectural practice. What precisely is an 'unconscious place'? And how might the deliberate depiction of such spaces inform the conscious shaping of their future?
- Publication‘Illustrated Picturesquely and Architecturally in Photography’: William J. Stillman and the Acropolis in Word and ImageIn 1870, the American William J. Stillman ' diplomat, journalist, painter and photographer ' published an album of autotypes entitled The Acropolis of Athens: Illustrated Picturesquely and Architecturally in Photography. (A second version of the publication would follow in'. ) For a newcomer to the medium, Stillman's images were remarkable for their poise and clarity. But where the photographs were 'clear and lively', to borrow John Szarkowski's phrase, the brief text which accompanied each was, by comparison, laborious and lifeless. Facing each other across each double-spread, text and image seemed to speak in completely different registers, in a manner which presaged many subsequent uses of similar material, most famously Vers Une Architecture. This paper will explore the relationship between those two registers in terms of Stillman's intentions, in terms of contemporary ideas on the depiction of architecture and in terms of the modes of publication will followed. Stillman was deeply involved in contemporary discussions of artistic depiction and its relationship to the truth of experience. In his critique of Ruskin's essay on Turner's Slave Ship, Stillman contends that Ruskin, in pressing his claims for the painting's objective validity, 'left out of all consideration the subjective transformation of natural truth which is the basis of art.' For Stillman, the vivid rendering of the experience of the world depended, ultimately, on artistic subjectivity. Conceding the power of Ruskin's 'word picture' (as he terms it), he is nonetheless uneasy with its conflation of the stable, reliable viewpoint offered by words and the visceral, mutable view by images. Thus, although primarily known for his vivid writing, in The Acropolis of Athens, Stillman used the images to communicate experience, while the words stuck close to the facts.
- PublicationThe Periphery as Frontier - photographing the edge of inhabitation, from Timothy O'Sullivan to Alec Soth(2011-10)The periphery is most often seen as the poor relation of the centre: potential diminishes the further towards the edge and away from the middle one travels. There is however another reading of the periphery which sees it as the leading edge of a new wave of development's as the frontier. In America, between the late sixties and early seventies, the suburban edge seemed to supplant the settled centre as the favoured subject and setting for photographers. The era of street photography yields to an age of typological and topographic survey, much of it collected in the seminal New Topographics exhibition of 1975. For the photographers included in that exhibition, Stephen Shore, Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams among them, the edges of urban settlements were now the key site of a changing American identity. In publications such as The New West (1974) Robert Adams showed the rapidity with which cheap development was encroaching on previously undeveloped landscape. Adams' pictures, classically composed and finely printed, were consciously positioned within a tradition of frontier photography that stretched back to the 19th-century pioneers William Henry Jackson and Timothy O'Sullivan. Signs of contemporary inhabitation were deliberately incorporated in O'Sullivan's images as a counterpoint the epic grandeur of the landscape. This juxtaposition of settler and landscape, in advance of any equilibrium being discovered between the two, has been a continuing trope in photography since. A generation after Adams, Joel Sternfeld's seminal American Prospects (1987) included many images in which recent developments and their inhabitants sit slightly awkwardly against an epic backdrop. More recently again, Sternfeld's pupil Alec Soth has made projects which combine landscape, narrative imagery and portraiture to make visible a new peripheral America. This paper will conclude with an examination of Soth's work from his first book Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004) to his most recent project Broken Manual (2011) as a continuation of the tradition of looking for signs of life at the edge. Although he stretches the boundaries of photographic practice and although he seeks his subject matter at the edges of inhabitation in America, in the final analysis, Soth remains firmly within the traditions of American photography and keeps faith in the idea of the 'frontier spirit'. Images: Timothy O'Sullivan: Anasazi ruins (the 'White House'), Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, 1873; Robert Adams, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968; Alec Soth, Utah, 2010
- PublicationHow the mind meets architecture: what photography reveals(2011-04)In architecture, consciousness finds its own distinct echo. This paper proposes that, in its capacity to give conceptual, sensory and symbolic coherence to mere matter, architecture can be considered analogous to consciousness, which confers coherence and continuity upon the raw data of experience and sensation. It further proposes that the photographic image has a powerful ability to make evident this relationship. Charged with depicting a piece of architecture, the photographer produces images which seek to convey the concepts behind the design as much as the feeling of the finished building. In the photograph, idea and experience coalesce. Building on previous work which looked at how John Szarkowski's photos of Louis Sullivan's work encapsulate a building's art-facts and its life-facts this paper turns its attention to a number of more recent meetings between architecture and photography. As in all her work, Candida Hofer's recent photographs of David Chipperfield's work at the Neues Museum in Berlin are concerned on the one hand clearly to portray the scale and lineaments of spaces and on the other, to convey a sense of their life in time. In his large diptychs of buildings by SANAA, the Swiss photographer Walter Niedermayr manipulates the image to communicate both the experience of these dreamy, floating worlds and the aesthetic sensibility which created them. We inhabit simultaneously the minds of the creators and the visitor. Finally, in Thomas Demand's ongoing collaborations with Caruso St John, a photographic imagination concerned with the scrupulous recreation of spaces meets an architectural practice famously attentive to the specifics of spatial experience. Attesting to what Barbara Maria Stafford terms the cognitive work of images, the photographs resulting from these varied collaborations allow us access equally to the architectural work and to the cognitive processes involved in its creation and its experience. Following Whitman's famous proclamation that all architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it, this paper will ultimately argue that, equally, just looking at pictures of buildings might reveal something about the nature of conscious experience.
- PublicationHow the mind meets architecture: what photography reveals(Routledge, 2012-05)In this chapter, we will look closely at two photographs. The first is one of a series made by the German photographer Candida Hofer of the Neues Museum in Berlin between the completion of its reconstruction by David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap and the installation of its permanent exhibition in 2009.
- PublicationHeads: Philip Lorca diCorcia and the Paradox of Urban Portraiture(Routledge, 2008-09-24)The golden age of street photography, as practiced by such masters as William Klein and Garry Winogrand, is commonly agreed to have ended by the 1970s. However, in recent years, the hectic arena of the city street has begun to be revisited by a new generation of photographers. Informed by the formal poise and cool detachment which has characterised so much photography in the intervening years, these artists engage with the street in less direct ways than their predecessors: where Winogrand and Klein plunged in, they prefer to maintain their distance.
- PublicationLearning Democracy - Hans Scharoun's schools and the politics of postwar reconstruction
- PublicationCamera in Camera - photographing the room and its view(Society of Architectural Historians, 2013-04)In his Camera Obscura series, the photographer Abelardo Morrell transforms rooms into cameras and then photographs the transformed space, on whose walls are overlaid images of the world outside, inverted. These photographs are meditations on the complex relationship between the single room and the camera. As suggested by their shared etymology, both are closed chambers, connected through apertures to the world beyond. But despite their common nature, they can tend to cancel rather than reinforce each other when combined. The open spaces of the landscape and the complexities of the urban scene often seem easier to encompass in a photograph than a single enclosed space. Within the confines of the room, the limitations of the camera's monocular gaze are most keenly felt. It cannot see what most closely surrounds it. Instead and maybe in compensation its attention often shifts to the view beyond. From Fox Talbot to Kertesz to Wall, there is a rich photographic tradition of registering the view from a room, the window becoming a lens on life outside. However, Morrell turns back from this prospect to register instead the view invading the room. His images gain their power from the interplay between the ordinary intimacy of the interiors of a hotel room, a child's bedroom, an attic and the expansive drama of the views playing on their surfaces. The two realms are co-extensive, so much so that is often hard to know where one ends and the other begins. As at the studiolo in Urbino, a room can contain a world in miniature. Using Morrell's images as a point of departure, this paper will explore how the camera copes with the confines of the single chamber and how, in doing so, it serves to represent and mediate the relationship between the room and the world beyond.