In my architectural practice, I had a good deal of exposure to architectural photography. This is a special branch of photography that has its own rules and procedures. Typically, an architectural firm would hire an architectural photographer to document a newly completed building to maintain a history of the work produced by the firm and to use for marketing. In our firm, the project designer (usually the principal in charge) would spend long days with the photographer on site moving furniture, picking up trash, eliminating people and cars from the frame, and waiting for the right light. The photographer (back in the days of film) would set up a shot using a large format camera (4 x 5) or (8 x 10) with a perspective adjustments mounted on a very sturdy tripod. He would make a Polaroid copy of what he had framed and the designer would give the okay to take the shot. The selected shots were intended to present the building in the way that the designer wished. This might be called designing for the photo.
The photo shoot itself would begin with exterior shots just after sunrise and then move into the interior where supplemental lighting could be used and then back out to the exterior when the golden hour approached. The exact location for each shot would be worked out before hand as well as a schedule. This slow and tedious process reflected the ego and perfectionism of both the photographer and the building designer.
Professional building images (when taken with film) never had people in them. They would be blurred in a long exposure. Now with the ability to see a digital image immediately, people are more frequently shown. But you can tell they are posing because the same person appears over and over in photos of different portions of the same building.
I never documented my own buildings. I had neither the inclination nor the technical ability to do good architectural photography. After having spent years on a project, I would be tired of dealing with clients, consultants, staff, and budget. I preferred to have my photographic work be more spontaneous. Part of what I liked about taking photos was that I was in control of the whole process and if I failed then it was my fault.
When I did take photos of the built environment, I approached it more as a street photographer where a particular moment was of importance and where you had to see quickly. I was more interested in how people used the
building or how it aged. Its patina explained more about the building than a meticulously staged images produced for architects to look at the work of other architects.
I was not particularly interested in glamour shots. Strange juxtapositions could provide a multilayered meaning to the image, errors on the part of the design team could be shown, the problem of the bigness of buildings vs the smallness of people could be portrayed, visual chaos might be included as part of the composition but more importantly, it was more fun.
Here are images that show how a street photographer looks at the built environment. Captions are given to locate where the image was taken.
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