Abstract of final thesis

Abstract

Many critics have highlighted the gulf between the experience of architecture and its representations via photography, suggesting a more humanistic and temporal portrayal. My research questions whether, in pursuing alternatives to conventional, commercial architectural photography, a more dynamic view can be revealed, one that is closer to the experience of encountering the built environment: episodic, transient and in flux.

I believe temporality and motion are indicative of the life of a building: both habitually omitted from traditional commercial representations. Practical and conceptual challenges directed me to techniques depicting ‘still’ and ‘moving’, that intersect with several of photography’s discourses: the evidential value of images constructed over time, the perception of movement in still photography and negotiations between description and creativity.

My methodology is an empirical investigation drawing on principles of the scientific analysis of motion (chronophotography): interpretive, yet with evidential rigour. This allies to Henri Bergson’s concept of duration, Futurism, Cubism and cinematic animation, whence I take the portrayal of motion and multi-point perspectives in still images.

By identifying examples from painting and illustration, my temporal approach builds up images over time, utilising observation, interpretation, editing and presentation. My subject matter is limited to what is found and what appears during each session; from this bricolage of serendipitous events selections are made throughout the practice’s reiterative process. I argue the case for appropriating the artist’s licence to interpret, producing an abbreviation of a longer period while remaining informative. I challenge Kracauer’s contention that the true ability to depict the city is exclusive to cinema, by using a static medium to represent ever-changing landscapes populated by transient characters in ephemeral scenes.

My practice bridges the gap between architectural photography and the ‘photography of architecture’. I identify two anomalies that inform the practice: firstly the difference between mainstream architectural photography during the inter-war period and concurrent, vibrant, animated representations of the city in film and painting. Secondly, my case studies illustrate differences between architectural photography and visual representations in other media (CAD-generated images, architectural models and sketches); the animated nature of the latter negating the notion of commercially-driven work being necessarily objectified, pristine and sterile.

 

RBS Tower composite at dusk

IMG_0371 comp2 sm

An image composed of two framings. One for the lower (exterior) portion (two exposures – the first includes pedestrians on left side and far right, the second for the traffic trails). The other is a composite of 7 exposures for the upper floors, showing the people framed by the windows over a 20 minute period, as they pack up at the end of the working day (4.40 – 5pm).

The location is the Royal Bank of Scotland building on Deansgate, Manchester

Paper proposal

Update: Paper accepted

Yesterday I submitted a proposal for a paper on the mediation of Architecture by photography for the Space and Place: Exploring Critical Issues conference at Oxford University in September:

The great architectural swindle: The mediation of architecture via architectural photography.

In 1979 Tom Picton dismissed the contemporary architectural photograph as,

…the craven image, a lifeless piece of flattering deception foisted on an unsuspecting public by an unholy alliance of architect, photographer and art editor’ (Elwall 1991).

Thirty-five years later little has altered: buildings are routinely represented as lifeless, pristine sculptures; forms without functions; structures in isolation from neighbouring buildings and the spaces in between. Architecture is seen through photography, in a stifled form, thereby failing its audience. This paper challenges the convention that architecture should be mediated through photography as empty shells.

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