by Almas SadiqueOct 19, 2023
The visual aspects of buildings today are often the most coveted; internal layouts and planning come second in a digital-first world where content is consumed with the eye before the mind. Establishments that look good are naturally considered successful, making photography a decisive medium that has the potential to make or break a structure, and the architect behind it. Yet, so little is talked about the role of an architectural photographer in comparison to architects, designers, and artists who all depend on the skills of the photographer and this visual art to shine.
For this reason, STIR asked five architectural photographers from around the world to not just show us their stunning work, or their precision, but to give us insight into the unpublished tales woven around the still images they produce. We asked why a particular structure, unlike another to the untrained eye, caught the attention of the photographer and to narrate that experience with the clicking of a pen rather than the shutter of the lens. The photographers chosen reside in five different countries, selected to share a distinct understanding of the process and perception of architectural photography in their respective locations.
While a single image is worth a thousand words, the stories a photographer can tell about its formation probably amount to more. Through this photo essay, STIR aims to shed light on the unspoken joys as well as the imperceptible challenges behind making good buildings look great.
Project: The Centre Pompidou, Paris
Completed in 1977. Conceived by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, both unknown architects at the time, this cultural centre has drawn more than 150 million visitors since being open to the public. It is considered unconventional for its exposed infrastructure and colourful conduits, each representing a different building system.
Edmund Sumner is a highly regarded London-based architectural photographer who has been collaborating with leading architects, publishers, editors, and curators globally since 1998. Sumner shoots for architects, interior designers, design agencies, developers, contractors, and engineers. In addition to his domestic photography, Sumner travels far and wide, equally comfortable working with emerging talent and mega studios globally. He is often to be found shooting in India, Japan, Mexico, the Middle East and the United States.
Edmund Sumner: One particular building I have enjoyed shooting recently was The Centre Pompidou, Paris. Many years ago, when I was at school, my French textbook had a picture of this building on its cover. At the time, I thought it was an oil rig or a factory of some sort. Later, I realised that it was a thing they called 'architecture’, and I became rather fond of it. Thirty years later, photographing my work hanging on the Pompidou as a poster was a poetic career milestone. To be honest, I still think it looks like an oil rig, but a rather joyful one, one that’s ageing gracefully.
Project: Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association (ATIRA), India
The Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association (ATIRA) required staff housing in 1957 and called upon BV Doshi’s expertise. An almost abandoned site now, it was once a distinguishable mass, characterised by its line of brick vaults. The roof vaults are slightly overhung at the front so that the resulting arches provide shade and a low sense of scale to its entrances.
Fabien Charuau is a French photographer based in Mumbai, India, with a focus on architecture and interiors. He is also an artist working essentially with digital and generative art. Over the last 20 years, Charuau has contributed to various publications, shot for leading architecture firms, and also took up numerous private projects.
Fabien Charuau: After a tiring day of shooting for Sangath in Ahmedabad, I stumbled upon this site. It was one of Doshi's earliest designs, unused and neglected. It felt like an abandoned movie set, with an eerie quietness hanging in the air. In one of the rooms, I noticed someone sleeping. I snapped some shots quietly, not wanting to disrupt the calm summer evening. Later, I shared the photos with Doshi, and his excitement was genuine. Doshi recounted stories of bonfires lighting up the central yard, people gathered around, playing instruments, and the graceful silhouette of a woman dancing in the fire's glow, her shadow dancing on the wall. The images triggered forgotten memories, and suddenly, the building sprang to life through his stories. The actors seemed to reappear on the stage, performing just for him.
Project: Carl Icahn Laboratory of the Lewis Sigler Institute at Princeton University, USA
The Carl Icahn Laboratory of the Lewis Sigler Institute at Princeton University was designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects in 2004. As seen below, its vertical louvres were designed to track the movement of the sun throughout the day. Its synchronised rotation keeps them at an optimal angle for internal shade, which also reduces the load on the artificial cooling systems in the structure.
Rafaela Netto has been a photographer for 17 years. Since 2013, she has focussed on architectural photography. Recently based in Cairo, she has many years of experience in the research and photography of Islamic architecture, in addition to carrying out commercial photoshoots of contemporary Egyptian architecture.
Rafaela Netto: I spent a few months in Princeton/NJ between 2022-2023. While there, I liked to walk around the university campus and discover the buildings in this new reality. During one of these walks, I stumbled upon the Carl Icahn Laboratory, at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. It is completely different from the European-style, stone buildings on the campus, which was enough to lure me in. The beauty of the play of light and shadows in the pedestrian route got me carried away. It was an improvised photoshoot, just a few minutes during one afternoon, playing with all the reflexes and the brises. It really is a “photographically inspiring” building.
Project: Habitat 67, Quebec, Canada
Habitat 67 in Quebec, is a celebrated architectural wonder, an experiment by Moshe Safdie to explore the possibilities of prefabricated modules as well as a new typology for apartment construction. Here, the units are set back from their immediate neighbours, providing each with pedestrian access, a roof garden, and plenty of ventilation.
Krista Jahnke is an architectural and interior photographer working throughout Canada. Jahnke uses her passion for photography and architecture as a way to study and explore the built environment; how we populate, circulate through, and understand our position within it. As an award-winning photographer and multi-disciplinary designer, she has travelled and photographed architecture around the world and has had her photography published in international design magazines, blogs and books, and exhibited in galleries and public spaces.
Krista Jahnke: I love Brutalism; it makes me nostalgic for my architecture school days, also in a Brutalist building. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed photographing Habitat 67 in Montreal by architect Moshe Safdie. The concrete forms were glowing in the warm September light creating sharp shadows that highlighted the geometry of the complex. Meandering through the pathways and levels reveals framed views between the layers of spaces. The building is deconstructed and rearranged, creating an awareness of space as you move through it and experience the porosity of the external structure. There is a real consideration to the quality of life in the design and the circulation provides an intimacy found within a community.
Project: Black Quail House, New Zealand
Black Quail House, by Bergendy Cooke architects in New Zealand, was designed as a response to its habitat—a dark mining landscape. With its form and material heavily inspired by its setting, the house sits still within the rock, looking out towards the former mines, the historic miners’ huts up the valley, and most importantly, the family’s vineyard above.
Simon Devitt is a photographer with a strong focus on the photography of architecture, currently based in Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, in Aotearoa New Zealand; with an established international practice throughout Australasia and beyond. Working in many different settings across cultures around the world has had a great impact on his professional practice. He loves to add people to his photos as their appearance adds a sense of scale and a place in time.
Simon Devitt: Black Quail House is located within a vineyard on the side of the Kawarau River in Bannockburn. The black rock tailings from the old gold mining prospect trail out of the site toward the river. It's a location you dream about. Mountains, a river, a vineyard, and incredible architecture. What else do you need to make it an amazing shoot day? A great publishing client and two genuinely wonderful homeowners made it even more special. And when it’s a location deep into Central Otago, there’s always a bit of preparation required. You have to find the location, in the dark. So, what do I think about when I turn up to this place for the first time? The sunset is already beautiful, so therein lies the trap. “How do I honour this beauty without merely describing it with my camera?”