04 January 2017



Architectural photography can be broadly considered to encompass views of the exteriors and interiors of domestic, commercial, religious, institutional, and engineering structures, as well as records of the evolution of towns and cities. Its aim may be to create either visual documents or expressive images for artistic, publicity, or propaganda purposes. Depending on format, carefully calculated camera movements and/or the use of special lenses are required, especially to control perspective.

Although architectural photographs have been made continuously since 1839, the specialized history of architectural photography is of relatively recent date. If the principal conditions for establishing such a history were access to large bodies of original and published work, and a theoretical framework within which to organize material and to situate representative and seminal bodies of work, then these conditions did not exist before the early 1980s.

The first publication to define and describe a significant portion of this history was Richard Pare's Photography and Architecture, 1839-1939 (1982). This was followed in 1987 by Robinson and Herschman's Architecture Transformed, the first survey of the entire period. By the mid-1990s, the field had both broadened and deepened through the publication of previously unknown bodies of work, the incorporation of alternative methodologies, and easier access to institutional collections. Architectural photography was no longer seen as comprising a single, monolithic history but rather a number of separate practices and interrelated histories. In common with other applications of the medium, architectural photography is now understood as a form of cultural representation, which not only provides useful records of the appearance of buildings and cities over time but also insight into why these images were made and how they were used.

The daguerreotype and calotype in the 1840s had limited commercial potential. In their architectural uses, daguerreotypes were largely confined to wealthy amateurs, such as Alexander J. Ellis's 1840-1 collection of views of Rome and other Italian cities, or Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey's 1842-4 Mediterranean views. Both bodies of work long remained unknown. For publications, daguerreotype plates had to be redrawn and published as prints, as seen in N. M. P. Lerebours's Excursions daguerriennes (1840-4). Henry Talbot's calotype were characterized by an overall softness that, coupled with restrictive patents in the 1840s and a tendency to fade, limited the success of such publishing ventures as Talbot's own Sun Pictures in Scotland (1845) or Hill and Adamson's A Series of Calotype Views of St Andrews (1846). Modifications to Talbot's process in the late 1840s and 1850s permitted a number of architectural photographers active in France (Gustave Le Gray, Henri Le Secq, and Charles Nègre), the Middle East (Maxime Du Camp, Auguste Salzmann, and Félix Teynard), and India (Linnaeus Tripe) to work on an impressive scale. However, the difficulty and cost of printing such work again restricted the size and distribution of publications to a tiny market.

In the early 1850s, the introduction of wet-collodion glass-plate negatives and albumen prints advanced architectural photography and allowed it to compete with other print media and begin reaching a wider audience. The grainless negative, varying in size from stereographs to mammoth plates, when contact printed on to albumen paper, produced photographs with astonishingly sharp detail from the shadows through to the highlights. These prints had an impersonal glossy surface that reinforced the authority of the camera.

By the 1860s, commercial architectural photographers had begun to emerge in many large urban centres, as businessmen who could address the specialized needs of architects, artisans, sculptors, illustrators, entrepreneurs, government officials, amateur historians; and, later in the century, art historians and set designers in need of visual documentation and source material. Such photographers and firms as Charles Marville, Édouard Baldus, Louis-Émile Durandelle (1839-1917), and, later, Eugène Atget in Paris, Pieter Oosterhuis in Amsterdam, Joseph Albert in Munich, Georg Koppmann & Co. in Hamburg, Bedford Lemire & Co. in London, and Thomas Annan in Glasgow, carried out a variety of private, corporate, royal, and governmental commissions as well as speculative ventures. These included documenting the construction, renovation, and, occasionally, demolition of domestic, civic, and engineering structures as well as the recording of urban areas designated for redevelopment. In their photography of buildings, they adhered to a limited set of conventions in the form of axial, perspectival, and detailed views of the principal façades and interior spaces. These provided information complementary to the traditional set of orthographic projections found in architectural draughting (plans, elevations, and sections). During the same period, and spurred by the forces of industrialism, military expansion, colonialism, and middle-class travel, semi-itinerant photographers such as G. W. Wilson in Britain, Francis Frith and Félix Bonfils in the Middle East, Samuel Bourne in India, and John Thomson in China produced topographical, architectural, and ethnographic views. Their work was marketed in a variety of formats and sizes, catering to the varied interests of archaeologists, the military, colonial officials, and tourists. However, until the end of the 19th century, the role of photography in disseminating architectural information was restricted to a relatively small number of views. These were either in the form of original photographs mounted on board or pasted into albums and publications, or images transposed into graphic form for reproduction in books or journals.

With the introduction of commercially produced gelatin dry plates in the early 1880s, refinements in the design of view cameras and lenses and the development of half-tone relief printing in the 1890s, the practice of architectural photography was revolutionized. With the perfection of half-tone printing, it became possible for the first time simultaneously to reproduce black-and-white photographs, line drawings, and text, and to envision and produce commercially viable photographically illustrated publications. By the 1930s, photography had become the principal conveyor of architectural information and culture.

These technological innovations allowed professional journals, such as The Architectural Review in Great Britain, L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui in France, Domus in Italy, and Architectural Record in the USA, as well as other illustrated publications, to rely increasingly upon suites of commissioned photographs to describe contemporary buildings through sequences of exterior and interior views. Frank Yerbury and the firm of Dell & Wainwright in England, Karl Hugo Schmölz (1917-86), Albert Renger-Patzsch and Werner Mantz (1901-83) in Germany, and F. S. Lincoln, Julius Shulman (b. 1910), Ezra Stoller (1939-89), and the firm of Hedrich-Blessing in the USA all specialized in this area of commercial architectural photography. Architects quickly realized the potential of high-quality photographs in publicizing projects and advancing their careers, and often worked closely with photographers in selecting and even specifying particular views. This tradition represents a highly circumscribed interpretation of buildings: rather than emphasizing how commercial or domestic spaces normally function, the photographs present an ‘architectural’ idea, one in which light is used to articulate form and space, and where use is symbolized by the presence of a few carefully placed objects on the pristine surfaces of tables and counters. This type of photography has continued to the present, stimulated by the post-1945 building boom and growth of interior design magazines in the 1950s and 1960s; by the pervasive use of colour photography beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, as seen in the work of Peter Aaron, Richard Bryant, Wolfgang Hoyt, and Steve Rosenthal; and by the advent of digital technologies in the 1980s and 1990s. While it is still too early fully to assess the long-term repercussions of digital applications, they have already facilitated technical complexities, such as extending the photographer's control of colour, contrast, retouching, and preparation of the image for commercial printing, and have encouraged the increased dissemination of collections through scanning and online-searchable databases.

Parallel to this commercial tradition in the 20th century, and at times defined in opposition to it, was the work of a number of independent photographers for whom architecture provided either a private subject, such as Frederick Evans's 1898-1911 images of medieval cathedrals, or one that illuminated society as a whole. Paul Strand's seminal photograph Wall Street (1916) symbolized the crushing conditions inherent in capitalism and big-city life. By the 1930s, photographers began thinking in terms of how large bodies of work could cumulatively provide a more complex description of urban forms than was possible with single images: Berenice Abbott's ambitious project Changing New York (1935-8) and Walker Evans's landmark publication American Photographs (1938) are two instances of this development. At the same time, earlier bodies of work, most notably Atget's photographs of the architecture of Old Paris, were reinterpreted and championed as forerunners of ‘modernist’ photography.

Beginning in the 1970s, with the development of an art market, the growth of museum, corporate, and private collections, and the proliferation of university courses, photographers have gradually been able to establish careers through a combination of commercial work, teaching, grants, and exhibitions that has allowed them to concentrate on independent projects. Many of these address often unnoticed and seemingly marginal aspects of cities. In North America, for example, Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz have investigated the fragile presence of nature in western American cities, Lee Friedlander the visual cacophony of contemporary urban spaces, Lynne Cohen (b. 1944) the often sinister interiors of scientific laboratories and classrooms, and, more recently, Margaret Morton and Anthony Hernandez (b. 1947) the transitory architecture of the homeless. In Europe, Bernd and Hilla Becher, since the late 1950s, have produced an extended document of the remains of 19th- and early 20th-century industrial forms, while Gabriele Basilico (b. 1944) has examined the morphology of European cities. Thomas Struth has assembled typological views of cities throughout the world. While much of this work has been produced in an ‘art’ context, the traditional use of the camera to describe the world allows this photography to align itself with earlier bodies of commercial and government-sponsored work, and to yield a cumulative cultural record of individual buildings and urban spaces from 1839 to the present.

— David Harris

Quoted from: http://www.answers.com/topic/architectural-photography