Evolving in parallel with the practice of architecture, architectural photography shapes our appreciation for architecture. It is one of the most common forms of commercial photography that records the evolving face of our cities, houses, apartments and built world.
Whether for a professional audience, or as part of an increasing penchant for design press, images of architecture have become one of the most accessible ways for people to experience the spaces, places and ideas of architects. This is because many forms of architecture are inaccessible, in private or commercial locations, or indeed may be in far off countries; therefore, for many people, architecture is now experienced by way of an image on a smart device or screen.
As such, the role of the architectural photographer has been elevated in both importance and influence. They have become the conduit between architecture and audience, and the way in which they approach their work dramatically impacts on how architecture is communicated and positively or negatively perceived. It can capture the essence of place, structure, spatial quality, light and materiality and, through this, has the potential to powerfully communicate the ethos and intent of the architect.
Yet in a world of real estate advertising and home improvement shows, not all architectural photography has the intention of revealing the true essence of a work; photographers also have the power to manipulate the way in which architecture is viewed: spaces can be made larger and lighter, inconvenient views edited out and perspectives can be tilted. Some photographers record architecture as object, devoid of people and context. Others photograph architecture in dialogue with people and nature, attempting to articulate the relationships between architecture and people and the broader contexts in which architecture takes place. With so many possible approaches on offer, the choice of photographer reveals how architects position the representation of their work and the values and objectives of their practice.
Israeli architectural photographer Erieta Attali began her photographic career in 1993 as a landscape and archaeology photographer. For more than ten years she photographed excavation sites and archaeological findings specialising in the documentation of ancient painting under earth tombs with the use of ultraviolet and infrared radiation. Attali is now internationally renowned for exploring the relationship between architecture and landscape; she interrogates how the placement and surrounding terrain of a building form part of a two-way dialogue. Attali strives to reveal the natural within the manmade.
In her 2015 photographic monograph Glass | Wood: Erieta Attali on Kengo Kuma, Attali demonstrates her commitment to capturing the relationships between architecture and nature, but also in accurately conveying the intentions of the architect. Attali returned several times over two years to seminal Japanese architect Kengo Kuma’s Glass / Wood house in New Canaan, Connecticut, to accurately capture the ever-changing relationship between the house, a modernist pavilion of glass and wood, and the deciduous forest in which it is situated.
Kuma is world-famous for combining Japanese and modernist architectural traditions. His architecture has been described as ‘a bridge where the individual and nature meet’.1Erieta Attali and Kengo Kuma – Tin Sheds Gallery Exhibition, The University of Sydney, <www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQBddTR2BmA>, accessed 26 November 2018. By revisiting and re-photographing the house over four seasons Attali reveals that for Kuma it is the trees surrounding the house that are the instigators of the house’s form and material language. The house is designed as a simple vessel, a series of glass pavilions suspended from a series of sinuous trunk-like stilts. Drawing on the modernist heritage of New Caanan, made famous by Philip Johnson’s Glass House, built in 1948–49, Kuma’s house is almost completely transparent offering uninterrupted views of the landscape. Attali adeptly captures the various ways that the forest is reflected and refracted by the architecture as the seasons shift from snow covered boughs to dense green vegetation. Kuma comments that ‘every other architecture photographer shoots the isolated object; Attali carefully picks out the qualities of the place … the protagonist is the landscape itself’.2 ibid.
Attali’s collaboration with Kuma began in 2002 when she photographed his Water / Glass house in Shizuoka, Japan, which she considers formative in the development of her architectural photography practice. With this project she began to reimagine how she could capture and communicate the relationships between architecture and nature. In designing Water / Glass house Kuma created a stunning glass room that seemingly floats in a pond of water; water flows from the edge of the pond over an invisible edge and appears to flow out of the room into the Pacific Ocean at the bottom of the cliffs below. Within this room Kuma has used the tools of architecture adeptly: structure, space and material converge to connect the building to the sea. Attali is one of the few photographers that Kuma felt truly captured this relationship; as a consequence, Attali travels the world photographing his projects to the present day.
Attali photographs architecture at the furthest reaches of the world. Her interest focuses increasingly on how extreme natural conditions and demanding geographical terrains provoke unique architectural responses. Attali’s photographs reveal her propensity to step back and capture architecture from afar in often epic locations, such as Iceland or the Indian Ocean.
A striking example is Chalet C7, in Portillo, Chile, by Max Núñez and Nicolas del Rio, which depicts a bunker-like chalet at 2990 metres above sea level ‘wrapped’ by the Inca Lake and the Andean Tres Hermanos Mountains. With this image Attali reveals her fascination with architecture that takes cues from its surroundings. She understands that the extreme landscape – formed by altitude, snow, wind – is the focus here, and that it not only defines the formal context of the architecture but highlights nature’s relationship to the human psyche. There is a magnetic allure to these wild natural places that has created a desire for architects to build at locations such as this; Attali’s images attempt to convey the scale, beauty and magnetism of these places.
Drawing across the breadth of her practice this exhibition of Attali’s poetic and metaphorical photographs, including large format prints and images on screens, offers an opportunity to examine how the artist strives to depict architecture as a natural feature, inseparable from its context.
Erieta Attali and Kengo Kuma – Tin Sheds Gallery Exhibition, The University of Sydney, <www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQBddTR2BmA>, accessed 26 November 2018.