Examining Architecture and Photography’s Interdependence

A current exhibition looks at the long and fascinating relationship between architecture and photography.

Since photography’s invention in 1839, it has played an integral role in representing architecture, quickly surpassing drawing as the preferred artistic medium for recording and representation. A new exhibition, In Focus: Architecture, on view until March 2, 2014 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, traces the interdependent relationship between architecture and photography through a selection of 24 works from the museum’s permanent collection. “The idea for the show is to reveal how representations of architecture in photographs have evolved over time,” says Amanda Maddox, assistant curator at the museum, who selected the images for the show.  “The photographs tend to reflect what’s going on more broadly in the world.” We asked Maddox  to comment on a selection of works from the exhibition that demonstrate how architectural photography has grown from the documentary-style images of its early days, to the more experimental shots in recent times.

The Panthéon, Paris, 1924

Gelatin silver chloride print on printing-out paper, Eugène Atget, French

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Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

“The atmosphere and the ambiance of the scene he’s created evokes old Paris,” Maddox says, “even though it was made in 1924, in an area of Paris that had been modernized during the 1850s to accommodate traffic.” Atget didn’t develop an interest in recording Parisian monuments, such as the Pantheón, until late in his career.

View from Ivan’s Tower, Kremlin, Moscow, 1852

Salted paper print, Roger Fenton, English

Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Fenton traveled to Russia early in his career to document the construction of a bridge for Czar Nicholas I. “Though an amateur photographer, Fenton displayed his talent for composition as you can see from his interesting perspective taken, probably, from atop the Cathedral of the Assumption,” Maddox says. “The photo came from an album of about 300 or so pictures that Fenton took during his trip.”

Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics (No. 1), Gloucestershire, England, 1896

Platinum print, Frederick H. Evans, English

Courtesy Mrs. Janet M. Stenner / the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

In 1896 Evans produced a series of photographs inside the summer home of William Morris, the leader of the Arts and Crafts movement. “This was made the year Morris died, so the photo has a sense of him—a ghostly presence,” says Maddox. “Evans uses light to set the atmospheric tone of the image. We also don’t see many photographs of architectural interiors from before the turn of the century, because of the difficulty of getting the light right on a print.”

Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama, 1994

Chromogenic print, William Christenberry, American

Courtesy William Christenberry / the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Christenberry has been photographing this wood structure in his native Alabama since the early 1970s. Since that time, he has made annual trips to document its facade. “He’s really chronicling the life and decay of this particular structure,” Maddox says. These vernacular buildings were not common as subjects, until photographers like Walker Evans, Ed Ruscha, and William Eggleston elevated their stature.

Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, 1987

Gelatin silver print, Ryuji Miyamoto, Japanese

Courtesy Ryuji Miyamoto / the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The Japanese photographer Miyamoto is best known for his photographs of buildings destroyed during the Kobe earthquake in the 1990s. This image was taken in Hong Kong prior to that event. “His elevated perspective from the tower is interesting because you can see the layers and rows of towers behind the towers that you’re immediately looking at,” Maddox says.

Interior of Saint-Ouen Church, Rouen, France, 1857

Salted paper print, Bisson Frères, French

Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

As technically gifted photographers, the Bisson brothers used large-scale glass-print negatives to create monumental images of buildings. “At that time, to photograph an interior would require a long exposure,” Maddox says. “This fantastic  print shows a very detailed interior scene of the entire nave of the church, perfectly rendered, with light pouring in from the skylight.”

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