Contemporary Lens: Simona Rota

The first part in our series about young talents who are framing architecture in fresh ways.

Ostalgia: Residential Area 16th District, Yerevan, Armenia, 2011

As a sort of update to this month’s feature, “Soul Mates,”which takes a look at the long and intimate relationship between architecture and photography, I set out to find exciting fresh perspectives in the field.

Not all of the photographers in this series would describe their work as architectural—some of them specialize in landscapes, others in capturing the nuances of human faces. But in bringing this experience to their documentation of the built environment, they are finding more nuanced and humanistic views of buildings.

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This week, I spoke to Madrid-based Simona Rota, who trained in political science, and whose work explores environments transformed by politics. Rota brings a critical, yet calm vision to seemingly dystopian subject matter. In addition to working on personal projects and collaborating with leading architects, Rota contributes regularly to Domus magazine.

Soohang Lee: How did you start taking photographs and at what point did you become interested in architecture?

Simona Rota: I’ve started recently though I always had a camera available to photograph. Whenever I have the camera on, I think of myself to be as awkward as that character from Twin Peaks (David Lynch), the woman who carries a log in her arms and who seems to have no more purpose in the story than wandering through the scenes without ever renouncing her load. I didn’t begin to learn the craft of photography until 2009, when I decided to enroll in a school in Madrid and bought a professional camera.

I related to architecture in several ways. I studied political science and the project for my MA was about the construction, representation, and reception of the national image, a topic that obliged me to look into the relationship between architecture and politics of national branding. Since 2004 I have been working and collaborating with architects, as an office manager, as a communications consultant, as a marketing manager, and in that sense, my work involved a direct relationship with architectural photographers. In 2008 I sold some of my photographs to an architecture magazine. They were photographs of a building designed by the Icelandic architect Högna Sigurdadottir.

In my personal projects, architecture is omnipresent, without being the objective. For me, architecture is a visual tool to reflect about the use of territory, the configuration of the built landscape, the artificial context, the expression of authority. We make architecture. Even if in my photographs there are almost no people, my interest is not about the objects but about the authors of those objects, the civilization that creates them.

Click on “i” to view caption information.

All images copyright Simona Rota.

SL: Who are your influences?

SR: Most of my influences don’t come from photography. For example, in 2010, when I started the series, Instant Village, which is about urbanism in the Canary Islands, I was reading Urbanalización written by the Spanish geographer Francesc Muñoz and The Act of Seeing, a book of conversations with Wim Wenders. These two books made me think over many things related to land use and the built environment. I did not stop to think about choosing a style or a certain trend in the history of photography. Only later, and because people made me notice it, I saw affinities with Lewis Baltz or with Sergio Belinchón.

Within the field of photography, however, the constant influence comes from the Düsseldorf School, the New Topographics and the D.A.T.A.R. Mission photographers. I was deeply impressed to see an exhibition of the Bechers and one of my favorite photo books is Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore. On the other hand, I also appreciate a book of domestic Polaroids by Tarkovsky, I enjoy Juergen Teller’s photography, so powerful while using few elements, and I admire Nadav Kander’s ability to be consistent, whether it’s in portrait, documentary or commercial work.

SL: What are you working on now?

SR: This year has been busy with editing two books on my photographs: Ostalgia published by Fabulatorio and Missbehave published by Vibok Works. Next, I am going to finish Instant Village. It is a photographic survey, designed in three phases, of the types of occupation in the territory of the Canary Islands, an environment that, because of its almost exclusive economic dependence on tourism, has been subject to increasing development pressure from the decade of the 1960’s until the recent real estate bubble burst. That the most precious resource of an island is precisely the most limited— territory—emphasizes the gravity of those urban practices whose sole purpose seems to be immediate profit, and have created a corrosive topography of banality. Instant Village, like many of the holiday complexes it describes, is formed in stages. Instant Village I was developed in Tenerife between 2010 and 2011, “nstant Village II has been developed in Fuerteventura this year and Instant Village III, which is aimed at the island of Gran Canaria, will complete the trilogy of islands treated badly by urbanism.

Soohang Lee is Metropolis’s photo editor.

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