Posts Tagged ‘barbican’

Constructing Worlds – Architectural Photography at the Barbican

September 29, 2014

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age.

Any attempt to construct a world will always leave us questioning the inclusion of certain elements and the exclusion of other parts. So it is with Constructing Worlds, now at the Barbican. In this exhibition a pared down sample of 18 photographers is used to support the notion that architecture is ‘…both the protagonist and the silent witness…’ Through the selected works, the exhibition attempts to go beyond documentation of the built environment to an understanding of our constructed environment. An exhibition at The Photographers Gallery in 1991, Site Work, attempted a far wider overview of photography and architecture since early Modernism. By selecting a smaller number of contributors, the Barbican exhibition enables one to make direct comparisons both between the work produced by a single photographer and between the photographers over time.
It is fascinating to note the construction of Julius Shulman’s image in Case Study House #22, as previously unseen images are on show that inform the careful placement of models and lighting in the finished image. Thomas Struth’s images of street scenes, with the camera placed in the middle of the street, reveal the scenes as very distinct locations, successfully capturing the essence of place, whether it is the confusion of a street scene in China, ordered low rise terraces in England or a rigidly structured horizontal block in Switzerland.
Photographic interpretations of a constructed space vary through time as they do through the eyes of different photographers, working in the same period. Luisa Lambri’s slivers of light through a window of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, which lead the viewer to know more about the window, compare with Héléne Binet’s shafts of light which draw attention to the shadows in her images. These images without people, emphasise structural elements. Iwaan Baan’s celebratory images of life in the unfinished towerblock, Torre David in Venezuela depict a resilience and adaption of the surroundings, squatted and used as a place to live and work, rather than stand as an unfinished office block. Guy Tillim’s images depict the stark ruins of failed Modernist dreams in post-colonial Central Africa. Any people in the photographs look as bleak and as unhappy as the environment that they inhabit.
Bas Princen’s ‘Five Cities’ series are photographs of areas on the periphery of Istanbul, Amman, Beirut, Cairo or Dubai. They depict the harsher realities of life in poorer cities. A development of apartments in Amman on the edge of a quarry look set to crumble into the abyss; in Cairo a part of the city is covered in plastic garbage bags, this being the resource the residents use to survive.
Nadav Kander’s monumental images of the monumental Three Gorges Dam show everyday life; a picnic or washing a motorbike in the shadow of part of this huge civil engineering project. The images have an intimacy in their calmness, and the figures are clearly identifiable despite being as dwarfed by the structures in the images.
Although photography has been the promotional tool of architectural ideas, it also shows us the social consequences of the built environment, starting with Walker Evan’s images from the 1930’s of sharecroppers and vernacular architecture of Southern America, and Berenice Abbott’s images of cosmopolitan New York on the verge of significant architectural change, through to Simon Norfolk’s images of the effects of war on architecture and communities.
No other medium is able to render these effects so succinctly and dramatically, providing us with a readily accessible compendium of ideas.