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  • Overall situation of architectural photography

    Survey question for jurors of the awards

    Apropos of the photography award, editors of the periodical asked the jurors a survey question to tell us their opinions about the present-day conditions of contemporary architecture in Central Europe, and, in association with this, the role of architectural photography today. Meanwhile we were also curious to know how the ever-increasing speed of developments in photo technology infuences photographers’ work during their everyday activities.
    1. What kind of values and possibilities do you notice in contemporary architecture in Central Europe (especially in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia)?
    2. Do you consider architectural photography an applied art related to architectural media or an autonomous art?
    3. How does the continuous development of photo technology influence your practice / architectural photography in the recent years?

    Tamás Bujnovszky

    1. As an architectural photographer I am more than pleased to be active in a period when new experimental technologies appear whilst architects discover the power of simplicity and reinterpret traditions.

    2. As I see it, architectural photos tend to have three basic forms of appearance and interpretation nowadays which, of course, often intertwine, and are multi-layered and manifold by themselves. One of them is the traditional applied architectural photo which is primarily targeted to record „reality”. The second one is an image/story appearing in publications (on-line, hard copy, book format): it is actually the image of the building as the architect, the photographer and editors see it. The third variation is autonomous photography in which architecture is no longer a priority: it is only a starting point, a topic or a theme for the photographer.

    3. The changes in photo technology has not significantly influenced it: the photographer still has to compose and be patient much in the same way as before, when only the analogue technology was available for us.

    Nicolas Grospierre

    1. My field of expertise concerns mostly Poland, as I live here and have followed the developments of architecture in this country, therefore my answer will deal first and foremost with the Polish architectural scene. I feel that the last years in Poland have seen an incredible development of innovative architecture, from a formal and functional point of view. After a couple of decades of relative slowing down, the Polish architectural scene has produced many immensely innovative buildings, such as the Szczecin Philharmonic, the Academic Library in Katowice, or the Congress Hall Jordanki in Torun. All these buildings are remarkable in many ways, and there are many similar examples in Poland today. It is to note that this brilliant architecture is most of the time that of public buildings, and especially of buildings dedicated to culture: museums, concert halls, libraries, etc. It is good to see that not only the cultural field attracts the most interesting architects (which is not surprising), but that the local governments have the will to develop in priority this filed of human activity. But the interest for architecture in Poland is also seen in the rising number of events dedicated to architecture as an autonomous artistic discipline and urban practice, through lectures, exhibitions festivals, showing a growing care for the public sphere. Having said that, and although there are some remarkable achievement in the field, I have to say that the vast majority of contemporary architecture in Poland is either that of commercial investors, building to create profit (sometimes with taste, but most of the time without), or the construction of private houses, which is very poorly regulated, resulting in a very chaotic urban sprawl.

    2. Architectural photography is both an applied art related to architectural media and an autonomous art. Architecture, most of the time, gets a wider audience and is made public through photography. As a matter of fact, some architectural photographs are perhaps even more iconic than the building they depict, although they directly emanate from them. In this respect, architectural photography is an applied art which serves the architecture it depicts. They are the medium which lets the building be known. However, I am more attracted to architectural photography as an autonomous art, where the eye of the photographer sees something the architect did not foresee, or even imagine, where the photographer plays freely with its architectural subject. In this line of thought, the subject needs not be “good” architecture, it suffices that the photographer’s eye is keen enough to see the interesting feature or narrative to create something new and interesting.

    3. The development of photo technology influences the number and size of pictures I am able to create. In other words, digital technology enables me to make more and bigger pictures than I used to with traditional equipment. However, it does not help me in imagining new topics or how to tackle them. This continues to be done through observation, analysis and inspiration, which, unfortunately, digital technology does not provide. General opinion about the result: I was very happy to see such a good level of participation, quantity and quality-wise. On the whole, the applicants showed great composition and technical skills, which is the basis for any good architectural photography. Having said that, I feel that only a handful of applicants really proposed really innovative photographs and creative approaches. My favourites were the images whose subject was not so much the buildings per se (although the photographs were definitely based on them), but that were proposing an original way to see but mostly understand the architecture. These really original series showed new ways to look at the buildings’ history, context, or simply pointed at unnoticed architectural phenomena.

    András Krizsán DLA

    1. What is my opinion about the situation of contemporary architecture in Central Europe? It is basically of high standards and up-to-date. My excellent colleagues are working both here in Hungary and in the neighbouring countries proving with their work day by day that the architecture of Central Europe is of high standards and has deserved a good position in the elite of world architecture. I am more than pleased to see in the architecture of the V4- countries that even the medium standard is very well-performing. However, I feel there is a certain tendency of value loss in Hungarian architecture recently in this respect. I mean the prioritized constructions are very strong and high quality, just like the representative buildings and a few private projects, but the overall picture appears slightly uncertain to me. There are truly beautiful villas, high-standard residential buildings, miraculous mansions in Buda in the best sense of the word, but there are no cheap and yet good-quality contemporary tenement houses and blocks of flats, rural family houses. We have beautifully restored historic buildings, castles, mansions, railway stations, villas, but we have nothing to pride ourselves on when it comes to certain issues such as how a quasi-historical environment could be restored with simple everyday means in such a way that there is a new kind of order ensuing in its wake and an overall integral concept to back it up. The reconstruction of a historic monument always reaches beyond itself and thus organises its own context. However, these energetic lifelines are too weak or entirely missing as such here. In our country there is certainly an absence of good-quality, high-standard „everyday architecture” that would mean the existence of a strong middle of the scale.

    2. It is true that architectural photography is a genre which was originally an applied one at the very beginning, and we architects simply cannot do without high-standard architectural photos today. The buildings we designed are made of stone, concrete, and remain grounded on their sites in their individual contexts as unmoving, stationary, unmoveable and immobile works of art. We simply cannot lift them up and carry with us to an exhibition or tender to show around. Thus we can only trust and rely upon architectural photographers. A professional architectural photographer has the potentials to add quite a lot to the architectural work, and they can turn even a bad house into a miracle. The best architectural photos are actually of equal rank with the architectural work, and they are even autonomous art pieces. Thus the genuinely high quality architectural photography is practically independent of the architect: it is actually an autonomous branch of art.

    3. I am not a professional photographer, and I prefer simple free-hand drawing and sketches. But the unbelievably large quantity of images flooding all of us in the past few years have evidently influenced me. Because of this overwhelming boom it is extremely difficult to select. However, a genuinely good photo of a building impresses the viewer much in the same way as a film which has been stopped suddenly, but we, the main characters in the story can go on, and we have the chance to enter, inspect on a closer look and make a tour of it. As if we could enter the house, and actually feel what its architect had in mind. The truly good architectural photo electrifies and sets the architects’ imagination into motion, inspires it, gives us new perspectives for our fancy, and also raises our awareness.

    Josef Schulz

    1. The European states moved closer together, which creates in Central Europe in particular an architecture that combines many different influences in a way which is more brave than in Germany for example. The change in society in Central Europe allows a more experimental architecture, which also doesn’t deny the influence of the post-war period. So, European integration is visible in contemporary architecture.

    2. For me, architecture photography is the combination between applied photography and autonomous art, which requires high communication skills, a sense of abstraction and connection to art in general.

    3. I grew up with analogue techniques, which were replaced step by step. I am currently trying to combine the advantages of my previous way of work with digital technology, of course, the experience I have gained so far helps me a lot. I am very familiar with the latest developments and welcome them in my daily work, which often ends in results which were not possible so far. But I miss the view into the screen of large format cameras.

    Jan Stempel

    1. Unfortunately, even architects from these countries follow the Western European tendency to focus architecture that is visually attractive. That is as interesting as possible. However, I see value in plain, well-made buildings.

    2. Well-done product photography is, of course, art.

    3. Especially mobile technology allows you to take a photographic record anywhere, anytime. At construction sites or when going to see architecture.

    György Szegő DLA

    1. The geo-cultural-geopolitical sphere phrased in the question itself requires at least a time framework with a medium perspective: neither a short nor a long run. The concept of contemporary architecture actually meets this requirement of thinking in terms of a 20-25 years span. If I do not take the present time of the past 8-10 years of global economic crisis, but rely upon the changes taking place since 1989, then I am faced with the task of having to interpret the movements of cultures and arts of the countries that have left the former Soviet block to be free (with the exception of Austria, which became independent in 1955 – Austria today has an architecture with an obviously global character). The Visegrád 4 countries actually mean Central Europe today even without Austria. Contemporary architecture is undergoing transformations here and now, fresh with the positive energies the source of which is keeping pace with others, being in search of its local character with a refreshing spiritual autonomy. Which can be grasped in a perspective of more than a century, as it had influenced modernism in the whole world in the last few decades of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in an exemplary way, And this is where I find Friedrich Schlegel’s bonmot highly expressive in which he says that a historian is a prophet in retrospect. To put it more simply, present and future both depend on the past. Which means that I am studying the contemporary architecture of Central European with intact optimism.

    2. A couple of years ago it seemed to us that the framework of architectural photography is given, but the photographers have stepped forward from the background to become an immediate workmate of the architects. Genuinely good architectural photos have become integral parts of the reception of architecture. Now, when our world is defined by an unprecedented boom of communication, I have to consider rthis genre as part of architecture. Architectural photography is not an applied art associated with architecture, but – in the best case – it is part of the same integrity with equal rights. Which may as well be phrased as follows: two autonomous genres of art have found each other.

    3. My approach to photography is defined by the very beginnings. Back in those days I learnt and then also practised lab work as an inseparable part of photography, This was matched by my interest in the history of photography and my full respect for it. As a result, I am still photographing using analogue technology, independently of the rapid development of photo technology.

    Photo: Matt Portch: The Wall Frame. Barrington Crater entrance compound, Arizona, USA, 2015, Architectural Photography Award 2017 – Winner, Open category