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Photo review of architecture and abstract images

by Susanne Stoop

The photographic reality of  architecture photos can be very different from the reality as seen when standing in front of a building.  Or in the words of 1x photographerHarry Lieber : "My goal is to find special structures, lines and shapes and to extract them by means of photography". He is quite happy when finding a composition that shows the aesthetics of a building and not its reality.

Jef van den Houte stated in one of his tutorials: "I try to capture shapes and lines and I pay special attention to how the  forms of the structure are emphasized by the effect of the light".


Track 5 by Jef van den Houte


Many professional architecture photographers, who work for architects or magazines and other media approach their subject completely different. For them it is important to show the design, function and environment of a building. It is their job to make beautiful illustrative images. They don't search for special points of view that change a very concrete building into a realistic abstract image.

In this review I will show some of the many ways in which architecture photographers can explore their subject. Here is the list: The realistic approach / The concrete animal / Architectural minimalism / The architectural night / The problematic sky / Places of worship

The realistic approach
The majority of the 1X architecture photographers prefer the artistic approach. It was not easy to find images in the way the professionals might take them. The photos of Holger Schmidtke and Dick Heckmann show us the artistry of an illustrative image.

Langen Foundation by Holger Schmidtke


The Langen Foundation near Neuss in North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) houses a collection of Oriental Art and Modern Art. It was designed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando.  Holger Schmidtke shows us a serene, almost Zen-like image. A place to sit down and contemplate. This image is a personal interpretation of the building, but it also gives an insight into the design principles, structure, shape and the materials used.  A well- chosen point of view, soft light and colours all tell the story of Ando's art.


Gemäldemuseum Berlin by Dick Heckmann


It may take some time to get hold of the entrance ticket, but once you have it, your photographic eye will be richly rewarded. First you come into a small hall with a dome (see: Klemen R ).The light is subdued. It is in complete contrast with the light-filled center, the entrance to the galleries.

The spacious hall is conceived as a place of quiet reflection, which is very well caught here in this photograph by Dick Heckmann.  It appears like entering a temple. The atmosphere is serene - as if never disturbed by visitors - but also a bit serious. Dick emphasizes this by concentrating on the strict symmetry of the hall and its repetition of forms, which is only broken by the more playful lamps in the ceiling and the arches. If he had chosen another point of view, the impression would have been quite different.


Photo by Susanne Stoop


The concrete animal
By choosing a special point of view, frame or lightning a photographer can give a building or part of it, a meaning which was not intended by the architect.  An eye became a beetle, a building turned into a carambola (a fruit), but it may be a bird as well.


Beetle by Francesco Caso


When reading a title like "Beetle" one might expect to see a macro, or the car nicknamed “Beetle”, but not necessarily one made out of concrete. And yet, here we have it - and it is not the only one in the 1X archives – see for instance Gerard Jonkman's beetle . Officially it is L'Hemisfèric (Planetarium), part of the City of Arts and sciences in Valencia (Spain), designed by Santiago Calatrava, and meant to resemble a giant eye.

"Beetle" is part of his series "Animals in Architecture", in which he explores the resemblances between a building or its parts and animals.  Francesco makes his point by isolating the building from its surrounding. There is nothing to distract the eye. It is his trade mark for this series, We see the same in his other animal abstracts such as "Eagle"  and "Bat's wing"


Carambola by Michael Köster


Carambola is a tropical fruit. It is also known as star fruit and has five to eight prominent longitudinal ridges. And yes, it resembles the building that Michael Köster photographed in Berlin. Between brackets, I must confess I had no idea what a carambola might be, so I googled a bit and found out that there are also lamps with that name. One of our 1X photographers had associations with a huge bird flying high to the clouds. That's also what I saw when viewing this image.  Whatever you see - it might even be a kite - Michael did a great job. He eliminated all details that could distract the eye, while processing the image into lovely black and white. The little cloud is the icing on the cake. It gives you an idea of spaciousness and directs the eye. It is as if one flies towards it and beyond.

Architectural minimalism
The Webster dictionary defines minimalism as a style or technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.  On various photo sites it is described as "keep it simple", which might be a bit too simple.

For me it means showing the absolute essence of your subject. Like in abstract photography it is also about making ordinary objects or buildings stand out in a completely different way and thus showing something unexpected. It is about creating some new reality from a visual experience, as the images of Harry Lieber and Weber Norbert show here:


The lamp by Harry Lieber


There is almost nothing to be seen. Just the absolute essence. A wall, three surfaces, some green, a bit of white and a lot of grey. Nothing more and yet Harry creates an exciting picture with this sparse ingredients. He achieves this through a sophisticated field division and the use of light that gives the grey tones a lovely glow. It is a delicate balance. The image would lose its visual impact if you lower the horizontal line or would use less subtle light.


Lines of shadow by Weber Norbert


In "Lines of Shadow" Weber Norbert shows us a simple but effective composition; a wall and two shadow lines. It isn't as exciting as "the lamp" by Harry Lieber, but it has something very special.  The way the elegant lines are imaged, gives the picture a dynamic look and feel. They make me think of a running figure on the tracks of an athletic field. It symbolizes a fleeting moment and as Weber writes in the description to his image, it can only be made once a year, when at a certain hour the sun is in the right position to cast these shadows.

The problematic sky
For the architecture photographer the sky can be very problematic. It is more or less useless when it's flat grey, or too bright, or covered with too many disturbing dots of  small clouds.  So, how to deal with the problematic sky?
Of course you can leave the sky as it is, but most of the time this would not be the best solution.
A photographer like Dr. Akira Takaue spends days adjusting sky, carefully considering the location of the clouds and the direction of the light.  Others, like Jef van den Houte or Gerard Jonkman use their own sky stock photos when dealing with a useless sky.  Their way to solve the sky problem are described in various 1X tutorials.

Here I will show the solutions of Jeroen van der Wiel and Stefan Schilbe


Breaking the wind by Jeroen van der Wiel


On a sunny day Jeroen van van der Wiel photographed the sturdy wind breakers, that protect the harbour of Rotterdam. The sun casts a nice shadow of trees bending in the wind on the concrete wall, giving it a more friendly look. By photographing the wall in a diagonal position, Jeroen shows how solid and sturdy it is and he also avoids a lot of sky by doing so. That doesn't mean, he didn't have to work on this sky.  It most likely was full of white clouds and Jeroen changed it into a smooth and pleasing part of his photo, but there is more to it. When you study the image, you will discover that the shadows of the branches of the tree match the stretched out forms of the clouds. A clever piece of work!

To the sky by Stefan Schilbe


If I am not mistaken this sky scraping building is the Colorium in Düsseldorf (Germany), once an office, now a hotel with a colourful glass facade. So it is brave of Stefan Schilbe to show it in black and white.

Like Jeroen van der Wiel, Stefan took his photo on a sunny day with lots of clouds in the sky. The sky is a substantial part of the image and the flow of the smoothed out clouds give it a vivid, if not rather dramatic look and feel, possibly indicating it was windy that day. It is a nice solution to the sky problem. But there is a trap. It is hidden in the reflections on the facade. When looking closely, you can see that the flow of clouds heads into another direction than the flow in the sky. In the sky they head upwards, in the reflections they point downwards and I found this visually irritating.

The architectural night
Night photography and architecture match quite well. The darkness obscures details you don't want to see on your photo and strengthens the photographic point you wish to make. It very much helps you to photograph the essential.


Louvre by Sus Bogaerts


Sometimes it are small details that constitute the essence of a photo. On "Louvre" by Sus Bogaerts it is the triangular lamp on the foreground. It is an unobtrusive eye catcher from where the eye wonders further into the photo. It makes you also discover that the projections of the light on the dark stones seem to be a mirror image of the big pyramid - the real protagonist of this photo - and the two little ones.

The lamp and the pyramids together also form a triangle, which is repeated in the ornaments above the windows of the rectangular building at the background. It is as if the concrete architecture changes into an almost abstract play of shapes and lines.  I wonder if Sus had also achieved this result if he had made his image during day light.


Assyrian Sphinx by Christian Skilbeck


The Assyrian Sphinx is part of the Liberty Memorial Park in Kansas City (USA). To get an overall idea of this park I browsed a bit on the internet and saw that Christian Skilbeck has chosen a detail out of a vast complex.

Christian took his photo on a dark, possibly rainy night, creating a sombre mood, that matches the commemoration of the sacrifices of war. The light within the building is a strong focus point. From there the eye wanders over the picture towards the veiled sphinx and the reflections in the pond. Like Sus Bogaerts Christian concentrated on the essence of the things he saw - a remarkable set of forms and patterns of which he made a good photo.

I think however that it could be made even better, not to say more impressive, if the image were cropped at the left side closer to the building (which by the way should be punt right; it leans out to the right, which is rather disturbing) and just a bit on the top and bottom. As it is now, the building and statue are a bit lost in the pond. When cropped it will get more presence.

Places of worship
Modern architecture is favourite among the 1X architecture photographers. In church photography, there are wonderful, colourful photos to be seen of the roofs or the panoramas by FrankBa.

There are however very few black and white photos that show us the interior of two contrasting churches.


Grundtvigs Kirke by Martin Fleckenstein


Quite surprisingly the Grundtvig church in Copenhagen (Denmark) isn't an old gothic cathedral from the late Middle Ages. It was built in the first half of the twentieth century.  Martin Fleckenstein’s view of the church is a graphical one. It is almost like an engraving, displaying stillness, serenity and an unusual lightness.


Holy music by Baren Guven


Is there any greater contrast than between the Copenhagen Cathedral and the one of Pitsunda, where Baris Guven made his picture? I don't think so. The stillness made way for a dynamic look and feel, with its strong black and white tones. And yet, when the eye travels from the stern looking Christ on top of the image to the ground floor, the dynamism makes way for stilness, for the holy music.

This series of photos with rich content and high techniques and modern architectural photographer mastered all of Europe with accurate perspective and composition, creating magnificent iconic images that is very noticeable, Thanks to all and BRAVO!