Photographing Architecture as History and Art

All my life, architecture has been a source of fascination for me. As a child, growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s, I was exposed to an enormous number of architectural styles and architectural detail. I began to photograph and draw the houses, apartment buildings, bridges and other structures with which I came into contact.  These photographs and drawings were often interpretive.  With my Brownie, I would shoot a building at an angle to make it appear larger or smaller; I was expressing my impressions of architecture and my surroundings at an early age.

Another attraction of architecture to my young and impressionable imagination was the mythological creatures that ornamented many houses in Brooklyn: dragons, nymphs, et al. To give these stone sculptures atmosphere, I would also draw a house and create a beautiful garden around it, landscaping in minutest detail.  My influences for this artistic embellishment were paintings and drawings I had seen in the Brooklyn Museum.  All of a sudden I could place an attached row house in a pasture as a freestanding structure.  As an architectural/art photographer, I am still manipulating architecture through my lens.

Viewing Architecture from an Adult’s Perspective

Today, to my adult perspective rather than my child’s point of view of size, color and gargoyles, architecture presents the history of a society.  It is also a form of self-expression by the architect.  The two concepts combine to create structures representing both history and art in an form that reflects heritage.  My photography provides the marvelous platform to preserve history, revisit the art that was created through architecture and architectural detail while imprinting my own art on the images.  I am able to choose perspectives and focus on parts of the architecture that I think will tell its story.

Ellen Fisch showed this image recently in Bethlehem, N.H.

Ellen Fisch showed this image recently in Bethlehem, N.H.

As I shoot a building, my mind is also on post-production.   When I worked in film, it was exciting to take chances by altering prints in the darkroom.  Special effects of bleaching, toning areas, dodging, and burning would hold me captive with my ability to add to architecture with my own creativity.  With today’s digital technology, possibilities are endless.

Of course, digital presents drawbacks for the architectural photographer.  Sharpening can be a nightmare when building walls appear soft or brickwork/ironwork seems to flow into the background.

Digital Shooting Has Enormous Advantages

However, the advantages of digital for me are enormous. For example, if black and white does not suit the “softness” of the architecture, I go to sepia or add a little color through masking.  I always shoot in RGB to keep my options open.  Using computer programs, the aforementioned ironwork, brickwork, wood and brass can be carefully sharpened to give the image accented detail in any number of applications. Blurring can also “age” the building for an historic look. It is both exciting and challenging to continue showcasing architecture as art. It is also gratifying to be following my dream of photographing architecture as art for my entire life.

Photographing architecture is a marvelous way to incorporate many aspects of my photography and art. Architecture inspires. It represents the past and present.  It is also a map to the future.

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