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#6 Can photography capture architecture?

Updated: Jul 2

Shama Patwardhan in conversation with architectural photographers Fabien Charuau, Nipun Prabhakar, and Tian Fangfang


Nipun Prabhakar, Shama Patwardhan, Photography, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

A couple posing with their newly built house in Muzaffarnagar, U.P, Nipun Prabhakar, 2015


Shama Patwardhan: Architecture is everywhere and in everything. From the micro-universe of atoms and molecules to the macro world of galaxies and planets, architecture denotes the structure of everything. Today, in Information Technology too, architecture has become an important term. Here, it symbolises the arrangement of a code. It adds a digital dimension to the otherwise spatial and physical attributes associated with architecture.

Architecture is often compared to the built and physical aspects of human life. From houses and offices to townships and cities, we live in an amalgamated environment of organic and designed architecture. This is, of course, with a significant influence from the energy of living beings.


The environment where matter and energy are two different components is the “sublunar world.” In this world, the term architecture identifies as an experience, a trade, and a science. As a derivative of this concept, matter and energy create a balance in the sublunar world. The environment thus becomes deficient when we remove one attribute from the equation.

Thus, when living beings are separated from the places they inhabit, material architecture is impaired. Why, then, do so many architects and photographers portray architecture in the cold light of lifeless structures?


The dominant representation of architecture is through materials and spaces. It is often devoid of the energy that will occupy them. Popular discourse in architectural education teaches us to associate architecture with rigid structures. It is a conversation that does not account for architecture as a vessel for human life. In actuality, human life is as central to architecture as the nucleus is to an atom. Without this central energy, the shell is worthless.


Nipun Prabhakar: Architecture can never be practised in isolation, and neither does architecture photography. Photography is about witnessing what is there and capturing that moment in time. Humans inhabit the built environment, permanently or temporarily, and that should be documented when photographing it. The ‘Use’ of space is more important than the looks of the building.


When I worked with a newspaper briefly, my editor told me strictly, “Nipun, no people, no picture.” We connect with life and not with lifeless and rigid forms of concrete. Photography has the power to fool people, and it also has the power to show the truth. Architecture photographers must choose which slide they want to be in.


Nipun Prabhakar, Shama Patwardhan, Photography, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

A guard resting his foot on an inverted arch at the gateway of Taragaon Museum, Nepal. Nipun Prabhakar, 2018


Shama Patwardhan: Almost as a form of vanity, architects like to believe that their designs are all-encompassing. Those designs bring life to society. Perhaps, this is why photographers tend to strip bare a structure and show its glory in isolation. They often highlight the details that make a building look aesthetic and pleasing. Architectural photography showcases a fraction of the whole building. Picturesque walkways, arches, and plazas are intriguing to see. Except displaying the bustle of life in such ‘architectural’ photographs is often disparaged.


Yet, it remains true that architecture relies on cultural memory to be significant. Human experiences are bound by their surrounding architecture. Any space can be referred to as a ‘place’ if it allows a person to remember, imagine, and hold memories. This association of living beings with their structures institutes the importance of architecture. People depend on architecture to make places. Moreover, architecture depends on people to create memorable spaces. People will live their life around architecture and even alter a design that does not suit their comfort and needs.


A preference for the aesthetic sight of a structure over its actual, multisensory quality creates a bias for the visual sense. The visual sense is heightened in representation. It mars the perception of any other senses. All other bodily experiences are belittled and even ignored. The energy that engages matter is spurned. Yet, it is this life form or energy that lends architecture its significance and dynamism. Is it then justified to disregard other senses? Merely to please the visual one? Why must architectural photography render buildings as cold, lifeless, inanimate objects? Why does it not represent the lives they hold?


Life and energy defrost architecture. They infuse our structures with animation and the dynamism of movement. Our relationship with architecture is what makes every space special and unique. Living beings fill their homes, offices, playgrounds, temples, and auditoriums with energy. It is what makes these structures sing with the sentiment. Unless we can capture emotions in architectural photography, it will remain, at best, a sole representation of a physical, lifeless entity.


Fabien Charuau: The article seems to have a rather generalised view on architecture and photography; mainly on the purpose of architecture (and its relationship with the living) and the limitations of photography. About photography, I do agree that some architects will want to make their building "larger" than life (it would be interesting for a subsequent article to reflect on how 3D renders are closer to a photographic “truth” than contemporary architectural photography). But this will dismiss the huge body of work of photographers who strive to represent the spaces through a more subtle approach. Through photography, I seek to represent the emotion that traverses me when I enter a space (good or bad, an emotion is the stuff of the living). I do believe that good architectural photography can immerse you in a space in a more profound way than most of the other media.


You do not need the direct representation of the living to speak about the living. Spaces have the faculty of revealing a lot about their inhabitants. I do posit that through architectural photography, one can create a more "accurate" psychological portrait of the inhabitants than through straight-on and conventional portraiture. And inhabited space reveals much more telltales about the person living there than they posing and posturing directly in front of the camera.


The D'Souza's were hosting an exhibition of the Goa Photo Festival, I got myself talking with the family, I still remember the dim light of this bedroom, it was just before a thunderstorm.


Fabien Charuau, Shama Patwardhan, Photography, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Shot at the D'Souza ancestral home in Saligao, Goa. Fabien Charuau.



Tian Fangfang: The essence of photography is to record, but for architectural photography, more often than not, it is to provide a perspective, capture an observation, or simply a profound moment. Sometimes, this perspective is very mundane, very general to the eye, but often it is beyond the daily existence. From this level, photography has indeed created a new dimension. I feel this is the most fascinating part of photography. The scenes that once existed may no longer be there, but they are frozen in that existence in a photograph.


I chose the following three photographs to illustrate how photography can create images beyond everyday life but based on real experiences, making the art of photography carry the meaning of architecture.


Tian Fangfang, Shama Patwardhan, Photography, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Hutong Bubble

The shooting angle of this photograph is actually not a daily eye-level perspective. In order to show the relationship between the street scene and the installation, I used a lifter to get a high viewpoint. By juxtaposing everyday scenes to the installation in the same frame, this picture emphasises on the connection between architecture and the daily routine of the street.

Actually last year, the building was demolished. So, to some extent, the life cycle of this architecture has already ended. However, this picture becomes the evidence of its existence, and the life of this architecture lives on through its photographs. (Hutong Bubble, MAD Architects)



Tian Fangfang, Shama Patwardhan, Photography, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Light

When the installation was in the final construction phase, I captured this vivid scene in the early morning light when workers carried the scaffolding steel tubes down the hill. I found this scene surreal. The photograph reinforces the presence of the building and its emotional connection with people. (Light, MAD Architects)



Tian Fangfang, Shama Patwardhan, Photography, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Taizhou Contemporary Art Museum

This picture was captured just after the main structure was completed and before they installed the curtain wall. I set the tripod and stood in the frame. At that moment, the concrete arch structure presented itself in the purest state of architectural form, raw. The structure beautifully framed the mountains in the morning light. The atmosphere in that moment was breathtaking. The triangular relationship of architecture, human beings, and nature was enhanced at this moment.

Later, when the building was completed, this opening was covered with a glass curtain wall, and it enveloped the structure. Somehow, that weakened the feeling of that relationship. It was photography that captured the profound state of that moment. When people visited this museum, they could no longer find this scene. However, when they saw this picture, they could imagine and feel that atmosphere. The significance of that moment is preserved in this photograph. (Taizhou Contemporary Art Museum, Atelier Deshaus)



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About the Photographers


Fabien Charuau is a French photographer based in Mumbai and working in Architecture and Interiors. Over the last ten years, Fabien has contributed to publications including Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, ELLE, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, WSJ Magazine, Vogue India, Le Monde and The Good Life. Fabien has also shot for leading architecture firms and takes on private projects. You can find his works on his website and Instagram.


Nipun Prabhakar is a documentary photographer and Photojournalist based in Delhi and Kutch (Gujarat). He works with South Asian communities dealing with migration, disasters, conflicts, and climate change. His work is also informed by his training as an architect. Nipun has been engaged in multiple rehabilitation projects in Nepal which also involved him extensively documenting public spaces and architectural heritage. He has since worked on photo essays for various development organizations, magazines, and publications.. He was a recipient of the Berkeley Essay Prize 2014 and is the Cornell South Asian Fellow 2019 for his documentary work on the doors of Kathmandu. Nipun is a member of Diversity.photo, a community of BIPOC.

You can find his works on his website and Instagram.


Tian Fangfang was born in Enshi, Hubei Province, and comes from an architecture education background, currently based in Shanghai. In 2016, he started working as a freelance photographer in the field of architecture photography, witnessing and capturing the most active architectural experiment field in China. He is exploring his own photographic language on interpreting the relationship between body and space, architecture and place. His works have been widely used and reported by well-known architectural media and magazines at home and abroad.

You can find his work on his Instagram.



About the Writer Shama Patwardhan is an architect and writer from Mumbai. She is a graduate of the Rachana Sansad's Academy of Architecture (AoA), Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Conservation Society, India. She has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF), Abhikalpan Architects and Planners, and Manasaram Architects. She is a contributing editor at Zeyka.


About the Editor Aishwarya Jadhav is an architect, urban researcher, and software trainer by profession. She is a travel enthusiast, architectural photographer, and literary writer. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, UK and the Sir J.J. School of Architecture, Mumbai. She has experience working at Urban Liveability Forum, Dharmalaya Institute for Compassionate Living and Abhikalpan Architects and Planners. She is a contributing editor at Zeyka.




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