Sunday, 28 December 2014

Architecture & Photography

Architectural students worried as to their predicament as we pass in to another year of C21 might do well to console their hangovers with a last minute excursion to the Barbican's architecture and photography show 'Constructing Worlds' (closing 11th Jan). 
First they should pause at the diminutive, free, little tableau next to the lifts on their way up, on Barbican architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Here you can scrutinise 'Joe' Chamberlin's desk equipment. It's a sobering encounter with nothing but a tee square, set square, compasses and so on. Then whisk yourselves up to the third floor to see what happened.
Certainly the relationship between architect and photographer varies with association, place and time; and here we can catagorise straightforward promotion of Californian 'lifestyle' in Julius Shulman, the interpretive representation of 'shadows and light' (in Corbu) in Herve (and personally I think this association is rather one dimensional and does L-C little service in the end); there are exhilarating and amusing new perspectives brought to the American landscape by Ed Ruscha and Stephen Shore. There is rigorous calm comparison in the Bechers that often, weirdly, miss a bit off the top. There's moody decon promo in Binet, and in my opinion slightly misplaced and charming shots of Also Rossi's most miserable school. 
But after that nobody who thinks at all about the built environment or the 'landscape of man' could come out of this exhibition anything but thoroughly chastened. Architects don't necessarily start the development process, they can't stop it either (although they could refuse to participate) but the big ground floor of this show is largely big miserable (if beautiful) stuff. It is romantic and desperate on a scale not seen since Casper David Friedrich, and at least he often painted small. Photography can be properly critical, and you can see it in Walker Evans and an enthusiastic Bernice Abbot (upstairs) but this recent stuff demonstrates that what architects dream beginnings of photographers kill mercilessly; their perspective is too broad for us minions. We shrink. Funny that, in the Barbican of all places.
(above Steven Shore: Beverley Boulevard and La Brae Avenue 1974)

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