We feel, as the architectural photographers that we are, the history of this profession is an important concept to be made aware of. We will introduce the photographers who have shaped architectural photography now a days and the development within the technology used.

Within its history, there is a large aspect of photography that we think is important to mention. As to how the inspirational architectural “pioneers” created a foundation on how we, modern architectural photographers, have developed and produced our styles and imagery to quantify the real beauty, simply within building structures. These so called founders of photography deserve to be acknowledged, as, not only did their work begin such an artistic and well sought profession, it also has shown, by manipulating the naked eye, how to transform a fairly average building structure, to and architectural wonder.

They are also the reason for shared knowledge of different cultures, how they differ from country to country and how architects gained their inspiration for buildings in their own culture. They have showed us how to take a picture of a property and give it meaning and relevance.

How did Architectural Photography Become Popular?

The reason for the popularity within architectural photography, was mainly due to the materialistic middle class. It had reached a growing interest within this group, as the ability to travel became more attainable and wasn’t primarily a privileged concept. Although, due to the way the photographs were taken back in the 19th century, architectural structures were favoured more because they simply stayed still. This is due to the exposer times for the photographs, which was roughly 30 seconds to a minute.

For the main part, within the second half of the 19th century, the growth in the demand for prints was mainly due to those all in relation to architecture. It was a way to cross cultures; to educate those who could not afford to travel and have tangible evidence of how buildings were designed. Since photographing historical places in the post war era became a particular strain of interest, the share of knowledge from how these places were built became important within education.

What is Abstract Architectural Photography: Just a Modern Concept?

It’s an interesting point to make that because 19th century architecture had so much character, it was important for the photographers to take the shots exactly as they were seen. They wanted to prove the beauty of the structures and provide the best representation of the details in how it was made.

Therefore, It would be rare to manipulate much of the building itself such as implementing an abstract take on the building or providing an ambiguous view. This links to how modernised abstract photography is as architectural photography was more interpretive than personalised. However, in order to create the perfect shot, the photographers of the 19th century were required to find techniques and ways they could bring out the best from their photo.

Moreover, lighting was a major factor that would hinder the results of detailed buildings. They would often be restricted, due to poor lenses, in being able to take photos on distant buildings or to even get the entire structure in frame.

This started to change at the beginning of the 20th century due to the update in technology. Longer lenses were created and the photos were even more detailed; it became an advanced memory as humans cannot hold such detail in our minds. These images of architecture were used to add a new perception of the building structure or different aspects of the same building. The growth in technology has allowed this share of detail to become more attainable.

The First Architectural Photographers

We believe it’s important to mention the most famous architectural photographers of the 20th century as they are the pioneers of this profession and the reason for the progression in, not only the way we take photographs but for all modern architectural photographers around the world. It is important to note they have documented the change in social structures, the shift in the past to the modern day, by just taking photos of buildings. They represent the way society has grown, how the middle class became more of wealth and how cultures differ from country to country.

Berenice Abbott

Originally a portrait photographer in the late 1920s, Berenice Abbott become one of the most well-known photographers of the New York city urban cityscapes. Caught up in the European standards and requests she moved to America to only find that there was not much of a surge for portrait pictures. Personally, this may be a rather biased opinion but her work as an architectural photographer is far more captivating and truly shows off her skills. The style she uses grabs the viewer in by an unusual angle or direction of the building. Using the tonality of black and white she fully structures the image. Other than architectural images, Abbott has been highly praised for science photography works. She feels the medium of photography can help broaden the understanding of science to the everyday person by translating with beautiful and striking imagery.

Although, from her experience as a portrait photographer, she uses similar techniques to convey her spin on the cityscapes she would shoot. As the architectural photographers we are, it’s hard not to admire her range of skills. We have mentioned Abbotts Changing New York in another post.

Julius Shulman

One of our most inspirational architectural photographers, Julius Shulman photographed many American mid-century modern architecture based in Los Angeles. He cleverly uses people within his photographs as to add scale to the structures in picture. It makes the picture seem more than life, the structures have more character and the people within them are merely used as statues. This clever juxtaposition incorporates on how beautiful and important the architecture is and how we as humans should have a greater appreciation for this form of art.

In my opinion, his work in black and white have a much stronger voice than those in colour; the tonality and structure of light fully incorporates a sense of the scene we never would have been able to see. The thing about Shulman that makes him one of our favourites is the way he would prioritise the design of the buildings over his own art. He knew that the most important part about architecture photography was to photograph the building as the architect had intended, and not to be caught up within his own styles.

His work above is his most famous piece. It’s so captivating due to the fact it could have almost been a painting as every aspect of it fits perfectly to another in the frame. He managed to get the owner of the LA mansion to sit by the pool, which, as previously mentioned is his clever use of people in photographs to show the real beauty surrounding us.

Ezra Stoller

It is said that, when you think of a famous 1950s American building, your mind would wonder to a certain picture or shot, more than likely something from Ezra Stoller’s collection. Stoller photographed many famous modern American architecture throughout the mid 20th century. He had the ability to make even the most average building into an art work with his clever use of tones and lines. An excellent collection of Stollers work is pictured above and is available to buy here.

Stoller would know just what to present in the photograph within the architects’ buildings. He would select the most important aspects to show in just one shot. With the limited angles and ability to capture the entire photograph, he would manage to alter this limitation to provide more of what the entire structure would offer. He is known to set the standard of architectural photography and has become an inspiration to many due to the information of new building his photos would provide those who could not afford to travel.  

Eric de Maré

Born at the start of the 20th century, de Maré was one of the most important British photographers of his time. He specialised in post-war architecture, which, as I’ve previously mentioned, was a rather popular topic of interest at within early 20th century photographers. He allegedly hated all of the industrial post war creations, mainly due to the fact that there was such a dominant social influence of work and money. With this strong opinion in mind, he would photograph urban landscapes and buildings within the industrial past, trying to hold onto the humanity there once was.

His photographs are not alike the others with being impressive or outstanding. This is mainly due to the fact that he would take photos of things that lacked character but once had character. His point was to try and evoke a sense of sympathy for the loss of the beauty behind these images and what they used to be. It was important to him for the viewer to be made aware of the backstory of the photographs, to present the change in society and culture and hoped the pictures were informative the viewer. The one pictured above, it to try and show the beauty within the architecture and how the perfect scene is ruined by the dominating industrial structures. The Royal Institute of British Architects have a brilliant in-depth article about Eric de Mare’s life’s work entitled Building with Light.

In all, architectural photography does have a very interesting history. It’s important to be made aware of the meanings behind it, the way the world was brought together because of it and who are the people that has inspired generations of photographers. I hope this has become insightful and has provided you with knowledge to take on within your profession or general interest in architectural photography.