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Interview: Nico Marques, Architectural Photographer
Interview by Katerina Hojgrova

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Which photographers inspire you?

The Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado’s work is deeply inspiring for me. He not only shoots sublime frames of some of the most amazing locations and situations, but he is also well aware of a social agenda and lets himself be guided by it. The immediacy of Weegee, the elegant and humorous compositions of Elliott Erwitt, Annie Leibowitz’s blend of extremely refined and sometimes seemingly raw images, James Nachtwey’s incredibly powerful body of work, Julius Shulman of course pointing the way for architectural photographers everywhere, and I am continuously inspired by many of my colleagues’ work every day.

What you want people to see in your pictures?

My goal is to illustrate the interaction and dialogue between a space and its inhabitants. I like to illustrate how a space is used and how people or animals interact with it. This means that you sometimes have to wait until the right person walks by, or be quick and catch someone pouring coffee or lounging on built-in furniture. In my opinion this is a way to give a building ‘life’, by showing what it does, how it is used, what it brings to the table and how the temporary or permanent inhabitants take advantage of this. ‘What does it do’, as Gilles Deleuze would probably have put it.

When I encounter a building, I focus on what makes it outstanding and what grabs my attention. This could include many aspects, i.e. the angle that the sun takes to illuminate a certain element at a certain time of day, or how it is reflected in the rain-drenched street in front. I love site specificity or how a building responds to its surroundings and one way to bring a sense of context across is to really try and understand the ‘siting’ of the project. I find it best to speak to the architect about this as she or he will have pondered this question at length over the course of the design and construction process and thus will be able to guide me, as the photographer according to the design concept.

For this reason I always try to have the client or a client representative on site. Cooperation and communication make for a successful project in my opinion. Another element of architectural design I very much appreciate is a surprise; something unexpected but consciously placed or integrated somewhere. Sometimes that can be hard to express in a photograph, but normally I manage to get this in a frame and it is worth it all the more. The sense of discovery and awe is a wonderful effect in architecture, and one of my goals is to translate this to the viewers.

How do you build relationships with new clients? Do you travel with your work outside USA?

Starting out I almost exclusively worked for architects and interior designers directly, with some art collectors and

 

artists rounding out my client base. I feel very comfortable around designers due to my background in the profession. My interest in good food and my upbringing in the wine industry have probably influenced me to enjoy photographing upscale restaurants and bars, and recently also wineries, lifestyle brands and destinations for entrepreneurs and restaurateurs.

I also rather enjoy working for large engineering and construction firms, as it gives me the opportunity to document the construction process and run or climb around construction sites. I approach all my photographs in a very architectural manner, doing a quick mental perspective sketch before actually framing the shot, whether it is an interior or exterior shot or even a portrait or product photograph. The parameters and tools my architectural training has provided me with work in a similar fashion for photography as they would during a design process: after identifying the concept you use it as a guide through the creative process, which in my case is establishing an image for a built environment.

I chose to live and work in Los Angeles for several reasons: Initially I moved here for my Master’s degree at the renowned Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). I went on to discover that LA is an ‘epicentre’ of high design architecture, and the amount of renowned and lauded architects who live and practice in this city (and thus teach at one of the local architecture schools) is staggering. The former inferiority complex towards New York LA had been suffering from appears to have been eradicated due to the enormous amount of noteworthy local buildings and due to the otherworldly exposure stemming from the industry the city is really known for: Hollywood.

LA has a plethora of more or less well recognizable architectural icons; you can find a ton of work by local Pritzker Prize winners Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry, as well as most other ‘big names’ in architecture represented here or there. Then there is an amazing amount of younger architects who are hungry to become the next ‘starchitect’ someday and who are able to build in a way that incorporates that famous inside-outside ‘California living’, which in turn makes for beautiful photographs.

This being said, I have shot and very much enjoy shooting throughout the US, as well as internationally. This year, for example, I photographed a couple of projects in Porto, Portugal, which is where I am originally from, but the large majority of my work has been shot in and around Los Angeles.

Is there a particular project that you would like to photograph or a peer that you would like to collaborate with?

I feel and have been quoted as saying that as an architectural photographer in LA you are sort of a kid in a candy story, after consuming a super-sized Coke. There are so many interesting and photogenic projects in the city that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

When Sam Lubell asked me to collaborate with he and Greg Goldin to photograph sites of ‘unbuilt projects’ throughout the city for the ‘Never Built: Los Angeles’ show at the A+D Museum, I embarked on the thoroughly enjoyable process of actually trying to determine where exactly a sketch from, for example, the 60s, was located in today’s city, and then figuring out the exact location from which the perspective sketch was drawn or rendered. With locations established, the next challenge was to actually gain access to the sites or buildings, or building roofs in order to hopefully shoot the photograph. We produced fantastic lenticular images through this process, and I am currently working on a couple of related shows as a result, but more

 

on that later.

In terms of projects under construction or in development, there is a plethora of fascinating designs currently being built. There are projects by Morphosis, Frank Gehry and Diller Scofidio + Renfro at various stages of completion in Los Angeles, just to name some of the most widely known architects. Several projects have also been approved and have broken ground lately, which by their scale and/or location will change the skyline and face of the city dramatically, and it will be fascinating to accompany and document the ever-changing face of the city.

My interest in how buildings really work and what makes them tick also leads me to explore public spaces and Ray Oldenburg’s interesting concept of 'the Third Place'. This concept of community building outside of the usual social surroundings of home and workplace is being addressed by architects, urban planners and even retail designers at various scales, and I find it intriguing to document how this phenomenon translates into intentional designs or organic leftover spaces and configurations. Quite a few of my regular clients also presently have exciting projects at various stages of completion, so there is absolutely no shortage of possible photography out there for 2014 and beyond (and I am only speaking of Los Angeles…).

I like cooperation and collaboration, so as a general statement I will never rule out embarking on a project with a peer. It would be cool to cooperate with someone with a very different specialty or style, in order to create a more far-reaching approach and maybe new perspective. I find Jill Greenberg’s style to be quite powerful and unique, and I think it could be fun to tackle a concept through a cooperative approach. Another talented photographer’s work I was just introduced to is Morgan Maassen’s. He mainly shoots surfing imagery, but in a very innovative and signature way. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.

Where can WAN readers find your photography?

In addition to my work in the ‘Never Built: Los Angeles’ show at the Architecture and Design Museum, I have been honored to have some of my work exhibited as part of MOCA’s ‘New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California’ this year. This show underlined the point I was making earlier regarding the tremendous amount of architectural talent throughout Southern California. However, the exhibit ended a few weeks ago.

At this point I am working on several concepts for exhibitions that should become reality in the next year or so. We are in the planning stages of a take on the ‘then and now’ concept for Santa Barbara as well as a participatory photographic tour of Los Angeles with a conceptual angle, and I am continuing to expand my collection of photographs of abandoned sites and pre-demolition conditions for a possible published collection and/or exhibit. As mentioned above there presently is quite a bit of construction going on, so opportunities are all around and I think I need more battery packs...

Interview by Katerina Hojgrova
LA Correspondent

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