Interview: Richard Glover

Tuesday 26 Aug 2014

Architecture photography and the media

As an online architecture news resource, we are flooded day in and day out with glossy images of the latest building projects and one thing is for certain; in an increasingly media savvy world, architectural photographers have had to evolve. This shift has not gone unnoticed by experienced photographer Richard Glover, whose past clients include Foster & Partners, John Pawson, Bates Smart, and the Tate Gallery.

This year, Glover took a teaching role at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) to educate undergraduate and masters architecture students on the significance of architectural photography. In his interview with WAN, Glover explains that he intended to train as an architect having enjoyed art and design in school, but narrowly missed out after not quite making the grade in maths class. “I still dream of spaces and voids and volumes though,” he admits.

Photography’s narrative power

Architecture is a visual medium so is best communicated through visual means, even if that is two-dimensional. And an article can be summarised easily by the lead photograph. A viewer can glance at the photograph and decide almost immediately what the subject is and whether it is of interest. The text of an article, whilst no doubt informative, cannot compete with the immediacy of the image-led information transmission. Also people are becoming less prepared in this age of immediate information, to read lengths of text. Image-led content satisfies this approach to knowledge gathering.

Moving images are more alluring and a seemingly truer representation of the architecture. A film leads the viewer all the way from start to finish. It offers no time to pause and consider. In contrast to this, still images must be read (presuming there is a series representing a project) one by one and linked together by the viewer to create a narrative. A good photographer will have considered this when creating the series and should help guide the viewer through this narrative process. The still image though is not fleeting like a film and allows the viewer time to consider the subject.

The evolution of the architecture photographer

The digital evolution has resulted in an immediate and connected marketplace. Where once architects (or any profession or industry for that matter) worked almost exclusively in their physical locale now it’s essential they have an international profile through their website, online publications, blogs and network sites. As a consequence their branding and visual documentation is under greater scrutiny and competition. The quality of the photography is thus of paramount importance - it could mean the difference between winning an award or a commission or not. In my view the architectural photographer has a crucial role to play in an architect’s practice.

Educating the next generation

I had been looking for opportunities to do more teaching (something I have always been involved with) and it occurred to me that architecture degrees should address the role of photography. The importance of the photographic image as a record of an architect’s output is underestimated in my opinion - it is for all intents and purposes the only way most people will experience the architecture as buildings are rarely visited in reality. I approached UTS with the idea of establishing a subject in architectural photography and to my delight they agreed and it has since been very well received by the students.

The aim is to fine-tune undergraduates and masters students’ understanding of photography. I want the students to be able to apply the basic tenants of photographic composition to convey the meaning of the architecture.

Images capture, inform and promote a great deal of information to a broader audience across the expanding media platforms necessary for architects today. So an understanding and appreciation of the significance of photography to architectural practice is now an essential part of their visual training. And we want students to learn the technical and methodological requirements of photographing architecture; and to appreciate the historic and cultural relevance of photography to architecture.

Any final advice for budding photographers?

For people producing their own architectural photography it would be: composition, composition and composition. No matter how wonderful the architecture, how gorgeous the quality of the light, how expensive the camera, if the photograph has been poorly composed it will not have done justice to the architect’s vision.

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