Sunday, April 18, 2010

“We know the world by what we see”

- Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window

Spatial experience is kaleidoscopic and necessarily so. Inhabiting or exploring a building involves perpetual movement in or out; up or down; beyond or between by a body in constant flux with shifting visual field. It is fleeting. A space becomes more a mosaic of multiple relationships than any particular fixed point of view. Photography then, in essence, is framed and fixed for an immobile viewer. This is why, I often think, it struggles to represent any spatial experience accurately.

Windows, however, can be an exception to this. A window is a reflective screen onto which an image is cast and whose edges hold a view in place. It is traditionally an aperture, used for light and ventilation. But since Alberti explained perspective in painting, as an ‘open window’ on a rectangular frame, they have been recognised in their ability to capture three-dimensional space on a two dimensional plane.

To look through a window, is to perceive different spatial locations simultaneously through predetermined framed and fixed views. To look at a photograph of a window, is to do the same. I became interested in the photography of windows as a means of realistically describing our perception of a window space.

Exhibition Proposal:

I want to investigate this - can a single image really capture a window space as we experience it or does it have to be an installation, an artistic endeavor or composite construction?... Hopefully the former... I intend to photograph one of the windows on the stairs as one might experience it, and exhibit a single image near the window. I would like people to experience both separately, then simultaneously, to compare them.

Reality and Memory

Reality and Memory are two things I am analysing in relation to the work of artists Oliver Boberg, Thomas Demand and Carl Zimmermann.

Although their works have similar processes - all taking photographs of models and not “real” spaces, their aims are varied.

Oliver Boberg makes models of fictional generic spaces, the type that we see all the time in sub-urban landscape (examples). The repetition of these types of spaces in modern day architecture causes the viewer to feel like they have seen them before, but they are unable to place them.

Thomas Demand re-creates real spaces of historical importance, many from media photographs. These original widespread images may be familiar to the viewer, triggering the memory of what they were told happened at that place. Demands lack of detail in his painstakingly made models suggests that there was something left out of the story, and encourages the viewer to rethink what they might know. All histories leave out something, history might not be over. Demand encourages this continuation through his images.

Carl Zimmermann images are purely fictional, based on architectural trends in two historical periods, the span between the two world wars and the Victorian period around the mid 19thC. Both periods have strong attachment to monumental architecture. Lost Hamilton Landmarks explores Government Institutional buildings such as hospitals, power stations, post offices and schools in the 1930’s. These type of buildings “appeared to exist on the margins of collective memory” as many of them were demolished before the time of making the models. During the exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art , Zimmermann took control of the exhibition space, the description and advertising and created a fictional history in order deceive the viewer.

I propose to have series of images without captions along the staircase followed by a short text. I want people to see the images first to and to form an opinion before they read about their background.


In a recent interview for the lives of spaces exhibition,Hugh Campbell curator of the Venice Biennale describes the meaning of the exhibition title,

‘The lives of spaces, partly because it suggests a plurality, a multiplicity to any space, and we talked about the phases of the life of any given space: from out of the mind’s eye into this kind of magical process of design, where it starts to become something, somewhere, and then its life in construction, its life in use, and another layer beyond that where a space takes on another symbolic life....reinvention’1

Space is open-ended, never existing on its own but only in relation to other elements. Defining space as a contained specific volume is difficult as it continuously flows through a building relative to the observer’s movements.


Spaces are in a constant state of flux. The idealistic vision of the architect is in tension

‘with the exotic circus of real life’.2

The architects control over a design is terminated once it enters into the reality of the city. Spaces are never in isolation but exist in relation to each other. Experiences of one space flows into the next. Edmund Bacon in one of his first essays ‘Awareness of Space as Experience‘ illustrates that

‘There is an intellectual parallel of deepening perception which is based on becoming connected with larger and larger systems.’3


Finding it difficult to confine a space let us explore what contributions alter its perception.

Space is informed by, enclosure, light, approach, scale, time and position. Altering just one of these conditions transforms the observer’s dialogue. Rafael MoneoAn intense life and consummate work’

‘any construction that has been able to survive the passage of time is by definition an ongoing transformation’4

Irrespective of the procession of time, centuries or a fleeting moment, how a space is perceived changes due to uncontrollable external factors. The concept model begins to explore this theme. The space inside the model is constant; however its perception differs each time it is viewed. Each window into the space has a different scale, the light changes, the window size is different. We can see that this space can be described in a series of differ ways


William Curtis in ‘Mental Maps and social landscape’ about the work of Enric Miralles identified a clear intention of the architect,

‘The idea is that the new building should bring out these latent forces (geographical or historical traces-contours river beds, road, building) and bring them to a point of high tension while also encouraging interactions between people’5

Miralles identified that spaces are never in isolation. They call on their relationships with the site, time, scale and history. Designing, Miralles never viewed his work as ‘his intervention’ but as urban acupuncture. Seeing his work as a contribution to the whole and never ‘falling prey to its perimeter’6

‘ dissolve the building into its environment, losing any relationship with the perimeter’ 7

Stephen Shores, ‘ American Surfaces’ exhibition explores the power of the collection as opposed to an autonomous image to describe a space. Exploring the quality and value of a single image to describe.


The dart line can be seen as a collection of individual spaces along the east coast. Developed in the past as separate settlements, independent and to an extent culturally different from each other. With the introduction of the dart line, these series of town lands became connected to each other. A series a space once separated now formed a longitudinal single space. As you travel along the dart line these series of spaces now influence the whole. Each contributing to the perception of the next sequential space, a series of relative space.


The purpose of this investigation to propose a new way of capturing and exhibiting architectural information. If architectural photography is about capturing the maximum amount of information, should the way they are collated and captured describe something more than just the instanteous image. Moreover the possibility of describing the experience of the building, the sequences, the architectural intent in terms of movement, time and light. Architectural photography to translate how a building influences you, the sequence you see the images is vital to your understanding of the architects concept. A series of spatial photographs combined together to illustrate a holistic narrative, to reflect the tensions between the real and the intention. Examining a building not as a isolated collection of volumes but a single space.


Capturing time and movement in the translation of spaces into the photographic medium has influenced the choice of subject . The train station, a space influenced almost solely by external events. Your experience of that space is always altered by the quantity of people travelling in, out , resting, waiting and working in that space. A volume always constant but the space it captures always in a constant state of flux. I have chosen to examine Heuston station. To photograph the space in a way that will inform the observer more than a single image. Using photography to capture the image that can never be seen and therefore the most informative.


Why is a plan or section more informative than a picture of a single space? They allows us to see, if only in 2dimensional way, a series of spaces at once. We can see the building in series. The type of space we enter into before and after. We are able to contrast one space with the next. With the power of scale, we can approximately gain an appreciation of time and distance. This type of approach is how I wish to develop my original concept. With Photoshop, the view that is impossible to see can be formed. A space is never experienced in isolation, so therefore should never be viewed in isolation. Therefore i propose taking a section through the Heuston Staion constructed out of images. Translating all the photographic information of each space and arranging them in series. Being able to understand the scale of the space both before and after. As an architect draws a series of spaces in section to examine their relation, I hope to construct the reality of this section. A view impossible to see but capable of translating sequential special experience.


1 Campbell,H, Martin-McAuliffe,S, Ward, B, Weadic, N (Ed.) (2008) The Lives of Spaces:IAF and UCD

2 Campbell,H, Martin-McAuliffe,S, Ward, B, Weadic, N (Ed.) (2008) The Lives of Spaces:IAF and UCD

3 Bacon, E.(1967) Design of cities.London:Thames and Hudson

4 Moneno, R(2009)’Enric Miralles ‘An intense life and consumate work’’El Croquis Editorial. EMBT 2000-2009 El Croquis no. 144. Madrid:El Croquis Editorial

5 Curtis, W(2009)’Enric Miralles ‘Mental Maps and Social landscape ’’El Croquis Editorial. EMBT 2000-2009 El Croquis no. 144. Madrid:El Croquis Editorial

6 Moneno, R(2009)’Enric Miralles ‘An intense life and consumate work’’El Croquis Editorial. EMBT 2000-2009 El Croquis no. 144

7 Moneno, R(2009)’Enric Miralles ‘An intense life and consumate work’’El Croquis Editorial. EMBT 2000-2009 El Croquis no. 144

Exhibition Proposal - Helen Levitt

In the beginning I was interested by something that John Szarkowski mentioned in his forward for ‘The Idea of Louis Sullivan’ where he talks of the best architectural photographs being found in the casual products of the photojournalist because “the life that surrounds and nourishes the building is seen and felt.” This idea, along with an interest in how photography can put a frame on the theatricality in space, led me to the work of Helen Levitt.

For this seminar, I intend to curate an exhibition of 12 to 20 photos taken by Levitt in Spanish Harlem, New York. The focus of the exhibition will be on her black and white photographs, which were taken in the 30’s and 40’s, and these will be juxtaposed with her colour photos taken later in the 70’s.

Spanish Harlem was a vibrant place in the 40’s – full of new post-war immigrants, Spanish, Puerto Ricans, and Italians. Living in tiny tenements – social and family life pored over onto the street. Filling the streets with life. The lyrical and timeless black and white photos of Levitt captured with natural ease, the essence of these new inhabitants.

The people in her photographs embody with great beauty and fullness, “a natural history of the soul’ according to one of her biggest fans, James Agee. She captures the essence of a free, unselfconscious, untamed people fantastically misplanted in the urgent metropolis of New York.

Again in the words of James Agee, her photos are; “The record of an ancient, primitive, transient, and immortal civilization, incomparably superior to our own, as it flourishes, at the proud and eternal crest of its wave, among those satanic incongruities of a twentieth century metropolis which are, for us, definitive expressions and productions of the loss of innocence.”

Her black and white photos of this period are full of grace, drama, pathos, humour and surprise. For Levitt the street was a stage, and its people were all actors and actresses, mimes, orators and dancers.

However, by the time Levitt was taking her colour photos, 1970’s Spanish Harlem struggled with race riots, drug abuse, crime and poverty. The tenements were crowded, poorly maintained and frequent targets for arson. This change coincides with Levitt's use of colour in her photography. Although still lyrical and bursting with natural choreography, the colour photos add to the story. Facial expressions and gestures can be lost in the colours of the surroundings. The buildings are perceived differently in this coloured medium. To me, there are unmistakeable signs that things have changed. The buildings and people look more worn, the cars are no longer shiny, indeed the streets are not as bustling. Of course the question can be asked - has the society changed or has colour photography removed some of the romance from the images? This is something that the exhibition intends to explore.

In keeping with the theme of the seminar - ‘Space Framed’ -my interest is in how Levitt captured occupied space and how the buildings are used. The essential motif running through the exhibition will be an exploration of the urban stoop…the element that projects outward into the great theatre of the street, an elevated platform ideal for observation, courting, a chat, or gossip... This is the essential space that is framed. Her photos capture the potential of the stoop as described by Jane Jacobs in her writings on the Death and Life of American cities.

The placing of the exhibition takes this in mind. My ideal location would be along the stairs from the mezzanine to the second year studio. Another alternative is to space several exhibits at each stretch of four steps.
(Hopefully in pausing to take in the photographs, opportunities for social interaction on the stairs will increase!)

Also for the exhibition, and drawing inspiration from the format of Szarkowski’s book ‘The Idea of Louis Sullivan,’ I am thinking of adding text to the work. So full of drama, dance and theatre are the streets of Spanish Harlem as described by both Levitt (and Jane Jacobs) that they have also inspired the world of music and theatre. Songs such as Spanish Harlem by Ben E King and Spanish Harlem Incident by Bob Dylan also capture the spirit of this place. I feel that extracts from such examples could add further meaning to the photographs. I also intend to write a short introduction for the exhibition.

The format of the exhibition will be A4 or A3 landscape with an image in portrait and text to the left hand side…examples of which I will bring tomorrow. I intend to experiment with this format and background colours to explore which works best with the light of the stairwell.

Cliffs of Moher, Eason and Son Collection
Timothy O Sullivan, Great Surveys, 1878

Into the West.
Landscape Photography; an ocean apart.

For my project I am creating a series, comprising of photographs taken for the “Great Western Surveys” of the American West in the late nineteenth century and the Eason and Son and Lawrence Collections of photographs of Ireland in the early twentieth century.

The “Great Western Surveys” comprises photos from Timothy O Sullivan, A.J. Russell, Alexander Gardner, William Bell, William Henry Jackson and John K. Hillers. Though these photographs were taken for “recording purposes” they were also used as a predictive medium. They were used to predict the West of the Future, a West where economic investment that would be rewarded and immigrants would meet a prosperous future.

The Lawrence and Eason Collections were produced in the early 20th century for commercial purposes, primarily as postcards. Their intent was to advertise the Irish countryside and villages as places to visit and enjoy. This explains why towns, historic sites, scenic views and tourist attractions were repeatedly photographed while those areas that were sparsely populated and “less attractive” areas were ignored.

The Lawrence and Eason Collection together accumulate approximately 44,000 negatives; consequently to narrow it down I am focusing on photographs of the West of Ireland only. Upon examining the photographic collections I came to a conclusion that though the “Great West” and the West of Ireland though an ocean apart have a number of astonishingly similar landscape photographs. Thus I decided to compare and contrast these collections to find out firstly, why we take photographs and secondly, how that will influence how we take the photographs.
By going through the series of each collection I have picked out a number of photographs and I am juxtaposing the photographs from each continent against each other. I will now analyse the photographs; the intent behind them and also the method of photographing, the content, the framing and so forth. From this I hope to begin to find a methodology or way of thinking behind the similarities of the landscape photographs.

Exhibition proposal:

I would like to place my images around a window which has a view to a landscaped area and also near an exit to give the viewer some food for thought as they exit into their own landscape. Perhaps I would use the inner wall surrounding the large window beside the exit from the eating/exhibition space beside O Brien’s. I would place the images beside each other on an A4 sheet, with a short caption under each. I would include a brief text at the beginning regarding my intent of the project.