Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Constructing Reality

Photography started as a mean to document the physical world as a two-dimensional picture. A photograph captures reality as it is. However, throughout years of development and explorations, numerous photographers such as Alexander Rodchenko, Beate Gutschow, Andreas Gursky, have changed the meaning of photographs. These photographers altered their photographs to express their ideas; the ‘documents’ are now ‘art’. Similarly, architects have also used photo alteration techniques to present their ideas. With the same techniques, they insert their imagined building into a photograph resulting in an illusion of reality. Mies van der Rohe is famous for his collages and renderings. The Smithsons used similar technique, combining photography and line drawings. Contemporary architectural rendering company Luxigon also uses similar although more modern techniques.

Friedrichstrasse skyscraper. 1921

The photomontage Mies van der Rohe submitted with his drawings for the 1910 Bismarck monument competition didn’t convince the jury that the design could be built. The concept, a huge platform on steep terrain embedded onto a field, was found to be too ambitious given the limited engineering capabilities of the time. Despite not having won that competition, this collage, as well as later iterations such as that for the Friedrichstrasse skyscraper, became an inventive example of architecture’s engagement with the imagined, abstract possibilities of the built environment. Today, photomontaging is still a fundamental aspect of the design process for many contemporary architects, though its forms and purposes have changed in decades since Mies's earliest experiments in collage.

Bismarck Monument Project. 1910.

This work, one of Mies van der Rohe's earliest photomontages, seamlessly embeds his proposal for a national monument to the German statesman Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) in a photograph of the Rhine landscape. Using the picture of the site supplied for the 1910 competition, Mies created a "realistic" architectural scene through precise photographic manipulation. Mies’ competition model was carefully photographed from below to match the perspective of the site image. In the resulting photomontage, the monument appears embedded into the hillside; its neoclassical colonnade and massive podium, overgrown with foliage, suggest that the buildings existence is not hypothetical, but rather fact. The image, with its convincing realism, is a predecessor to contemporary rendering practices that merge fiction and reality.

 "War of the Future (Voina budeshchego)" magazine illustration, 1930.

In the early 1920s, Rodchenko left painting behind and took up different types of art including photomontage. He believed this form of art to be more effective is communicating the messages of the Soviet Union. His works from this point on echoed what was going on in the Communist Regime during that era. He became involved and was a huge leader in the Constructivist movement (whose followers favored strict geometric forms and clear graphic design) in Russia. Within this movement, he formed the first working group of Constructivists. Rodchenko played a large part in the Constructivist movement, essentially making it what it was, just as it, in return, made Rodchenko who he was.

Illustration for "About This" poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1923.

In 1923, he started creating his own photography and received many graphic design commissions for book covers and posters. He became the principal designer for the magazine Lef, a publication for the Lef group, a group of avant-garde writers and intellects associated with poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky. Mayakovsky’s poems were often accompanied by photo collage illustrations done by Rodchenko. He was soon doing all of Mayakovsky’s book covers. Rodchenko’s graphic design work achieved much of its clarity and directness from his utilization of elements taken from photographs, staying in a flat dimension of space with a limited color palette. This method of photomontage let Rodchenko express his ideas without dwelling too much in realism.

Robin Hood Gardens Estate. 1972
In the 1970s, Alison and Peter Smithson revisited photomontage as way to represent their ideas for the Robin Hood Gardens Estate in London. This architect couple was catapulted to architectural stardom on winning the competition to design Hunstanton Secondary Modern School in 1950. Peter was only 26 and Alison, his new wife and former student, a mere 21 years old. Having worked in the schools division of London County Council Architects’ Department for less than a year, winning the competition allowed them to set up their own practice. In only a couple of years, Alison and Peter Smithson had established themselves as leaders in post-war architecture. The Smithsons’ preached modern architecture designed with low cost, and easily available materials. They were categorized as Brutalists, and sought for each building to be designed according to its location and its use. From these ideals also came their utilitarian aesthetic, reflecting all of these conditions in their buildings’ form.

Robin Hood Gardens Estate - Perspective. 1972

Robin Hood Gardens Estate - Section. 1972

The Robin Hood Gardens Estate, which has just been demolished, was a Brutalist social housing project characterized by broad aerial walkways in long concrete blocks, much like Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation. Some of their architectural renderings for this project were actually collages, in which a combination of line drawings and elements of photographs were used. The results were unique representations of scale, site context, and building tectonics.

S#10. 2005.

At first glance, the large-format black-and-white photographs in the S series by Beate Gütschow suggest authentic documentations of urban scenes: monumental architecture, decaying buildings, rusty automobile parts. Yet the images are the result of complex digital manipulation. They are photomontages consisting of numerous photos taken by Gütschow on her various journeys and later assembled to create a single picture. They are often fragments of aging modern architecture—plain, unadorned concrete buildings, now crumbling and in part non-functional. In this way, she suggests ideas that have survived modernity while she also explores and scrutinizes the medium of photography as a representative of reality.

The S series makes reference to the black-and-white architectural and documentary photography of the 1950s and ’60s. It feels post-apocalyptic, revealing failed social ideals by alienating architecture. While individual architectural structures and sections of the places portrayed prove familiar to the viewer, the unusual combination of the whole makes it impossible to pin them down to any precise geographical context or time. The practicability of the individual buildings also appears uncertain. We are left with the impression of the architectural remains of a failed utopia.

S#14. 2005.

Despite the utopian ideals behind the modern architecture, cities are less hospitable than we idealize them to be. Gütschow’s process brings discussion on making ideas visually apparent within a frame. The photographer’s ability to tell a story is constrained by the physical orientation of subjects in the focal field, but Gütschow starts like a painter with a blank canvas. She combines pictures from a variety of times and a wide range of geographical places while a traditional photographer is tied to the moment when, and the space where, the photograph is taken.

 In spite of photography’s inherent ability to record facts, Beate Gütschow’s photomontages represent its abiity to create a visual channel to fiction. What we see is not the result of a documentary investigation into the city but rather her personal vision of the urban environment. These images are the result of a digital processing on photographs of different cities, which are assembled to form a new cohesive view. Her digital collages use an archive of her own images to present urban scenes composed in accordance with the classic pictorial principles for urban views. Her work is like that of painters who take the observation of reality as their starting point but then create the final work in the studio as a synthesis of reality and memory.

Placeholder - Luxigon

Sao Paulo, Se. 2002.

Photographer Andreas Gursky demonstrates a similar technique in his large-scale photography. The perspective in many of Gursky’s photographs is drawn from an elevated vantage point. This position enables the viewer to see the scenes fully, encompassing both center and periphery vision, which are in reality impossible. In a 2001 retrospective, New York's Museum of Modern Art described his work as "a sophisticated art of unembellished observation." Gursky’s style is perplexing but straightforward.

Bahrain I. 2005.

The photographs of the Bahrain series feature the Formula 1 racetrack in the Bahrain desert. Gursky takes multiple overhead shots of a landscape deeply transformed by human intervention and then, with a computer, combine the individual parts into one large single image. The results are similar to an abstract painting.

Andreas Gursky is one of the most recognized representative of a generation of photographers who draw inspiration from the stylistic principles of painting and regard digital processing as an crucial stage of image configuration. He puts artistic and compositional requirements priority over realism with respect to the dimensions of the individual elements, reorganizing details, increasing the height of buildings, swelling the crowds and recasting the landscapes. Similar to the photographers and architects mentioned before, Gursky sees photographic images as raw material for a complex operation from which the final image emerges. His photographs are therefore a sort of aesthetic abstraction of a reality that – as he puts it – does not exist as such but only as a construct. 

No comments:

Post a Comment