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Kevin Bauman on Architecture and Photography

Interview Date: 22-01-2014
(More interviews from this person)

What is your relationship with architecture? What attracted you to architecture, as a photographer?

I’ve long been interested in architecture, art, and design. I’d say being raised by an architect and a painter had something to do with it. My father was a commercial architect at one firm for 35 years, if I remember correctly. My mother was, and still is a painter. I always hear about “good design”, and consequently tend to like minimalism in pretty much all aspects of my life.

We can say that most of architecture photos of buildings do not include any people. What are your thoughts about including people in your photos? Is it important to photograph a building in use, or by itself?

I think there is a time and place for both. Certainly architecture is made by, and for, people, so always photographing them without people doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. At the same time I do appreciate, and like to see, architecture sans people. While the human form provides context and scale, certain forms and elements can be appreciated best, without the distraction.

What have been your most exciting and challenging architecture photography projects?

Overall, I would say my personal project on abandoned houses in Detroit has been the most exciting and challenging. It’s lasted the longest, had the most media attention of anything I’ve done, raised money for charity, and was emotionally and physically tiring.

Commercially and editorial, I’ve had many great assignments. Each one is challenging in its own right. I tend to be hard on myself, so none of them are ever good enough. They could always be better. Anytime I get to work with clients who are doing interesting work I am excited. There are times when I take on a project in which I don’t love the subject matter, and while it’s not as exciting, it’s definitely challenging. While I’d like to only photograph architecture of my choosing, I do feel that taking on other projects forces me to push myself, and reminds me to keep an open mind.

Many architecture theorists and a lot of people think that contemporary architecture is designed in order to be well photographed. Doing this work, do you have this feeling of buildings that are not designed to serve specific needs but are rather iconic and self-promoting?

There is no doubt, that in this age of self-promotion, many people do things for the attention it brings to themselves. As a child I always heard the stories about architecture that didn’t work well, leaked, and/or resulted in legal action. It still happens, and where I currently live, we have a well known museum that seems to be undergoing major repairs frequently. It’s rather new. It’s stunning, and I’m sure works well as a promotional and portfolio piece for the architect, but I’m sure it’s costing the museum a fortune keeping in good repair.

Of course, hiring such architects means the client is looking for the same thing that the architect is looking for. You don’t hire certain architects unless you really want to make a statement and garner lots of attention. Everyone wants to be in the spotlight; there are often lots of money involved. That said, I like our museum, leaks and all. It may be ridiculous, but it’s really, really cool looking.

I think the best architecture first serves the need of whoever will be using the structure. Beyond that, everyone has an opinion. Is a Mies van der Rohe building boring, or the ultimate example of simplicity and minimalism? I think the latter, but many would argue the former.

Most of architects worldwide share the passion of photography for various reasons. At the same time they usually photograph their projects on their own. What special skills and equipment would you say are required for architectural photography? How do architecture photographers do better this kind of work?

It’s getting easier and easier to make passable photographs all the time. It’s the same in every facet of the industry. You can learn anything online, and learning by trial and error is much less expensive than it used to be, and quicker too. The equipment necessary to make images is less expensive as well. A good photographer should have skills an architect doesn’t have, including lighting, retouching, and an understanding of how to best capture a space without the emotional attachment an architect may have.

Architectural photographers will be efficient and provide a good value. Most good architects are going to be very busy, and would most likely be better off spending their time running other aspects of their business. I know how to do my taxes, but I pay an accountant for a reason. They do it all the time, and in the end my time is better spend on other parts of my business. That said, if an architect has the time, and really wants to do the photography, they should.

What is the difference between seeing a picture of a building or a place and visiting the building or place? How does architectural photography explore the relationship between the perception of space and the experience of space?

I can stare at great architectural photography all day long, but it’s still just a representation of reality. That’s why I enjoy architectural photography so much, I both get to be in the space, and photograph it. I then get to enjoy the architecture again as I go through to process of editing, and retouching the images. It’s a great way to experience a space. Hopefully the photography does a great job of representing the architecture even though it can’t replace the experience of being in great places. One of the things architectural photography does really well is focus the viewers’ attention on certain aspects, elements, or views. When in a space, it can often be overwhelming, and frequently there isn’t enough time to really notice, or study, much of what really makes the architecture special or unique. Photography, by capturing a space in a moment of time, is the perfect medium.

At the end, can you please provide your personal proposal for 10 buildings (constructed and visitable) which you think as the most important worldwide that someone must visit anyway?

I guess this would be hard for me to answer as I’m not that well traveled. I’d like to see more of the world, but at this point in time, there is much still for me to see. There is architecture I like, and architecture I’d like to see. There are the buildings of my hometown of Detroit, such as the Guardian Building that I absolutely love. I love the new Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, the Chrysler Building in New York, and Marina City in Chicago.

I’d like to see Falling Water, the Farnsworth House, and buildings such as the Burj Khalifa (if just for its height). I’d probably like to see all of the Case Study homes, and many, many others.

Of course the list would be very, very long. And I haven’t even mentioned anything in Europe. I loved Amsterdam (Eastern Docklands, the Lloyd Hotel, etc), Brussels (Grand Place, and the Atomium), and London, for both new and old architecture.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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