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Richard Bryant on Architecture and Photography

Interview Date: 02-03-2011
(More interviews from this person)

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

My first love was photography but then I went on to study Architecture as a career.

After working as an Architect for a couple of years the combination of photography and Architecture became inevitable and allowed me to fulfil my two great pleasures combined.

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 much prefer to photograph a building in use and populated.

It is frequently the circumstances and not choice that dictates whether a location is photographed without people. Most photographs of buildings are devoid of life for several reasons.

Firstly the requirement for photographs by the building clients/architects are often before the building is open and occupied and secondly there may be technical reasons of slow shutter speeds, etc which make it difficult to include people.

A third possibility is that people do not always want to be photographed and are therefore not co-operative in this regard.

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

I have been fortunate. I have sought out and enjoyed the diversity of architecture and design in many forms. The list is too long to mention but some of the highlights date back to repeated visits to The Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart for my favourite client of that time James Stirling. He was a great man and loved photography of his buildings.

I was picked up by New York House and Garden who sent me all over the world to photograph so many projects. Houses in Australia, Mexico, Europe and the greatest challenge, The Frick Collection in New York. The shoot was a great success and we flew back on Concord.

More recently working with Armani on the Teatro Armani in Milan; Superstore in Hong Kong; Armani apartments in the Burg Khalifa in Dubai and his own residence in Pantelleria. Recent co-operation with Zaha Hadid resulted in great experiences in Rome for the MAXXI and a commission to interpret the latest modernisation of the Savoy Hotel in London.

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?

This is such a difficult question. Although one cannot be sure in all cases there is a feeling that this can happen although I think very rarely.

It is especially noticeable that when some particular architect with strong philosophical arguments which produce powerful iconic buildings there is then an avalanche of weaker but similar designs.

Less talented designers beguiled by the techniques and styles often plagiarising an aesthetic in an inappropriate way.

On the other hand has it ever been different? Before photography we saw the buildings as the architects wanted them to be portrayed via their drawing or romanticised paintings with the same results.

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?

There is a particular talent for architectural photography that includes not only an awareness of space and form but the ability to translate these characteristics through the medium of photography. Knowing how the camera distorts space and accentuates form is essential so that the story of a building can be interpreted. Types of specialist cameras with movements to change perspective and planes of focus allow for greater creativity but a talented and sensitive photographer can produce wonderful images with whatever equipment is at their disposal.

For me it is my interpretation of the relationships of form, light and atmosphere and to do justice to a building it is also about telling the story.  Some photographers can take good graphic images but they do not relate spaces.  A flaw often compounded by the choice of images selected for publication.

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

There is a fundamental difference. All the senses are engaged when travelling and visiting a building. The smells, sounds, feel of textures all add to the experience.  A camera, even in the most skilled hands, can only allude to the experience of physically visiting a building.

The camera never tells the truth. All images of architecture will only give the viewer an intriguing glimpse of reality. Photography is after all only a two dimensional medium interpreting a three dimensional space or form.  A good photographer may get closer to the reality but it is still a personal interpretation and should be accepted as such. Unfortunately many photographers will go for the dramatic image using excessively wide angle lenses which distort the scale of a building or interior just for the effect and this may bear no relationship to reality.

A photograph can create interest and it can raise awareness of a place. It focuses on a specific time from a specific viewpoint which may never be repeated. It is a memory trigger for a visitor after the event.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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Richard Bryant

Richard Bryant

Country: United Kingdom
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Richard Bryant studied architecture before pursuing photography as a career. His fascination for photographing the man-made world has taken him around the globe interpreting architecture, homes and gardens through the camera.

It is a career that has invited him into some of the worlds great buildings, old and new, private and public. Richard’s A to Z of clients ranges from Armani to Zaha Hadid.

Somerset House hosted an exhibition of Richards’s work, which was extended twice. This coincided with the publication of his limited edition book on London.

Richard Bryant has numerous awards including an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects and an Honorary Doctorate in Design from Kingston University. His work is held by various institutions, including the RIBA, the V & A, the CCA in Montreal and by private collectors.

:: Photo information and credits: © Richard Bryant