Blog | Architecture of Seeing

A blog about architecture photography, art,  and conceptual issues that I hope will help photographers reach beyond their technical skill set to become better artists, writers, and thinkers.

The Synergy of Detail

After more than 175 years since it began, photography continues to amaze us. Why? Volumes have been written about this – exploring what, exactly, photography really means and why it is so interesting. One reason is its uncanny objectivity, but we now know better than to confuse this with reality. Historically speaking, photography’s claims to truth in theory, didn’t work out so well in reality.

Minehead, photograph by Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Minehead, photograph by Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Even if photography is always an interpretation of the world rather than a truth about it, a mysterious veracity remains embedded in it, waiting to be explored in some new conceptual iteration – or rediscovered by being somewhere at the right time, or by seeing with the camera in a way that jump-starts our fascination all over again. The correct rendering of detail remains a primary component in photography, particularly architecture, landscape, and the built environment. The world grows evermore complex in it's physical presentiment, and photography grows evermore pervasive. There is always a camera waiting.

This vein of objectivity is woven into the history of photography, particularly in Germany. In the 1920's and 30's Auguste Sander and Karl Blossfeldt's influence was felt for decades. The work of Bernd and Hilla Becher in the seventies and eighties is still felt today through the work of their students (Andreas Gursky, Candida Hoffer, et al) – collectively known as the Dusseldorf School.

This capacity to extract extraordinary detail from time and space is a working material like clay in ceramics, tactile surface in sculpture, volume in architecture, or plasticity in oil paint. Some photographers choose not to bother with it, but the ones who do rarely miss the rewards that come with it.  

In the best of this kind of photography, veracity and detail are not the subject of the photograph but its catalyst. The subject is something else, interesting and surprising in its own right, but the details draw us into an experience where synergy between the image and the way it is rendered raises the picture to a new level of recognition that seems to exceed the experience of seeing the object in reality.