Most of our professional life is spent providing documentation describing an anticipated reality in the form of a building and its setting. This documentation takes the form of words and specifications which confirm what we have said, drawings and modelling, both digital and physical, which imagine what we will see.
We have talked before about whether the precision or looseness of words can be used to inform, or not, the development space of ideas. The same applies to images; a hand sketch is a loose representation, a physical model a more precise understanding and a computer image potentially as close to reality as we can produce. But if you think about such images; put in a blue sky, or show it in a downpour and you nuance the image, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically, you change the context in which it is seen. In that respect, the artist's impression is a better description because you confirm aloud the image is nuanced.
But can anything have no nuance, be an exact and a true representation?
It was in this context, the well known architectural photographer Andrew Lee joined us to discuss his photography and process in delivering images of our projects over the last five years. For Andrew Lee the image may be the only means by which most people will see the finished building. He used the analogy of the tree falling in the middle of the forest – does it make a sound when no living person sees it fall? By analogy then, if there is no image of a building does it exist beyond its immediate context.
He put forward a number of related ideas. For some artworks the photograph is the only representation because of ‘remoteness’. Examples are Richard Long's stone circle in the Sahara Desert which no one will ever see again, or an Andy Goldsworthy ice construction which is ‘transitory’. These exist for a short period of time by its very nature and by implication, then his photos of a house in Coll which again really only exist as images but for a very small group of (lucky) people who will experience the reality.
As a result Andrew Lee sees photography in a certain way. The photograph should not just be a managed momentary record but in his words should be an ‘extended moment’ and reflect the ideas behind what is being looked at, its making and activity that takes place in it through time. His support for this position is that there is no way we can capture an objective reality.
He explained his position by comparing a first-hand 3d experience to a 2d image. In the former, he described very little is in focus and the viewer filters out the irrelevant or inconsequential content. On the other hand, in the static image, nothing is filtered out. Everything has equal weight. Which is objectively more accurate? But at the same time the human eye can see with a 45 to 55 degree window and much in soft focus. The camera sees 90 to 100 degrees all potentially in sharp focus. Is what we see in a flash any more real than a machine that records precisely the viewed form?
There is then no true image. All images are nuanced by the practical realities and how the photographer works with them.
Andrew's method then is to construct his photos in time – in this ‘extended moment’. To set up the shot and take multiple exposures over some hours which then he overlays and montages to create an idealised representation of the view and the activities that take place within it. His extraction of adopted human models who pass his camera and volunteer to be participants during his extended shoots become part of his story and then with the superimposition of their activity on one picture plane, a hint of the intense peopled landscapes of that famous Dutch painter Breugel.