Welcome to Scribd. Sign in or start your free trial to enjoy unlimited e-books, audiobooks & documents.Find out more
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Picturing the Real

Picturing the Real

|Views: 55|Likes:
Published by robertamarcaccio
photography is by far the most used, "natural" medium to represent architecture. what is the reason for this indissoluble relationship? and why is the photographic medium considered real, worth to trust, objective? the essay tries to answer to these question by exploring the work of thomas struth and wofflin.
photography is by far the most used, "natural" medium to represent architecture. what is the reason for this indissoluble relationship? and why is the photographic medium considered real, worth to trust, objective? the essay tries to answer to these question by exploring the work of thomas struth and wofflin.

More info:

Published by: robertamarcaccio on Apr 18, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as DOC, PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less





Last year I was collaborating on the project of a book aboutcontemporary architecture in Milan. My task basicallyconsisted in contacting the architectural firms and askingthem for some material about their projects, such aswritten reports and images, that would have beenemployed in the publication.Most of the times the architects used to give me a shorttext, a couple of drawings and some renderings and thenthey used to tell me that the photographs, materialspecifically asked by the editor, weren’t ready yet since atthe time most of the buildings were still under construction.Nevertheless some of them suggested that I couldanticipate to the editor and the graphic designer that thephotos would have been taken from the same point of viewof the renderings. In other words the forthcomingphotographs would have been nothing but a copy of thepictures they already gave to me.this curious mechanism aroused some questions into mymind:If the photographs do not seem to constitute any essentialsteps further in the representation of the project, since allthey do is duplicating already existing images, and thusthey just increase the “quantity” of the information withoutadding any tangible element for the description of thebuilding, then what is that makes their presence still soessential in the system of communication of architecture?Bruno Zevi provides a list of all the tools that we have atour disposal in order to describe the space: plans, sections,elevations, models, photographs and cinematography.According to him, each of them, when taken alone, isinadequate to describe architecture. The latter indeed,having more than four dimensions (and the aforementioned tools can describe just 2, 3 or maximum 4dimensions in the case of cinematography), can only betotally grasped through a direct experience of the space: anexperience implying a certain physical involvement, aparticular awareness and a freedom of movement (in thesense that virtually a visitor can take infinite paths), allelements creating in the visitor a kind of empathicrelationship with the artefact
 When this type of direct experience of the space is notpossible the afore mentioned tools, if well employed, can atleast give a sense of it. According to Zevi indeed “
each of them can make an original contribution, but needs the presence of the others to fill its gaps.
B. Zevi, Saper vedere l’architettura, Einaudi, Torino, 1948, p.47(English translation,
 Architecture as Space. How to look at  Architecture
, Horizon Press, New York 1957; Da Capo Press, New
 This multiplicity of different media suggested by Zevi isexactly what we expect to find when we flick through anarchitectural magazine or a book in order to get to knowsomething about a particular project. We need to beconfronted with this corpus of heterogeneous materials(very different in scale, point of view, syntax, etc.) whosecombination manages to bring about a comprehensive(although fragmented) narration of the building, of itsdifferent aspects and of the process that took to itsrealization. In other words we need a chorus of differentvoices, interacting to one another, in order to fill the voidcaused by the absence of the artefact itself. Through these observations we can explain the reason whythe photographs are considered a necessary element forthe description of architecture, but still we don’t get asatisfactory justification for the privileged position thatphotography seems to occupy in respect to other tools. Inother words we still do not know why this medium is by farthe preferred one (or anyway the most employed) for therepresentation of a work of architecture.In the particular situation reported at the beginning of thisessay, we deduce that the presence of the photographs is akind of seal of guarantee: in virtue of their presumedagreement with the very reality of things, the photographsseem to provide a “more real” and “objective” version of the renderings that they duplicate: they augment thecredibility of the description.But if we reflect upon the effects of this mechanism werealize that the particular way in which the photographs areused clearly introduces a tautology: an element that turnsout to be a disturbing one and seems to destroy that veryheterogeneity (that set of differences between one mediumand the other) that for Zevi constitutes the precondition fora striking and effective representation of an architecturalartefact.What we get in the end is a sort of annihilation of thephysicality of the building: the images do not stand for theabsent object, they just stand for themselves.In other words when a photograph (that is supposed to be asort of subsequent and “objective” form of writing, takingplace when the artefact is built and the design process isover) perfectly reproduces the drawings, or in this case therenderings (that instead are supposed to be a kind of preliminary or intermediate steps of the act of design), thein-between and the time separating the different phases of the realization of a building vanish: the constructed artefact
 York 1993)
itself becomes a secondary, almost superfluous element. Atthe extent that one could even wonder whether it waseffectively built or not.Lets go back for a while to that which seems to be the labelof photography: the “real”, or the “more realif it iscompared to other tools. It can be argued that this “real”lies in the relation
that photography has with the thingportrayed: thus with reality itself. this relation is witnessed,and therefore strengthened, by the extraordinary capabilitythat this medium has to represent a subject in the mostnatural and vivid way. The architectural Photographs, whichare at the same time an index and an icon since they are aperfect
of the artefact (the subject indeed isnormally supposed to be recognisable), the relationPhotography-reality appears to be very close and, to someextent the closest possible (if we do not countcinematography). That’s what distinguishes photographyfrom the other tools and gives it a role of supremacy.Barthes argues that when looking at a photography(contrary to other forms of imitation such as painting andsculpture for example) one cannot deny that the “thing”portrayed has been there,
. Photography imposesthe existence of its subject, it is a “certificate of presence”.Or rather of “presence in the past” as Pierce suggests bysaying that the only thing that one can effectively expect tobe real is the very moment in which the referent and thecamera got in touch.But what happens when, as in the previously mentionedcase (where the photographs resemble the renderings), thepresence of the thing portrayed (the building) becomes asecondary, almost questionable element? What happenswhen we find it difficult, if not rather impossible, to identifywith absolute certainty the indexical track: the referent? Onthe one hand we have the building itself, whose existencebecame doubtful. On the other hand we have got therenderings, a medium that in its own definition is asimulacrum: a copy without the original, a
sign whichdissimulate that there’s nothing”.
In this case the relationphotography-referent, on which the “real” claimed byphotography is based, seems to vanish, but not for this thephotographs appear “less real”. At this point it becomesright to ask ourselves what is the possible further essenceof this real, and where it is supposed to be found.A certain difficulty in recognizing a real photographicreferent is also one of the premises on which T. Demand’swork is based. He conducts a deep analysis of the mirroringeffect of photography, and through elaboratemetamorphoses of scale, dimension, medium andmateriality, he manages to reveal the very nature of thephotographic medium, which turns out to be
fictious and ghostly.
Demand manages to prove that by the time an image of anevent gets to us we are far downriver from its source,
If we consider its etymology of the word real "relating to things"(esp. property), from O.Fr. reel, from L.L.
"actual," from L.
"matter, thing,".
J. Baudrilard,
Simulacra and simulacrum
whatever it was and, in doing so, he throws into doubt thetraditional role of photography as a faithful transcriber of the world.Specifically Demand’s approach centers on “found” imagesthat relate to scenes of cultural or political relevance, whichhave come to our attention through the mass media. Theartist than proceeds to reconstruct the spaces portrayed inthe photographs by means of a cardboard model that hepersonally builds in his studio. Than he captures the sceneagain, photographically, from a personal angle and in apersonal light. These photographs are the end product of his work, theyresemble the pre-existing mass-media images, but whatthey actually show are the three-dimensional, life-sizedmodels that Demand builds in his studio. At first sight theartist’s photographs look perfectly real (in the sense thatthey seems to have a “direct relation” to the scene of thepre-existing images) but, upon careful observation of thescene represented, one can spot some mysterious anddisturbing connotations, whose revelation, all of a sudden,destroys the illusion of reality created by Demand’spictures and reveals a rather surreal and artificialatmosphere.A typical “disturbing connotationis the lack of details, aneffect that Demand obtains through the use of thecardboard reconstructions. The models indeed allow theartist to manipulate and guide the process of perception of his photos: on the one hand he manages to prevent thespectator from being “distracted” by the seductiveproperties of the photographs (which are its very details).On the other hand he succeeds in creating a perceptualshort circuit that overturns the spectator’s definition of reality and causes him to question himself about the natureof the images: for instance among the original and the onereconstructed according to fanciful, communicative vision,which is to be considered the more real? Demand somehowplays with what Barthes calls the
: a detail whoseperception is not immediate, since it requires a deeperinvestigation of the image on the part of the viewer, but if he manages to find it (its revelation is not granted althoughthere can be many “punctumsin a single picture. Thecapability to find one or many of them depends on thesensibility and on the culture of the perceiving subject) hisattention is caught, and a kind of empathy (or a feeling of rejection) with the picture is created. By removing thedetails (all the other possible punctums) Demand creates asort of “universal punctum” (which is the very lack of details) that can be perceived by anyone and that causesthe same effect in all the viewers.
R. Barthes, in
Camera lucida
, (p43) describes his approach to aphotography and he says:
”before I scan the photo, I hear what it has to tell me since the photo speaks” 
(social condition, historicaltime etc)
“that is the studium and this goes on until I meet a punctum: a detail, i.e. a partial object, that has the power toattract me or distress me, but anyway it has the effect to changemy viewing of the photo”.
What is evident is that a fundamental aspect of demand’swork lies in the very use that he makes of the model: thescene that he actually portrays.Lets focus on this medium: a model usually serves thepurpose of envisaging something that does not yet exist. Itannounces a future in which what constitutes only apotential in the present one day becomes reality. And whenthat reality is realized, the model ceases to function andsimply becomes a relic of a non historic process. Demand’smodels exists between images: after the photographs onwhich they are based and before the new photograph forwhich they are built.Although the models take far longer to produce than thephotographs that displace them, they begin falling apart assoon as they are completed and captured photographically. Their life, due to their fragility lasts just a few seconds, asopposed to the much longer one of the pictures thatrepresent them. This relationship between the portrayedsubject and its image seems to give evidence of the curiouseffect of “annihilation of the artefact” that we mentionedbefore about the photographs of the book I worked for. Itseams to be a peculiarity of the photograph that of leadingto, or pre-announcing, the “destruction” of their referent.As R. Krauss notices every photography gives rise to theidea that the original has been copied or doubled. Therefore when one looks at it, together with its copy,(although the latter appears as a mere representation) itssingularity and its originality are destroyed. The duplicationprojects the original in the field of the difference, of themultiplicity inside the singular, and so photographydisintegrates its referent
From a pure dimensional point of view models are normallysmaller or larger than what they represent, but rarely thesame size. The simulations that Demand builds out of paperand card deviate from this usual status since they arecharacterized by a one-to-one scale. The fact that the human body can move around in the builtspace, creates a temporal short-circuit: in this environmenta visitor (the artist in this case) finds himself literally insidethe idea of space that he remembers (since he saw it in thepre-existing photographs), but of course his body has gotno record of the physical experience of that environment.In other words a visitor transposes himself in a time andplace in which he could never be. Through this process Demand highlights, and literallymaterialises, another important feature about the unrealityof the photographic medium: a space-time paradoxconcerning its spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority. The photograph indeed can be considered as an illogicalconjunction between the
and the
: itshows us now a place and a situation from the past
“givingus, by a precious miracle, a reality from which we aresheltered.
R. krauss,
Theory and History of photography 
R. Bathes, “The rhethoric of the image”
Image Music Text 
,Published by Fontana Press 1977, london, p 44
Demand’s work of art represents therefore a deepinvestigation and an astonishing unmasking of theunfamiliar world between signifier (the large colourphotograph behind Plexiglas) and signified (thephotographic scene: what we called the referent). Heattacks and deconstructs the presupposition of reality of what is represented and, as reality recedes, we becomeconscious of this world’s actual materiality. The astonishingtruth is that what we took to be office furniture, anelevator, and so forth, is nothing more than naturalistictinted paper and card. As G. Celant notices “
Photography,that indexical record of reality, on which the truth claims of so much history over the last two centuries depend, hasbeen revealed to be an accomplice of fraud, a deception, alie. The world we took to be real we now know to have beenforged, like the elaborate simulacra of Hollywood sets.What we thought was the signified (the representeenvironment) turns out to be a further signifier, a paper and cardboard model representing something else inturn.” 
Celant here calls into question a very important aspect: theone concerning the apparently indissoluble tie linking truth,history and photography. Indeed the “inventionof architectural history, or maybe it would be better to use theplural form “histories”, is a phenomenon that, increasinglyin the last two centuries
,not only took large advantage of the photographic evidence (the latter being the power thata careful association images has to give evidence of aparticular fact or theory), but that cannot even beconceivable, in the form that we know today, without it. Inrespect to this Andrè Maraux observed (1967), p 111 that
“the history of art has been the history of that which can be photographed, it could even be argued that the history of art no longer describes and deals with actual works but with the archives of photographic reproductions. The latter shape the discourse of a work, divorced from the materialreality of an objec
t”. This last sentence takes us back to thephenomenon to which we referred before about the imagesdo not standing anymore for the absent object, but ratherfor themselves: as Maraux suggests they stand for thevisual discourse that they bring forward. In regard to this itis interesting to mention the example of Mies Van derRohe’s Barcelona pavilion: it only existed for the duration of the exhibition, but the photographs of the original structurehave produced so much discourse that the building wasreconstructed for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona,and can now be experienced once more in material form. The building has come back from the photographic archiveinto built reality. This use of photography (as the basis on which a discoursein grounded) in art history (lectures and texts), was
Op. cit., p 55
To the extent that Reyner Banham in
 A Concrete Atlantis. U. S.Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture ( 
MIT Press,Cambridge, London, 1986, p 18) defines the Modern Movement asthe first movement in the history of art to rely and ground itself nearly exclusively upon the photographic evidence, rather than onpersonal experience and direct survey.

You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->