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Photography Looks At Structure

October 18th - December 19th


When my mom was growing up, my grandmother would “art direct” their family photos by making them stand in front of homes/buildings they didn’t live in…nicer ones. Even then, my grandmother knew the value of a structure and so our family albums are colored by her aspirations. It drove my mother crazy…

I’ve had a connection to structure for as long as I can remember. There’s a line that starts with countless hours spent constructing blanket forts (do kids still make those?) and Legos onto Frank Lloyd Wright and Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti project (I’m a summer of 76 alum). I believe there’s power in the shapes we make, they say so much about who we are and what’s important to us. While our earliest structures were probably related to shelter, our oldest surviving ones such as the
Megalithic Temples of Malta and Stonehenge were inspired by religion and ritual.


Mitchell Family Album, photographer unknown

In more contemporary times, depictions of structure in the industrial age was often on a rather dark path. In the 1920s, German Expressionist Fritz Lang’s Metropolis showed structure as the symbol of an oppressive society. A place where the lines of exploited laborers toiled in underground factories never to see the golden cities reaching for the sky above. We can see that same dark view of structure continuing into the 1980s with The Matrix, where taking the “red pill” carries us down the rabbit hole to realize that everything is code and the only real structures are the infinite skyscrapers of the power plant, aka battery farm, where humans are directly turned into energy.

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Scene from Metropolis, Director Fritz Lang, 1927

Returning to a more positive attitude, we have the architectural photography of Julius Shulman, who transformed the discipline. His relationships with the significant post WWII architects allowed him to translate their language for us into a vision that integrated structure and nature - a celebration of west coast indoor/outdoor living.  Any discussion of photography and structure would be incomplete without talking about the work of Hilla and Bernd Becher and their typologies of industrial structures. Their use of detail, the austere frontal approach, the choice of black and white and the grid presentation created a visual language that has inspired a generation of documentation and fine art photographers.


"Julius Shulman photographs Case Study House #22, c 1960" by Ben Ledbetter, Architect is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In this showcase, these five photographers have found very interesting ways to explore the subject. From intimate to urban to historic, we look at purpose, scale and the human cost of our domestic landscape. We look at what remains when a significant structure, one that changed the lives of a generation, is no longer present. We even see photographer as architect in the creation of mind-bending, often humorous, structures that challenge our assumptions.

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