The new Whitney site embraced a key element I look for in photography: the dialogue between a building, its users, and it’s neighbourhood. When Renzo Piano and the Whitney Museum approached me to photograph it, I saw it as an opportunity to show how RPBW successfully democratized the museum by embracing the colourful, textured meatpacking district, where it resides. It’s free flow outdoor sculpture gardens offer an opportunity to document the ballet of museum goers, who become part of the New York landscape. A building is particularly successful when it becomes the subliminal director of human movement and discovery. The Whitney does just that.
The Whitney Museum brought me back to photograph, and do video for, their first advertising campaign in the new building. After several visits to officially shoot the building for them, as well as for Renzo Piano, The approach here was slightly different. It focused on the actual exhibitions (including a major retrospective by Frank Stella) as much as the architecture and how people use the space. Furthermore, I did a series of experimental/experiential videos that have been applied to their social media advertising, as well as for general archiving and portfolio uses.
Road to Kunduz, near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan
Peripheral to the documentation of the Gohar Khatoon School in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, I set out to document the pulse of the city, and its surroundings. In an effort to document the source of some of the materials used on the school’s construction, we stumbled upon this incredible brick factory, seemingly frozen in time. Located on the edge of Taliban activity, it is spread over at least 5 square kilometres. The workers use a fabrication process that ingeniously utilizes natural ventilation techniques and methods that haven’t changed in 300 years. Millions of bricks are hand formed on site, arranged in a prescribed pattern, then coal fired on site for several weeks. The cinematographically qualities were exceptional. We spent several hours in the trenches with these workers, immersed in their ritual. As the sun set and they went back to their small primitive huts on site, I found it difficult to extricate myself from this incredible moment documenting these photogenic roots of industrial revolution.
The Kimbell’s new Piano pavilion stands alone as an elegant, restrained architectural statement. However, it’s true force in my opinion is how it strikes a very delicate balance between it and the existing Kahn Pavilion. With respect to siting, proportion and design, the conversation is seamless between both.
After shooting the new pavilion for Renzo Piano, the Kimbell asked me to document the iconic 1965-1972 Louis Kahn building . Kahn is one of my architectural heroes. His name comes up more often than others in my conversations with architects, and their heroes.
When I spend several days documenting a building and the people that use it, I get a good sense of its qualities and how it relates to the 700 or so other building I’ve shot. Perhaps it is the era it was built in, or simply it’s refined use of indirect light reflection, but thequality of light inside this building is like nothing I have ever experienced: it is extremely subdued, yet acute enough to give an even, perfectly contrasted level of light uniformity throughout the building. It is the perfect case study in successful natural illumination in museums.
The Harvard Art Museum was renovated and expanded in 2014 by RPBW. In photographing the project, I highlighted the sensitivity brought by Renzo Piano in the careful marriage of historic preservation and modern intervention. The building is located next to the iconic LeCorbusier Carpenter Center. There is a lot of architectural history in the surrounding block. The site was tight and challenging, and most of the photography of the exteriors focused on embracing the neighbourhood and strong architectural statements, rather than isolating the building. The new building is most powerful when seen in context and in the way it connects to the Carpenter Center.
This building’s tour de force is its intricate facade, designed in collaboration with Olafur Eliason. It creates a cathedral like quality of light that is enhanced by the low angle sun at Reykjavik’s latitude. As the centrepiece of Icelandic architecture, this building reflects successfully the ebullient, independent nature of Icelanders. You could feel how intensely the community embraced the building when it opened. This created a real sea of people amidst the architecture . . . my kind of shoot!
I spent several weeks documenting not only the temporary buildings on the expo site, but the Chinese opening themselves to the world through this event. Perhaps in the way Canada entered its own during Expo 67? We did a book on this:
States of Architecture in the Twenty-First Century: New Directions from the Shanghai World Expo | 2011
384 pages | 335 photographs | 230 illustrations
Text by Rodolphe el-Khoury & Andrew Payne
Photography by Nic Lehoux
Compilation by Oscar Riera Ojeda