A common element running through all of these interviews is the openness on the part of the architect to ideas presented. Much as with Juhani Pallasmaa, I had expected opposition to atmosphere-centred photography and received instead a nuanced version of my own thoughts and interests. I wondered about a statement made by Pallasmaa during our interview that “[t]he photograph always transcends its essence and becomes a world”, and what it might mean in the course of this study. For it suggested that all photographs should be placed on even footing as a sort of document of the world, a source of data that was not merely physical but tied to memory and the senses. Yet, photographs were not viewed in that way at all by the architects who commissioned them (hence, for example, the statement about snap shots made by K2S). Pallasmaa spoke of “the power of certain iconic photographs” that had moved him, and this sentiment was repeated by nearly every architect interviewed. In short, the architects were intrigued, optimistic at the outset, and highly enthusiastic about the results. Moreover, they were critical of the standard depiction of architecture found in the press, nostalgic for the "iconic" imagery of the 1930s and interested in new trends. They claimed to be ready for a change.  

It seems safe to assert that there were some contradictions in their way of seeing photography: on one hand as a source of data, an impartial, objective document and on the other a compelling means of persuasion and seduction. Perhaps these contradictions are due in part to the relatively unanalysed nature of architectural photography within the frame of architectural representation and as part of a larger frame-work of photographic media, whether commercial or fine arts in nature. Off the cuff responses often did not match up with commercial practices, suggesting perhaps a slippage between the two. That slippage might open up a space for new practices.


At stake here is a paradigm shift according to the Kuhnian model. That shift is already taking place, as evidenced by the extraordinary popularity of the photo-journalistic elements of Iwan Baan's work and the great success of Dead Pan: the representation of architectural spaces created by countless artists from Andreas Gursky to Agata Madejska [18]. Ultimately, it is a shift from an object centred depiction that is similar to still life photography of commercial products. This shift is important because images not only define professional practices and beliefs, but also shape reality and inform human actions: "the imagined will soon lead us to dictate what others should be imagining" [19]. They are not just models of reality, but models for it: creating ideals. But that they are dependent upon a rhetoric that is already there, prior to the viewing of individual images. Rhetoric is more than representation, it is a system that either assures or denies the force of argumentation before any argument is articulated.  


Manfredo Tafuri, in the 1970s, and Roger Connah, twenty years later, addressed the issue of representation that is central and crucial to the practice of architecture. Each is damning in his own way of the isolationist practices of the architectural community, specifically where the creation and deployment of images is concerned. Connah, who practiced in Finland for several years, writes: "Over the last thirty years of the twentieth century, very little in the architectural publishing scene actually helped the nonprofessional reading of images. Mostly, the ways of seeing architecture through photography remained in the private and privileged world of the architects themselves" [20]. Mafuri, sounding much like an angrier version of Connah, continues: "since the 30s architectural culture has preferred to deduce from its own centre what could have only been found by a complete and unprejudiced analysis of the ways in which the mythical society being addressed decodes, distorts, transforms, makes factual use of the messages launched by the builders of images. And this is a sign of the insecurity ofarchitectural culture itself" [21]Connah focuses the issue specifically on architectural photography: "Altering the way we read architecture, which includes the way photography informs and deforms architectural promise, would help us understand why contemporary architecture is considered inactive and incomprehensible to all but architects themselves….  Rethinking the architectural photograph might accelerate such a speculation" [22].

Is this a call to action? I have certainly taken it as such. But it is reformation not revolution that has inspired this study. We do not need another great clearing of the forest, only to produce a void to be filled by the opportunistic. A feedback loop of artistic and commercial knowledge is sought through a dialectical process. Strengths and weaknesses of that process are several, however, and will be addressed below. One final aspect of the study must be addressed first.

An important motivation for this investigation is the desire to share new knowledge, and new tools are a key part of that process. Through the means of an open website, mentioned earlier, it is hoped that navigation of images will take place instead of the structured sequenced presentation that print and the Internet usually offer. The site will host an interactive tool on the home page that will allow visitors to shuffle categories of images from the outset. Keywording will play an important part in the development of that part of the website. From there, it will be possible to compare alternate representations of a building or site and/or compare similar atmospheres of different locations. Through these means it is hoped it will also be possible to consider the implications of atmosphere in the understanding of space and the deployment of visual rhetorical devices not currently offered via photography and architectural websites. Research must be done into the deployment of images and not just their content.  


It is relevant, of course, to question the claim that there is a feedback-loop taking place at all. Is this really a dialectic approach? A limited dialogue through meetings, interviews and subsequent emails has certainly taken place. But is there a synthesis of ideas at the end? It is difficult to measure to what extent that might be true, until you contrast this experiment with conventional practices. The differences between the standard way of working versus the feedback-loop of the dialectic might be illustrated as follows:

The idea is a simple one: dialogue between different professions problematises the default assumptions of each, thereby requiring increased dialogue (hence connections between the different nodes of the illustration) diversifying and enriching the practices of all parties involved.  Photographers, publishers and architects give each other more to think about, and through that exchange, richer, more complete depictions of the world are achieved. In this feedback loop where image makers influence designers directly and vice-versa, variety in depiction is achieved by opening up the notion of the brief.  In this sense, also, I argue that there is a form of dialectic taking place that goes beyond negotiation as I understand it. In the Socratic tradition, questions are asked to upset core beliefs – in this case industry conventions – in search of a new belief which could not have been arrived at without agreement to enter into questioning those beliefs with the sole intent of examining the position of either side. In this dialogue, both photographer and architect learn from each other; in this negotiation, neither position is at stake (each are relinquished by entering into this process) and only an understanding of core beliefs is sought. Upon the basis of that understanding, each side walks away with a new proposition – in this case a new way of thinking about images. New questions are asked the next time images are commissioned or produced. This feedback loop of ideas is a reconfiguration of a very old, Socratic, method [23]. And photographs are used partly in place of words (though words are clearly also employed during interviews and in this analysis). When asked whether they considered this method viable and useful, all participants replied that they did. The key feature in the "Socratic method" is the suggestive guidance that makes Socrates into a kind of facilitator of discovery and self-learning. Which raises an important question: who is Socrates in this case? The photographer or the architect?  I would argue that the answer is neither; much like Plato, we have had to invent him as the raison d'etre of the dialogue.  He facilitates discussion and discovery by questioning common sense beliefs and rules of thumb. Whether or not he is real is besides the point, but he is certainly not the voice on either side of the dialogue, but merely the facilitator.  


So much for the strengths, what about weaknesses? [24]


Problems are several, but scale and eternal recurrence are two of the most significant. At the scale of a research project, and with the added benefit of funding, neither time nor money – the two limits of all business practices – are particularly pressing. It has taken a year of repeated visits to 6 locations to produce this work. Surely travel, accommodation and time spent working would need to be factored into the cost of a commercial commission. It could easily be argued, then, that this approach cannot be scaled up to meet the needs of companies or to evolve into a viable photographic company. It might also be asked whether the additional costs were justifiable given the results: how will this process avoid eternal recurrence?


Nietzsche’s term is used here to raise the obvious question: for all the innovation – new ideas and images – at the outset, you wind up where you started with a repetition of these until they become part of established practices. What is to say one set of images, practices and ideas will not simply replace another? Is that not the end result of all revolutions, scientific or otherwise, even on the scale of reform and paradigm shifts as has been suggested?


To answer each question, one final term and concept must be introduced:  the hinge. Apart from a simple machine which connects doors and windows to supporting structures, a hinge acts in this context as a concept for explaining what atmosphere is: in photography, as a dialectic in commercial production, as a connection between education and industry, as a technology – allowing for free, unstructured, personalised interaction with images. In short, with the image of the hinge, we might summarise all of the above-mentioned arguments concerning: established conventions in publishing, atmospheres as an alternative to these, and artistic research as a link between academic and business communities.


Future practices in architecture and photography, two hinged creative commercial practices with a long history together, are at stake. But beyond that is the issue of whether the built environment should be deployed and defined by the tactics of still life photography and hence understood as a system of objects, or if indeed it might not be possible to represent and share it as part of the lived world with all its richness. It is hoped that a focus on atmosphere might be a step in that direction. The enthusiasm of architects interviewed suggests that step might be possible. The shift from an architectural to an environmental way of seeing is really something more of a great leap. The strength of artistic work when put side by side with the planning work cannot be overestimated. Plans only refer to a world that is two-dimensional in the exact sense: not having an environment nor an arrow of time. Artistic work is able to make the real appear, not only because of colours, lights, and perhaps even plants, animals and human beings, but because of a unique moment that cannot be copied or modelled in anyone's mind. Artistic work is a way to create and share atmospheres through which architecture can be appreciated and understood.  But that artistic work needn't exist in a vacuum or be shared exclusively through the gallery system. Where professionals that commission artwork are willing to enter into dialogue instead of holding fast to conventions for the sake of them, artistic creation, artistic research and commercial art may all find themselves tightly hinged together - not nailed in place, but free to swing back and forth.

The idea of the hinge could be just as easily applied to the relationship between architect and developer, architect and town planner or architect and construction company. Indeed, the idea of complicated, collaborative effort is nothing new to the architect or to the commercial photographer.  Nor are complaints about the limitations they impose. However, I believe that commission based art offers just as many opportunities for creative exploration and the development of craft as fine art. I have tried to argue here why that is the case. 

To my mind, the hinge is the best way of explaining the relationship between the people who commission and those who produce commercial art.  The well-oiled hinge can provide a fruitful dialogue between creative individuals and organisations that can hold up a frame through which information flows. On the other hand, there are hinges that do not move, lose their function and require replacement - the rusty sort, of course.

In conclusion I would like to return to the structure of the atom, as I believe the analogy might provide not just an initial point of departure for me as writer, but also a useful after-image for the reader to take away. At the core, it was suggested, lies the question surrounding the utility of atmosphere. The sheer volume of texts produced about this subject indicates an interest that is worth exploring. My contention is that a photographic exploration is an essential method of doing so. Which takes us to the electron cloud - a move from the question of 'what' to questions about 'how': how photography can develop a closer dialectic process with architects and publishers; how doing so might draw attention to overlooked institutional practices of each; how photography can act in the construction of place; how research projects could contribute to expanded understandings of representation and photography; how photography might be recognised for its full potential producing discursive/argumentative statements and not just 'transparent' copies of an architectural original. Recognising lost potential might be used to argue the instrumental value of artistic research such as this. The two dimensional world of photographs is currently commissioned in a unidirectional, one-dimensional line which leads from specifics envisioned by the commissioning architect to their realisation by the technically-able photographer. But since the ideas for new photographs are engendered through looking at old ones, a feedback loop is really enacted here, not a linear arrow as normally supposed. Increased verbal dialogue between photographers and architects might enrich the feedback. An exploration of ideas through photographs almost certainly will.

Universal style supposedly went out with modernism, yet it is alive and well in architectural photography. If architecture is really about creating a sense of place, why do the photographs of those distinct places look the same? The reason is clear: architects appear to have assumed, like certain academics [25] that photography is transparent. I believe, as much scholarship has shown [26], that this is a mistake. There is no such thing as neutral; there are only styles and conventions. Artistic research projects like the one I have undertaken are a good method for investigating the beliefs that inform that mistake. If architecture is to be understood in terms put forth by textual arguments about place making, the visual arguments made alongside must correspond. That means a shift from universal answers to subjective encounters.  The one-size-fits-all-still-life-studio-photography representation of buildings should open up to an exploration of built environments through photography that treats atmosphere seriously. Photographers have much to share with lovers of architecture, given half a chance.

Literature >>>


[18] For a dicussion of Dead Pan photography, see: Cotton, Charlotte. The Photograph as Contemporary Art, (London: Thames & Hudson 2004).


[19] Varto, Juha.  A Dance with the World (Helsinki: lto University Publication series, 2012), p. 38.

[20] Connah, Roger. How Architecture Got its Hump (Boston: The MIT Press, 2006),  p. 57.

[21] Tafuri, Manfredo “Toward a critique of architectural ideology”, Hays, Micheal.  (Ed.): Architecture Theory Since 1968 ss, 2000), pp. 103 - 104.


[22] Connah, p. 72.


[23] Socrates is chosen over Hegel, Marx, Adorno or other thinkers here for three main reasons: brevity, simplicity and broad familiarity. Any of the others require specialist knowledge and would extend the length of this paper unnecessarily, given the topic at hand. Socrates is perversely so familiar as to seem like common sense to the public at large, more doxa than episteme, no doubt much to his eternal chagrin.  

[24] Research involves hit and misses. So many of these photos stick closely to existing, familiar tropes, whilst others fail for the simple fact that they lack the visual impact and appeal that would make them desirable to a client. Hence many of these pictures are not commercially viable. But using them as research has allowed me to take pictures I would never have otherwise considered. That process of opening up to new possibilities is what I believe this approach offers. It means you won't always get the "money shot" that many of the people interviewed mentioned. Aesthetics and spectacle are often the reliable components of such an images, hence the pursuit of such an image amounts the standard formulaic response to preconditioned desires. It is a form of visual morality, for it depends on safe, clearly established mores. Can the world of architecture open up to more than familiar repeated typologies? Can it branch out, and can photographers provide ideas for that growth?

[25]  Walton, Kendall.  Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism, Critical Inquiry Vol. 11, No. 2 (Dec., 1984), pp. 246-277. A more recent argument can be listened to on the following podcast: http://llnw.libsyn.com/p/b/0/f/b0fa8cd3423f9e12/Kendall_Walton_on_Photography.mp3?s=1366627287&e=1366628906&c_id=5252916&h=bfa94e357fe1e1c0e3cac8f0ccc2db50

[26]  Kress, Gunther & Van Leeuwen, Theo: Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. (London: Sage Publications, 1996, 2006 (2nd ed), p. 18.