The subject matter of this seminar is the potential of digital photography to describe architecture in ways that take distinct advantage of digital imagery’s particular attribute: the ridiculously easy mutability of images by the means of production. While it is true that all photographic images are by default manipulated (initially by lensing, framing, editing, etc.), and that, already since the earliest years of photography, images have been intentionally falsified, nonetheless, one essential truism of pre-digital photography has been a base-line trust in the fealty of the image (partly because of the extraordinary technical skill required to seamlessly combine negative based images). One hallmark of the end of the Modern era was a criticism of this particular quality of photographs, and, arguably, the trust we have in photographic images has evolved from blindness to something more nuanced, a change only accelerated by the arrival of digital photography and the various processes by which such images are endlessly alterable. That said, the status of photographs with regard to truth may have changed, but photographs are no less interesting for that change — they just have a different potential.
In this seminar, we are interested in how the particular and complex mediated fact of digital photographs allows for new means to describe architecture. You will be working on this problem directly, by taking and manipulating photographs (for this course you will need a digital camera, and the Adobe Creative Suite software package). During the first quarter of the semester you will be undertaking exercises based on short lectures intended to introduce you to a series of essential issues and techniques central to photography, architectural photography, and digital photography. During the second quarter of the semester you will undertake the documentation of a single building as a means to explore the limits of digital photographs to describe architectural space in ways associated with traditional architectural photography. From this work you are to develop an open-ended thesis about the potential of digital images to describe architecture that you will use to develop a self-guided investigation through the remainder of the semester.
This is NOT a course about the history of photography (though that will be touched on), the history of architectural photography (though that too will be touched on), or the techniques used in architectural photography (ditto). This is NOT a course about making the airless perfect isolated object image you see in architecture magazines. This is also NOT a training course in the techniques used to make digital photographs. This IS a theory class that takes the form of a design-based seminar. The course asks: how can architecture now best be explained through the medium of the digital photograph, as a consequence of the potential of the medium, and the current status of photographic images?
Your grade will be based on the ambition, insight and drive you bring to the specific photographic project you will undertake documenting architecture in ways that only digital imagery allows, and the quality of images you produce. Central to the discussion in this course is the complex question of the distinction between a great photograph (which has an evolving cultural component), and a great architectural photograph (which not play the same role culturally as a photograph). You will be expected to take a thesis-based stance on this question, and make that stance evident in the photographs you make.
The class meets once a week. Most classes will consist of two parts. Most weeks, at the start of class, you will be presenting photographs (sometimes printed out, sometimes on the monitor – we will decide which format works best as we proceed) as your form of argument about the topic or exercise introduced in the prior class lecture and/or the readings for class. We will be discussing/criticizing these photographs as they pertain to the issues at hand. Though you will be making your argument visually, first and foremost, through the evidence of photographs, you will have to expand your arguments verbally. But, in this class, the SANAA rule applies: you cannot say anything UNLESS you bring photographs.