The Artist as Architect
I am an architect who loves photography and a photographer who loves architecture— and I try to make room for both of them in my life, sometimes giving more attention to the one and sometimes more to the other. I live and work in Athens, Greece, and I consider myself lucky to be able to wake up every day in a place so full of history and wonderful light and with such a beautiful sea at my feet. Throughout my life, I have always been photographing one thing or another, but now, looking back, I can say that most of my photographs have always, in one way or another, dealt with buildings and cities.
My camera is my friend, and she knows pretty much everything about my life since she always stays with me. I bet she even knows all my thoughts and secrets, but happily she (yes, it’s a “she”) is discreet enough not to divulge them [and, no, I don’t have a name for my camera].
Architectural photography – why?
The short answer: because there is nothing more beautiful than a beautiful building.
The long one …
… starts many years back, to when I was just a kid playing with wooden blocks. I had no idea what that meant at the time— and not even many years after. And it might very well just be a coincidence, but I think those experiences started my interest in shapes and volumes and what you can do with them. I remember really enjoying spending my time with cubes and cylinders and arches and wooden cones. These are the toys that I remember best of all from my childhood (except maybe for the monkey that I used to sleep with) and I still love to play with wooden blocks and build “cities” with them. And … now … I take photos of these wooden “cities.”
Fine art architectural photography is not the most popular genre of photography— especially images oriented towards modern architecture. I think this is because many of us are not used to seeing this subject around us on a regular basis. Many of us see trees, flowers, people, mountains, and the sea everyday, and not only in the actual landscapes that surround us, but also in all the imagery we come in contact with: photographs, videos, television, movies, even books describing these things. But how often do you see a modern building being described in a book, except, maybe, for those cases in which the book is a specialized one about architecture? This makes it a little more difficult for many to identify themselves with such a subject and maybe even less exciting or interesting to photograph such a subject.
Happily, however, this is slowly changing and I’m happy to see more and more people doing architectural photography or just being interested in it. I think the Internet and its power of making knowledge and ideas travel has played a big role here. I’m glad to see more people turning towards the cities and their buildings and trying to integrate them into their art or in the subjects that impress them. I love the city, and I think you must love it before it can give you back what you are looking for. Happily, once more, there is a strong tendency all over the world to turn our eyes back to the city and try to make it more human and more friendly. For a long time, many of us have seemed to have forgotten about it, even trying to run from it, but many are slowly integrating their lives back into the hustle and bustle. I’m seeing this tendency all over the world, made possible by the fact that people are slowly understanding how to treat the built environment so that it becomes less oppressive and more humanly oriented.
I wish to be a part of this new tendency, this renewed excitement with both my architectural work and my photography work. Yes, I love architecture in any shape it may come: built, photographed, written or talked about … I just love it!
The Architect as Artist
Lately, I have been asked quite a few times about what I do to make my photographs look like this, and the answer is a multifaceted one. There are two very important reference points that have shaped my recent architectural photography.
First, I was very lucky to meet the amazing artist that Joel Tjintjelaar is; in fact, he is the one who inspired me to go back to architectural photography, and he has helped me with precious advice and inspired thoughts. He has been like a light that shined and made me open my eyes to a lot of things that I had hidden inside me or that I was just not seeing around me. Even if I have been photographing buildings all my life, I never knew that I could make them look like this by just listening to my imagination and letting it create freely. The most precious and valuable thing I learned from Joel (not even mentioning all the processing advice) is that I can do anything I want in a photograph, that I’m free to put my vision in it and not necessarily obey what the camera shows me. I think this is the key advice that any visual artist should follow, no matter what the genre of art. Care only for your vision if you want to create something that’s completely yours.
Secondly, I discovered how to use my previous knowledge about shapes and light and my skills at drawing while creating and processing my architectural photographs. While processing the first image in the series “like a harp’s strings,” I discovered that I could “draw” my images, that I could do pretty much what I do when when I hold a pencil in my hand and draw buildings on paper. Like all architects [well, maybe not all, but for me it seems so natural that I have the impression that all do the same], I had my phase of intensively drawing buildings— and not only outline drawings, but rendering them to the smallest detail. And I can tell you that my photos now look very much like my drawings back then. And, actually, once you know the basics of processing a photograph, it’s not so difficult to move all the rules and techniques from the paper and pencil approach to the screen and the computer because, no matter the technique used to render the image, all these rules are basically the same. They all speak about lines, light and shadows, and they apply, in their basic form at least, to both classical drawing (with charcoal or graphite pencil) and B&W photography.
I have been drawing and painting since childhood and have always been very good at it. Interestingly, I have always had a very good sense of color. The majority of my photography is black and white, but I think I have adapted to it well because of my experience with working with color. In fact, I think that I’m mostly working with B&W exactly because I have always worked well with color. This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s actually not. B&W is the utmost challenge in a world of color. Truthfully, I think that the most beautiful colors are black and white even if the theory of art actually considers them “non-colors”. For me, they hold inside all the other colors we can see, and, most importantly, they hold inside them the light in its purest form, not modified by any hue of color, which is, fundamentally, what light is at its origins and what makes us see the world as it is.
For several years, I studied classical and architectural drawing and the theory behind it (composition, means, techniques, etc.) with a teacher, and that experience gave me a much better understanding of how volumes behave in interaction both with each other and with light, which are, of course, the most important components in all visual arts, regardless of whether it is painting, sculpture, photography, architecture or drawing. Even now, despite our tendency to do everything on the computer, I still draw from time to time. Visualizing something and drawing it on paper helps me to better understand what I’m designing and to find solutions. Even in photography, I sometimes make sketches of how I’d like something to look. It helps me to order my ideas and fine tune my compositions.
I think the laws of photography have to imitate the laws of life, and that’s why the rules that work in other areas of life and art are also applicable in photography, especially in the processing of an image. I think once you have the general basis about the theory of art, about what light is and how it behaves when it comes in contact with an object … and if you know a few techniques … you can easily find ways to use them to render your images and produce what your mind’s eye has envisioned.
I’ve studied hundreds, if not thousands of buildings over time and have also designed quite a few, which helps me to instantly know both what I like about an architectural object and what I don’t, so I can find the angles and compositions that best convey my idea about the respective object. My experience helps me to know and discover what I’d like to see in an architectural photograph and present that building according to my vision. What I try to do is to show that something in my photographs the best way that I can.
Architectural Photography Events in Athens
Because I love architectural photography and because I love cities— especially my city, Athens— many of my last architectural photographs have been taken here. I want to pass to others my love for the city and Athens in particular, which is why I have started to organize an architectural photography event in Athens, a combination of workshop and photowalk addressed to everyone who wants to meet and photograph the less known face of this famous ancient city, its modern face. And because nothing is more beautiful than a long exposure photograph of a modern building, the long exposure part of this event is intended to be a very important one (not, of course, excluding traditional architectural photography). This first event will be held this fall and then others will follow in the months to come. Actually, this event is associated with a group of Greek photographers whose goal is to bring Greece closer to photographers worldwide– as well as giving everyone the chance to spend a few days in a region of Greece while learning photography and getting to know this beautiful country: its nature, cities, villages, people and history. We are called Photography Treks and have some great ideas that will see the light of day in the near future.I am very excited about these events and very happy that I will be able to share with others the things I know as I show them the beauty all around us. This way— what I know, what I think, and what I see will become much more valuable not only for me but also for those people that will potentially come from all kinds of places and cultures. We will all be having a lot of fun as we learn new things from each other during our experiences together.
I’d like to thank everyone who has come here and read my thoughts and viewed my photographs. I think both my words and my images paint a very faithful image of who I am. I especially want to thank Nathan– whose work and thoughts are a big inspiration for me– for his so very kind interest in my work and for offering me the space here to reveal a piece of myself.
Gallery of Architectural Squares
All images and text on this page— unless otherwise noted— are protected by copyright and may not be used in any way without Julia Anna Gospodarou’s permission.
The image, “Frozen Music,” is copyrighted by Joel Tjintjelaar and may not be used without his permission.