Seeing architectural photographs: space and time in the works of Julius Shulman and Ezra Stoller

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Hyun, Myung Seok
Bafna, Sonit
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This dissertation is about seeing architectural photographs. It begins by addressing a paradoxical aspect of some architectural photographs: they acquire a status as works of photographic art, yet are able to do so while ostensibly serving a documentary purpose – in fact, they take on their significance by virtue of presenting architectural content. This raises questions about the nature of architectural experience. In particular, what do we see of architecture, exactly, when we see an architectural photograph? I propose that what we see in some architectural photographs involves our visual construct of space and time, and bears upon our cognition of essential architectural qualities. To demonstrate this, I offer case studies of architectural photographs from mid-century America, the works by Julius Shulman and Ezra Stoller. The studies show how the photographers’ careful manipulation of technical variables and selective inclusion of secondary subject matter bring forth distinctive exemplificational architectural qualities from what appears to be objective presentation. In Shulman’s photographs of Richard Neutra’s houses, what is exemplified is the quality of a lived space, modulated by subtle depictive moves. In Stoller’s case, the secondary or peripheral subjects trigger various durations of seeing, against which the relative permanence of the building is made manifest. Ironically, these photographs offer the kind of seeing in question by obscuring key descriptive details of the photographed building, and letting seemingly incidental details acquire visual salience. They succeed by bringing forth the properties of the medium that exemplify those of architecture. The study thus offers telling insights into why visual representation matters to our experience of architecture.
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