The photography of architecture is very complicated: you need to hear your own voice, and the voice of the architect(s).
Both voices speak with an understanding of two sets of voluble/visible footprints. To marry those voices into a single shot or a thousand becomes the pleasure of the gods.
It is a ride like none other. Imagine if vertigo is triggered and you are helplessly falling somewhere wildly. Suddenly you discover the silence of architecture.
I have made the portraits of hundreds of architects, and thousands of buildings, yet only some rare architects have imbued my mind with what that silence means.
I was introduced to Herzog and DeMeuron by one of their earliest clients Alfred Richterich, the Chairman of Ricola.
The Swiss architects had arranged to be photographed in the Prada headquarters NYC that they were designing.
The session was supposed to be Jacques and Pierre for my new book, Portraits of the New Architecture.
This was to be a terrific moment. Something of importance was about to happen. The Prada assistant keeps my company and keeps me calm in a space in mid summer without air conditioning. She promises me a Prada camera bag to keep me relaxed(I never received that bag). I suffered through the anxiety until Jacques shows up sans Pierre. Jacques was three hours late.
I glossed over Jacques apologies. Pierre had other obligations.
At first I thought I would punish Jacques. It was a ridiculous notion. But I turned my lights brightly towards the three layers of meninges around the brain and watched his skin singe.
Yes it was an out of body experience. It never happened. Though I think the visual notions might have compelled me to make the most unsparingly honest portraits of my career.
Those images are not to be seen today, maybe for another time. Jacques had shown me a characteristic I had never witnessed/experienced before as a photographer. His apologies for tardiness were dismissing, but his commitment to this portrait session was of complete compliance. Every idea every position Jacques fully participated in.
I learned more than I was prepared for. The day was truly a photographic cathartic release. Though I might have inadvertently caused some skin to burn.
Four to five months later I had been invited to the Herzog and DeMeuron retrospective at the Phyllis Lambert’s CCA (Canadian Center for Architecture) in Montreal. Phyllis Lambert is clearly the doyenne of 20th and 21st architecture. Her museum is certainly one of the greatest treasure troves of Architectures episodic history. I was fortunate to have made her portrait in her home earlier in the year.
When I received the invite for the rematch with Jacques and Pierre, I knew I had to approach the session cooler and calmer. The setting was the entry corridor to the museum. This was one of two images I was to make this day. It was unique to have Jacques, Pierre and Phyllis in one frame. This moment was to become more than a picture. It was to become my “Educating Rita”. This is where I learned that photography can be a static art without the deeper understanding of the “w’s of inquiry.
Architectural Photography has so many layers...so many needs and necessities. I rein in the camera to share the obvious, and dedicate the tools of photography to deliver more than the eye sees, to surprise!
The session is going smoothly until...
The afternoon was the very special preview for the throngs of well wishers and patrons. They push a bit frantically at the stanchions and red velvet ropes. The chatterboxes were trying to figure out what was occurring. I was in the midst of finishing my moment. The noise was getting louder. Calmly, Jacques stood up and addressed the room of hundreds. “When Richard Schulman is finished shooting, you can enter”. For me I felt like the “Hulk” at that moment. My swelling confidence splayed throughout the room.
I completed my portrait. My lesson was about to come to an end. I shook Phyllis’ and Pierres’ hands. Jacques grabs me by my arm. “I want to show you something”. He proceeds to walk me through the entire exhibition space. He says, “I want to share with you what our work is about”. He has me feeling, caressing each and every object in the room.
I am awed by the moment the experience. In this silent moment I said to myself, “wow, how silent architecture is”.
That lesson was maybe 30 minutes. But it has engineered a lifetime of photography since.
Architecture is not silent. Architecture has many sounds, rhythms. When you hear the matters of importance from one of the great voices of our times, you listen.
One stands with the silence of architecture until it speaks.