Before the advent of digital, the photographer was like a magician explained Paul Raftery in a talk for the London Festival of Architecture on the impact of technology on architectural photography.
When a day’s shoot appeared on the light box as 5×4 transparencies it was a thing of mystery and other than photographers few people understood the complex equipment and the sophisticated films, he said.
But those days have long gone and with it the generous editorial budgets that allowed photographers to roam the world. Magazines like the Architectural Review wielded enormous power because until cheap air travel it was the only way to learn about the latest buildings, said Raftery.
By 2005 digital photography was well established. Raftery’s first digital commission was in 2002 when he shot Diller & Scofidio’s ICA Boston.
“ All my camera gear went in hand luggage and I could see the images at the end of the day in my hotel room… the digital image had suddenly become easier to produce and quicker to distribute”, he explained.
But the real change for professional photographers came in 2008 when the banking crash caused thousands of architects to lose their jobs. The professional magazines responded by slashing their budgets as advertising dried up.
The audience heard how the traditional publishing model was broken, but in its place came new, free, architectural websites like Dezeen that also demanded a constant flow of free images. Raftery compared these new websites to the numerous fashion sites whose images are usually provided by a PR company rather than being commissioned.
“The images released to the press are closely controlled and only the approved images are ever seen which means the bad detailing on the north elevation is wiped from history”.
But such disruption has forced photographers to explore new avenues. Six years after shooting the ICA Boston Raftery, together with film make Dan Lowe, made a time-lapse study of the final weeks of the Shard’s construction to describe the experience of seeing a building that would have been virtually impossible 10 years ago earlier.
It is too early to tell if architects will turn to film as a way to market and disseminate their work, but Raftery’s talk left us in no doubt that this shift to the moving image has the potential to revolutionise the way we view and understand the built environment.
Upcoming talks are available at Archiboo.