The Benefits of Photography


Although I believe experiencing architecture firsthand is important, I think photography communicates ideas that are often missed or overlooked in person. Walter Benjamin states, “…it is through photography that we first discover the existence of optical unconsciousness”. Again, certain details are unconsciously observed and aren’t fully recognized in person, but can be revealed in an image. In Beatriz Colomina’s “Unclear Vision: Architectures of Surveillance”, she discusses how Mies Van Der Rohe used x-ray renderings of his Glass Skyscraper project to communicate the raw “skin-and-bones” structure of the building. Much like photography, the x-ray image abstracted an idea from the project to display it in a different perspective for himself and his audience.

With my own design projects, I often find that photographs can help simplify overwhelming ideas and also make me notice things that I didn’t see when examining the physical model or building in person. This can be anything from detailed material patterns to large-scale spatial organization. This also made me think of Chris Jordan’s artwork, which abstracts astronomical statistics into repeated images on large canvases. He claims that “statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of”. These images are shocking because they distill an overwhelming amount of data into something that can be absorbed and processed by the human mind. Like Jordan’s artwork, architectural photographs can focus large amounts of information and elements into one image. A photograph is not just a static, flattened representation of something, but rather a tool to reveal structure, details, and meaning.

Skull With Cigarette by Chris Jordan, 2007 98×72″
Depicts 200,000 packs of cigarettes, equal to the number of Americans who die from cigarette smoking every six months. Based on a painting by Van Gogh.
(The image to the right is a zoomed-in portion of the larger canvas on the left)


Chris Jordan: Photographic Arts. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2012. <×24&gt;.

Colomina, Beatriz. “Unclear Visions: Architecture of Surveillance.” N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

Mertins, Detlef. “Walter Benjamin and the Tectonic Unconscious: Using Architecture as an Optical Instrument.” University of Pennsylvania. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.


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