Shooting Authenticity: How to capture ‘authenticity’ in a building.

The reality of Architectural Photography.

How can photography keep true in expressing the Architect’s intent?

It is actually a ceiling of a famous architectural wonder designed by Antonio Gaudi called the Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic Basilica located in Barcelona, Spain.
I’ve asked twelve people, ‘what do you think this is?’ and out of the twelve, zero identified it as a ceiling – keeping in mind none of them have heard of the Basilica before. Though after a bit of educating they responded ‘are you serious?’, ‘you took that photo?’, ‘can’t believe such a thing exists!’

I love taking photos, it’s one of my passions, and I’ve been shooting for 9 years. It was my first job outside of the family business, but now I continue for my own leisure.

Architectural photography is a tough type of photography to shoot, sometimes the human scale is lost through the grandiosity of the space and it is difficult in capturing and expressing the ‘experience’ of the space. More often than not, what might look like a good shot turns out to be not so great and fairly typical; it does not exemplify or simplify the intent of the Architect. Putting photographic techniques to good use, such as angle, composition, the field of view and depth of field, can drastically deliver and alter the image’s representation of the building. Accurately documenting a building does not necessarily tell you the most accurate expression, in fact, it may dilute the intent of the image or series of images.

In the case of Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the intricate and complex changing surfaces of geometric forms of the interior ceiling is a stunning visual spectacle. In its glory, I was stunned for the majority of my visit to the basilica, only taking a total of 27 photos – a small amount for me, in case there are any shutterbugs out there.

I walked from one end of the central nave to the other, counting my steps to find an approximate centre to intentionally grab the most symmetrical position I could – a hi-tech photography technique. I’m quite short so to my advantage, the distance from to the top is going to be slightly further than most. I wasn’t flying across the globe to grab a standard photo, so I proceeded in lying down to achieve a ‘flat-lay’ of the ceiling with a wider view to capture the turtle like ornaments on the column, a glimpse into Gaudi’s close connection with Nature. From there it was fairly simple, I knew I wanted the most parallel, symmetrical and clearest shot so I patiently took my time to line up the grids in my camera’s viewfinder to guide and compose my shot. With some post production enhancements, I ended up with the above shot.

Believe it or not, this was the original; not as colourful, vibrant, or bright and wider than the edited image. In my justification, the original had cluttered the geometric beauty of the ceiling. It did not exemplify Gaudi’s intent of capturing ethereal nature. If nature is the work of God, and if architectural forms are derived from nature, then the best way to honor God is to design buildings based on his work. (Berlin 2010) I felt like this photo representation correlated too closely to reality. I wanted the lens to capture the scenes and surfaces so that they could be absorbed by the viewer’s immediate senses as something surreal or at least, hyper-real. Christopher Nolan, executive producer, writer, director of Dunkirk said in interview “It’s about the feeling of authenticity, not about authenticity itself” (Nolan 2017). The reaction of the viewers is what is authentic. In my artistic direction, I wanted to capture the same experience that I felt in entering a completely awe-inspiring building that dated from 1882. I wanted to capture the reason why people come across from all over the world to see this unfinished masterpiece where old and new meet as one. ‘Authenticity itself’ would have left the construction safety nets in frame, and the dull colours the same; noise that would have your attention prioritised to its disruption to the unwavering flawless geometric kaleidoscope-esque mural.
You expect the perfect version.

References:
Berlin, Jeremy. “The Big Idea: Biomimetic Architecture.” Gaudí’s Masterpiece – National Geographic Magazine. December 2010. Accessed August 17, 2017. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/12/big-idea/gaudi-text/2.

Nolan. Film4video-YouTube. July 24, 2017. Accessed August 16, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AlDqFgQnqQ.