It is perhaps not surprising that Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone, curators of Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age, chose the work of Berenice Abbot as a starting point for their exhibition. Abbot, who made powerful images of the architectural changes that gripped 1930s New York, seemed to not only document what she saw, but to question it, too.
While Abbot herself might disagree (she was an avid documentarian who rejected the idea photography should ever express feelings) there is an inescapable unease to her 1936 shot of Park Avenue towers soaring over a two-story show house, and a hazy peculiarity to her famous image of midtown Manhattan from the Empire State Building. It as is if this city of contrasts, which she closely documented, was changing so quickly that an equivocal attitude was the best one to take. And for Pardo and Redstone, Abbot’s work certainly sets the tone for the rest of the show: Here, photography and architecture are beautifully, inextricably linked. They are so close, in fact, that they can seem to be both life-long loves and the strangest of bedfellows.
Indeed, as artist David Campany notes, the two disciplines may have been joined at the hip since Nicéphore Niépce shot his family home, producing the first ever photo from nature, but there has always been dissent: “Just as the discipline of art history has had intermittent doubts over its use of photography as innocent reproduction,” he notes in the catalog accompanying the exhibition, “so the field of architecture has sustained an important current of reflection about its use of images.”
Closing this week, Constructing Worlds comes well-reviewed from both The Guardian and the LA Times, and brings together 250 works by 18 photographers. We see the colorful, sometimes playful work of Luigi Ghirri, the almost mournful eye of Walker Evans and the alien, painterly quality of Nadav Kander’s images. On show, too, are Lucien Hervé, Julius Shulman, Hélène Binet and Stephen Shore. among others.
Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age is on show at the Barbican, London until Jan. 11, 2015.
Richard Conway is Reporter/Producer for TIME LightBox.
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