Architectural photographer Sebastian Weiss — also known as Instagram star “le_blanc” — has made waves on Architizer already with his stunning, abstract images of gleaming Modernist architecture. Now, he has returned with a new series entitled “White Sculptures,” which captures the same joyful spirit of his previous photographs while focusing in on one of contemporary architecture’s most iconic figures: Santiago Calatrava.
For this highly personal project, Weiss traveled to one of the Spanish architect’s most famous complexes, Valence’s spectacular City of Arts and Sciences — the subject of both high praise and immense controversy from the moment it was completed in 2005. Architizer sat down with Weiss to discuss his interest in capturing Calatrava’s architecture in his own unique style, the contentious issues surrounding the buildings and advice for young people looking to get into architectural photography themselves.
Paul Keskeys: What drew you to Santiago Calatrava’s work for this project?
Sebastian Weiss: Calatrava’s architecture is undoubtedly very unique; I admired the ensemble of the “Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias” (City of Arts and Sciences) in Valencia for the first time around five years ago. With all its inherent drama and egocentricity, it nevertheless shows a remarkable airiness and lightness, and its organic structures appear familiar. The buildings show an intimate side, and in this manner, Calatrava’s “Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe” seems much more inviting to me than, for example, the Phæno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany, by Zaha Hadid Architects.
With the series “White Sculptures,” I explore the flexible boundary between architecture and sculpture in Calatrava’s unique architectural language. His buildings in the City of Arts and Sciences appear like vivid, corporeal objects, which contain filigree but strictly systematic structures. My intention with this image sequence is to carve out the dynamics of the stylistic vocabulary in his lively ensemble of buildings. As a photographer, I am fascinated by the overlapping of sculptural and architectural elements in Calatrava’s oeuvre, as they seem to complement each other and even merge in harmonic unity. Particularly with the effect of sunlight, the buildings appear almost as a light-space installation.
I also recognized the fascination and admiration from visitors in this architectural area as they strolled through this “installation,” as if they were walking through a park of sculptures. So, for a long time, I had intended to document Calatrava’s work in Valencia, which I adore a lot. Then, in December 2016, I was in Valencia for a few days because of a photo shooting for Cartier. When the job was over, I stayed there in order to finally take photos for a series about the City of Arts and Sciences. More than 800 pictures arose from that shooting.
Can you explain your creative process in terms of image choice, composition, lighting and shade?
For my series, I aimed to gather a balanced choice of symmetries, stringent linear motifs and organic shapes, adding close-ups as well as general views. Furthermore, a homogeneous color space and temperature of light were important for the selection. Luckily the weather cooperated nicely and the sun was shining all the time, even though it was December.
Sunlight is crucial for my outdoor photography, and on top of checking the weather forecast, I also need to find out what time of day it is best to shoot the buildings prior to the shooting. For instance, the northeastern side of the “Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe” and the “Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía” has very interesting perspectives, but the only possible moment to document it is in the early morning time, before the sun moves beyond the “L’Oceanográfic.”
This particular Calatrava project has received criticism for a lot of maintenance issues, with some saying it is not aging so well — but your photos make it look stunning. Did you find the project to be pristine or imperfect, and was your image selection affected by this?
Indeed, I saw numerous workers who were busy with comprehensive cleaning tasks of the water basins and the structural arches of the “L’Umbracle,” and others being engaged in repair activities on the buildings. These maintenance tasks cause probably enormous costs while running the whole architectural park.
I would agree to the statement that the buildings do not age so well. The white color of the façades becomes gray in quite a few places; furthermore one can see fissures in the outer skin as well as rust stains in some windows. It did not affect my image selection, as I think that aging is an inevitable part of our lives, or in that case of a building’s life. However, thanks to the mediterranean climate, the buildings still look fantastic, and I did not retouch any symptom of old age in my series.
Which other architects would you like to focus your lens on in the future and why?
Generally I do not devote myself to the work of one particular architect at such length; my approach is normally more topic-oriented. Also, seemingly trivial buildings from entirely unknown architects may appeal to me. Nonetheless, I am very much interested in the work of J Mayer H, Alvaro Siza, Kengo Kuma, 3XN and Ulrich Müther, to name but a few. They all fascinate me due to their subtle and individual architectural language. It would be fabulous to elaborate their buildings in more detail in the future.
What advice would you give to young people looking to get into architectural photography?
First of all, I would encourage them to opt in to that subject, despite the many good architectural photographers: It is important to show courage when entering the field of architectural photography and to persist in the decision. In the beginning, one has to be patient, as it may take some time to develop one’s own style. Curiosity and self-reflection will help to reveal one’s own photographical language. There will be setbacks, but don’t give up easily.
What I would recommend is to be open-minded to technology and digital media in order to benefit from the viral potential.
Check out more of Sebastian Weiss’ incredible photography here.