Many a time have architectural theoreticians and historians pointed out the ambiguous role of photography in the study of architecture. Particularly the fact that photography has, besides its documentary function, the potential to visually interpret a building and create its own pictorial reality has been mentioned repeatedly.
The Photographic Project Mill follows the conversion of a building from the 1960s. It documents both the process of the conversion and the state of the building upon completion. The resulting set of pictures intertwines these two layers of interpretation. The difference between the photographs of the process and those of the result lies in the visual punchlines.
The transformation of the building’s architectural form is documented by means of a photographic sequence. The comparative study is elaborated on by a sophisticated alteration of visual connections. Zooming in and out simulates movement through space and, at the same time, reveals different sections of the reality. The spectator’s attention is wittingly held within a certain part of the building; however, the point of interest is not immediately obvious. Stepping into the pictures are construction machines, everyday objects, the surrounding landscape changes with the seasons, the atmosphere of tranquillity is stirred up by the wind in the treetops, timelessness is followed by the liveliness of a sunny day and then by the soft evening light. The photographs do not fixate on documenting the reconstruction. Their pictorial logic is based on exploring the visual connections arising on the site. The photographs of the process are composed around a reversed hierarchy of meanings. The frontal view of the building is dominated by the red booth in the parking lot and the garland of wires with a plastic bag reflecting the sun. In the background of this banal scene from the construction site we can see the phase in which the building was at that time. A similar principle is applied also to the process of conversion in the interior.
The unusual pictorial logic stimulates imagination and opens our minds to see things outside the traditional utilitarian point of view. An opportunity arises for a visual punctum as it was described by the philosopher and theoretician of photography, Roland Barthes, in his book Camera Lucida. Visual punctum has a profound psychological effect – on the basis of a personal experience (induced by a picture) the viewer is able to see things from a different perspective and gain new insight into the essence of things. The meaning lies in the deconstruction of conventional categories or in the verification of their validity through a purely individual experience which cannot be conveyed by means of cultural categories. The seemingly self-perpetuating nature of artistic photography thus helps us to see architecture as a living process, a conversion of forms that have lost their original meaning.
The photographs of the process are rhythmically separated by pictures of the individual parts of the building after completion. This is where the architectural space stripped to basic forms becomes the principal agent. In the pictures of the finished building, the architectural idea is absolute. The over-abundance of visual information all around us increases the requirements for the quality of photographs. The value of a picture may lie in technical precision as well as in the banality of a snapshot moment. The history of architectural photography is rich and offers a plethora of experience – the ability to convey an architectural idea in an ingenious way consists in choosing an adequate approach towards the subject. Being sensitive to architectural space requires contemplation and the ability to temporarily become one with the idea of space.
Vendula Tumova, Proces Mlynica – Fotografická esej, In: Stavba 01/ 2018. To see the Mill after the reconstruction go to: https://architizer.com/projects/the-mill-1/