Joao Morgado studied architecture at ISCTE in Lisbon Portugal and worked as an architect for five years in offices in Rotterdam and Maastricht. In 2007 he started collaborating with national and international offices following his vocation in architectural photography. At the age of 32 he has become a prolific author covering projects in his home country as well as Italy, France, Spain, Croatia and Kuwait. In 2013 he introduced aerial photography using RC drones. His work is regularly published in leading industry media and in 2014 he won the Arcaid Architectural photography award in the category ‘Sense of Place’ for his aerial image of the Swimming Pools in Leça da Palmeira, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira. Topteny Magazine lists him among the top ten architectural photographers worldwide. With more than 300 public and private projects in his portfolio, Morgado displays a passionate dedication to the portrayal of contemporary architectural works, building upon and continuing the expressive relationship between iconography and built environment.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Mr. Morgado thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss and show some of your work with us here at arcspace. How did you start being involved in architectural photography?
Joao Morgado: It all started when in 2006, with my first salary received from the first project I designed a small clothing store in Cascais and I bought a photographic camera. At the time, I had no idea that I would become what I am today, but back then photography was already a passion. This conviction became real when in 2009 I went to the Netherlands to work for the architecture office of Wiel Arets and he invited me to photograph several projects of his own. I quickly realized that my life was not doomed to be locked up in an architecture office.
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision? How did your photographic training and skills develop?
JM: When I start a new assignment, I dedicate some time studying the project and its plans but also exchanging some ideas with the architect to understand the concept of the project. When I arrive at the project location, there are always good surprises and new spaces to discover through the lens. If I wasn't an architect myself, it would be much more difficult. It is therefore this clinical eye that makes me take a closer look at all the details and to meet the architect's ideas.
To photograph a project I usually take a full day, from sunrise to sunset, sometimes more than 12 hours, but it all depends on the project dimension and scale. It only ends after the sunset after night shots. In some situations it can take several days, like the Lone Hotel in Croatia, where I had to photograph all the interiors, exteriors, the gardens and swimming pools, the beach front and also make aerial images with the drone to explore the beautiful relationship between the hotel and the surrounding natural landscape. For this specific project, I had to stay 4 full days.
PK: Who are some of your favorite photographers and how has their work affected your own? Are there other influences to your artistic approach? Alvaro Siza once said “to copy one architect is not good, to copy many though is essential. Do you think this also applies to photography?
JM: I grew up as architectural photographer admiring the work of Iwan Baan and although it is true that architects such as Álvaro Siza Vieira and his own language have taught me how to have a clinical look at the details, it is also true that the range of new architects lead me to explore new languages.
PK: What is your experience about the relationship between architects and the photographer?
JM: The photography assignment begins long before going outside. Only in exceptional cases I will go to the site in advance, to visit the project with the architect. Most of the architects are more likely to appear on site on the day of the assignment. Only the most heroic, take a day of from the studio and stay there until the end of the day. Sometimes, to find the best angle, you have to walk between fields, make a steep climb, or, as already happened, run away from furious dogs. It is only when I return home, and after taking a shower, because of the tiredness of my legs that I realize the absurd amount of times I went up and down stairs.
I make an effort to never exceed more than 30 days to deliver the work to the client. The process of selecting and editing the images is my own, however I am always open to include some angles that the architect considers fundamental. Most of the time my choice exceeds the expectations of the architect.
PK: Could you describe some key moments that made you feel you honed your craft and were milestones in your learning curve?
JM: One of the first times I felt this, was when I received a phone call from Alvaro Siza Vieira's studio to photograph the theater in Llinar del Valles, Barcelona, a work that had just finished. I felt that at that time, because I had already photographed other works of his, that Siza fully trusted on what I was going to do. After the assignment, already in his office, I could see that he was very pleased with something as simple as the photographs having the correct colors. Sometimes the manipulation is so used that one runs the risk of the colors being altered. In that case, what he emphasized was that the theater being a building made of brick, the oranges had the right hue. Another moment was when I showed Siza Vieira the aerial photograph of the swimming pools in Leça da Pameira, which won the ARCAID Award. It was photographed at more than 80 meters of altitude. It was impressive, among other things, to note that he could see a person waving to the drone. He confessed that he had never seen his iconic project from that perspective.
Being invited by foreign architects to photograph their works leaves me equally satisfied. It is a great recognition and a huge vote of confidence in my work.
PK: What photographic gear and post-processing workflow do you use? You recently started using also aerial photography with RC drones. How has this point of view being received by your clients?
JM: I photograph with Canon DSLR cameras and several tilt-shift lenses, but in my opinion that is not the most important. No matter what kind of gear you use, the most important aspect is how you use it and what you can do with it. Regarding the post-processing workflow, I try to keep it as simple as possible so it looks realistic and authentic.
I was one of the first to use drones in architectural photography and at that time, the clients were not expecting or even prepared to see their projects photographed from that point of view. It was a breaking point of a new perspective. Nowadays, it is already becoming a requirement to include aerial photographs.
PK: What conditions allow you to take your best photographs and what are the challenges in your type of work?
JM: Almost all architects usually ask for "a beautiful day of blue sky", but since in 365 days a year this is not possible, I always try to create the best conditions, even if someone has to hold me an umbrella when necessary. But to photograph a project according to architect's ideas and concepts involves a lot of work and preparation. The final result has to be flawless. Which sometimes forces long hours of tidying up and decorating, even if for that, it is a mess on one side to tidy up on the other. The biggest challenge is being able to keep up with the rotation of the sun, and be in the right places at the right time to capture the best light. Increasingly, the great challenge is to find the right elements that add something to the architecture, not hide it or overlap it.
PK: Alongside your architectural assignments you have also developed photographic workshops. Could you tell us about that experience?
JM: It was a very interesting phase of my life. I met people from different areas but with the same passion for architecture photography. At the time, it was both pleasing and practical: taking advantage of the free time that still had available while decompressing of the assignments. Awakening passions, opening the horizons of those who were learning, turned out to be a great experience, but that inevitably stood on standby due to lack of time.
PK: Although fine art and commercial photography are defined and practiced differently, do you think there’s also a common ground and a trend to fuse their boundaries?
JM: In my opinion, fine art is one thing and commercial photography is another, yet they have commonalities even though their language and purpose are different. Do I see myself as a fine art photographer? Absolutely not! Do I see my photographs being transformed into fine art? Yes, it has happened several times and I'm even glad when it happens. It is a sign that my work reached a wider audience.
PK: What are your thoughts about the shift from print to online media? Has it affected the way architectural photographers work and do architects approach the dissemination of their work differently?
JM: This shift did not affect the way I work at all. While it is true that online publications reach the user faster and spread globally, it is also true that architects continue to have the desire to see their projects on the cover of the most recognized architectural magazines.
PK: Could you tell us your thoughts about the matter of a personal vision/style in relation to the broader movement(s) in architectural photography?
JM: Since it all started because I am an architect, and not having a photography degree, all of my work developed from its own language. It was by observing the work of others and recognizing what I liked that I developed my own style. Nowadays some people already say that my photographs have a signature of their own, recognizing my name behind each click. That's what makes me more flattered.
PK: Through your portfolio we observe a wonderful showcase of Portuguese contemporary architecture in the last 6 years. How are architects coping during these years of financial crisis?
JM: Architects, like all art professionals, are creative artists, and at a time when there is less money, architects are required to be even more creative. It is not simply a question of creating cheaper projects. There will always be large families and single-family dwellings, but the reinvention goes through a number of characteristics, such as the choice of materials, but also the valuation of the more practical side of the houses and even the resizing of the space. In a time of crisis, it was when the rehabilitation and renovations gained a new breath. Instead of making a new project, architects had to be able to transform or make a simple restoration of what already existed. In every 10 assignment I made in 2014, 7 were rehabilitations or renovations.
Joao Morgado website:
Originally published on arcspace.com, 15 November 2017.