Åke E:son Lindman is a prolific architectural photographer based in Sweden. After graduating from the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm in 1975 started working in documentary photography. With his assignment on the Bo85 housing expo he started focusing on architectural photography. Since then he has being involved in many projects for architects like Carlos Scarpa, Rafael Moneo, Per Friberg, Gert Wingardh, Ralph Erskine, on thematic collections ‘Gardens of Italy’, ‘Fourteen Swedish Embassies’, ‘Swedish Country House’, among others, and his personal project ‘Pure Architecture’.
Olof Hultin, former editor-in-chief Arkitektur magazine, has said: “Åke E:son Lindman is the Swedish architectural photographer who continually and with a sure instinct seeks to develop his proffessionalism- which as an editor one appreciates. Not all photographers share his genuine interest in architecture. This means that he sees the architecture, not the image, as what is most important. As a result he is now succeeding more and more in photographing the space and not the object. That is where the wheat is really seperated from the chaff!”
We are pleased to present a selection of Mr. Lindman’s photographic work along with an interview he gave to Julia Tedroff from Gothenburg photography school.
Julia Tedroff: At quite a young age you decided to become a photographer. What was the attraction? Was someone in your family already a keen photographer?
Åke E:son Lindman: Nobody in my family was involved in photography, but presumably my artistic side came from my mother whose hobby was painting porcelain. Another discovery came around twelve or thirteen when I went down into my school’s darkroom in Luleå. I remember a mysterious, sombre place with yellow and orange lights, liquids and the smell of fixer. Right then, I knew this was what I wanted to do. Photography in its latent state; seeing the image appear in the developer has always had a special significance to me.
JT: It is an interesting phenomenon for many photographers that their love of photography is born in the darkroom.
ÅEL: I was extremely interested in pictures, drawings and especially watercolours, which are very difficult to master without a lot of training. The darkroom felt like a revelation and after high school I took a two-year vocational course in photography. I had a great teacher who provided an introduction to the history of photography, the technical aspects and above all the chemistry of photography – something I think had a certain influence in my ongoing development. My interest was further stimulated at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm where I also got to meet many like-minded people.
JT: That was 1975 wasn’t it?
ÅEL: Yes, a special time. Occasionally quite chaotic, more talk about politics than pictures actually. I became interested in documentary photography and after college moved back to Luleå to work as a news and documentary photographer for local newspapers and other clients. As photographers, I remember, our hands weren’t tied because at that time there was greater interest in news pictures.
JT: In your opinion, how has this early emphasis on documentary photography influenced the way you work?
ÅEL: I feel I am still working as if it was documentary; the process is similar to those I used covering the news. It is just the techniques and the subjects that have changed. For example, I still find it very difficult to crop pictures and always try, as far as possible, to compose the image while taking the photograph, in the camera.
JT: Which photographers were your role models?
ÅEL: I was interested in Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photographers in the Farm Security Administration project. A little later I found Eugène Atget, a French photographer who documented street life and architecture in Paris around the turn of the century. Then in the 1980s, interest for the camera and the darkroom returned to Swedish photography and I thought that new intimacy was very exciting. It rekindled my passion.
JT: You moved back to Stockholm in the 1980s. Does this mark the start of your career in architectural photography?
ÅEL: I received a five-year working scholarship, freelanced, was a member of a photo agency and took all kinds of assignments until 1985, which is a cut-off point. The very first housing expo was held in Sweden, Bo85, north of Stockholm and I was commissioned by the landscape architects to photograph the actual construction of the fair and the event afterwards. It made me want more of this kind of work and probably from that point on I decided to specialise in architecture.
JT: At this stage, Swedish architectural photography bore the styles of photographers such as C.G. Rosenberg and Sune Sundahl.
ÅEL: It was as if a whole generation of professional photographers had disappeared during the 1970s, not only architectural photographers but advertising photographers as well. Suddenly it was considered too commercial and not really acceptable to a younger generation of photographers. There was a void to fill. I really appreciated Sune Sundahl’s early large-format photos for the Swedish Cooperative Union. Then Hasselblad’s SWC camera arrived at the end of the 1950s and the thought-process was simplified: any corrections were made in the darkroom afterwards with varying quality. I was more interested in classical architectural photography and the large-format camera with all its technical advantages and opportunities to make adjustments.
JT: Perhaps then C.G. Rosenberg was an influential figure?
ÅEL: Absolutely! Rosenberg was a classical architectural photographer, brilliant in terms of both technique and aesthetics. He was the most established architectural photographer of his time and worked with many renowned architects, not least Gunnar Asplund and Ivar Tengbom.
JT: It strikes me that it must be quite difficult to photograph architecture, I mean trying to portray something that has already been created and translate something that already has a very strong identity. You need an artistic eye and the architect has his or her artistic input. How do these collaborations work?
ÅEL: Firstly, I try to understand the intentions of the architect. What are the principal ideas behind the building? I usually ask for 3D images, plans and any photos the architect might have already taken. Sometimes the architect is present during the photography, other times it is totally left to me to decide how the pictures will be taken. Actually, it doesn’t matter either way to me. I can work with an architect standing behind my back or be there totally alone. Through the years, I have learnt to think more and more like an architect.
JT: Architectural photography requires technical skill, but also training in how to translate the three-dimensional subject into a photograph. The architect may have notions about the building, but you know how it will appear in visual terms. Architecture in pictures is certainly something else from architecture in reality.
ÅEL: It happens occasionally that the architect thinks the building looks better in pictures than in reality. By carefully selecting a section and with the absence of distracting details, the building or room may appear more impressive. Sometimes it is through necessity that a certain angle is chosen or cropping made because in many cases the photography takes place before the building is completely finished. Newspapers today compete to be the first to publish pictures of a new project. When I photographed the new Swedish embassy in Berlin, neither the exterior nor the interiors were finished. Incredible really that we could take any pictures. The architect was present, so we could move the scaffolding and other equipment to get some good shots. The effort to make it appear slightly better than reality is always there, as are time constraints. You cannot always wait for the perfect light. No one is willing to cover that expense and publications are often pushed for time.
JT: In your description it sounds like architectural photography could be compared to nature photography?
ÅEL: I check the weather forecasts prior to each assignment. The sky can really be your friend or your foe. I don’t mind photographing in cloudy weather, but most often the client wants blue sky. I like small, fluffy clouds and can stand and wait for a special cloud to place itself perfectly in the picture.
JT: I am reminded of Julius Shulman. His pictures often have dramatic skies.
ÅEL: He worked in black and white and used an orange filter, which makes skies a bit more dramatic and lots of lighting. I have never used artificial light because for me the available light is absolutely crucial and is part of the architecture. For example, when photographing interiors the lighting is actually just as important as the décor. However Shulman is one of my heroes. So is Ezra Stoller. Both photographed basically the same way and no doubt used the same kind of camera and film throughout their whole career. I must add that digital technology has changed things in quite a short space of time, even though I have yet to find a digital camera that can technically match the large-format camera. Not yet, in any case.
JT: Do you look at contemporary architectural photography? Are there contemporary photographers who you feel allied with in a way?
ÅEL: I am inspired by Japanese architectural photographers like Hisao Suzuki, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Yukio Futagawa, just to name a few. Suzuki often takes his photographs in grey weather and uses strikingly wide angles. It is as if these Japanese photographers are formed by their architecture: it is clean, consistent and technical. That’s something I really like. Technically, I have learnt a lot by studying their pictures.
JT: I think there is something in your photography that is related to the architecture of Carlo Scarpa. You highlight the classical strokes in modernist architecture, as in older buildings. How has Scarpa’s architecture influenced your attitude?
ÅEL: In the early 1990s I took a journey in the footsteps of Carlo Scarpa, covering Venice, Verona and Treviso in northern Italy. He had relatively few projects, but they were so accomplished. It was the first time I followed an architect and it was almost like we understood each other. It was a real lesson in transforming architecture into photography. It was an enormous learning process and certainly, in many ways, it shaped the way I take photographs. Other architects important to me have been Asplund, Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer and Peter Zumthor, just to name a few.
JT: I am struck by the recurrence of central perspective in your pictures.
ÅEL: I think I am rather classical when it comes to spatiality. I am not one for seeking new angles. I prefer central perspective. I want it to be simple and consistent. I almost always start facing ninety degrees to the object, which often corresponds to the central perspective, or alternatively forty-five degrees.
JT: I understand why you’ve become so successful as an architectural photographer. You always succeed in highlighting the building’s magnificence and the architect’s ideas. It is comparable with what Sugimoto does in his book ‘Architecture’, when he photographs iconic buildings out of focus. These blurred contours represent the architects’ concepts. In your photographs, the ideas become crystal clear.
ÅEL: As a beginner the fascinating things are often the shapes and the stray reflections on the façade. But after a while there emerges a deeper feeling for the architecture – you try to translate the relationship between different forms within a spatial limitation. To be able to describe all aspects of the space with photographs.
JT: It seems we could speak about architectural photography in sculptural terms, elements that build a whole.
ÅEL: That’s interesting because I don’t make any significant changes when photographing landscape architecture. I treat it just like architecture, as the spatial relationship of sculptural forms to each other.
JT: Architectural photography and abstract painting are also quite closely related. In the history of photography, modernism was about reducing photography to its purest form, of utilising its unique characteristics. At the same time, there is a relationship to contemporary abstract painting. The same spatial interest and a transformation of that space which, in many ways, is what architectural photography is about.
ÅEL: A useful practice when I started working with the large-format camera was to view the image upside down on the focusing screen under a black cloth. I think this taught me a lot about composition. You train the eye and the ability to compose pictures. Cartier-Bresson is supposed to have said that a good picture can also be appreciated upside down.
JT: This can be likened to the object in front of the camera. By viewing it upside down there is a distancing effect that gives the space seen in the image its own relationships – its own space. You uncover the fundamental structure and thinking behind it, scale back everything else and present the pure concept. It is not just a physical space. As a matter of fact, you are portraying an idea.
ÅEL: That’s a lovely way of putting it. Maybe I do so, but without being aware of it. You don’t always think in those terms. Photographing Zaha Hadid’s building in Vienna is one example. I love that picture, but it is rejected immediately by editors. It is exaggerated, has its own dynamic energy, just like her architecture. Another instance was in photographing Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza where you could say we helped each other along; me with my wide-angle and Palladio with his games of perspective. The images show a space that is quite protracted, when in reality it is substantially shorter.
JT: Your photographs are often black and white which may abstract the space even more.
ÅEL: In general, black and white has more to do personally with photography and its chemistry. It is something I grew up with. Additionally, I think it places greater emphasis on architectural form. It stands out like a crystal or a purer form of architecture. Obviously, colours are important in documenting a building, but a book or an exhibition does not always have to be about documentation.
JT: What inspired you to do this book?
ÅEL: It has been in the back of my mind for ages. Most of my previous books were commissioned work, but the need to do my own projects has always been there and sometimes these result in exhibitions and catalogues. Among all these pictures, I find small gems which I really like and stick out a bit more than others, whether taken on assignment for someone else or by myself. To compile a selection and make a book has been both very useful and a pleasure.
JT: The selection of pictures for the book has comprised of photographs of buildings that could be termed architectural icons. Has that been a principal idea in your work? Collecting is such a fundamental basis for much photography. One can collect different things: places, people, events or architecture.
ÅEL: I have always been fascinated by 19th century explorer photographers, for example Francis Frith and Roger Fenton. Their contact-copied albumen prints show places and buildings that spur the imagination and never cease to fascinate. For more than twenty years I have photographed architecture of great importance to the world at large – a kind of iconic architecture collection if you like. The idea is that the book works as a journey with various subjective stops in the history of architecture.
JT: Photographing architecture seems to be something that is rather controlled: long exposures, a technically advanced process that requires planning. Architectural photographs seem to express control. Yet the ‘Decisive Moment’ still has relatively great importance: a cloud, a special kind of light, a door closing, perhaps a person. It is about capturing the right moment.
ÅEL: Reality is not always what you expect it to be. I was disappointed when I was due to photograph Córdoba’s magnificent mosque and discovered the interiors being renovated. The entire building consists of a forest of columns and arches which were very hard to photograph because of the work on the floor. By joining together two pictures I tried to recreate this feeling. Unforeseen incidents occur frequently in my travels. On a trip to India several years ago, my Arca Swiss camera was stolen on the first day. I bought a used Yashica Mat from the 60s; a two-eyed mirror-reflex camera with a standard lens that limited my photography. The solution was to photograph buildings and rooms in overlapping sequences, as seen in the pictures of the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory in Jaipur. At other times, the light can quickly alter the situation. In the picture of the entrance to Rafael Moneo’s beautiful museum in Mérida, the object had already been photographed with an open gate. During the siesta, with the sun at its highest and the museum closed, I now noticed the gate, which was shut, and had to quickly retake the picture. In my opinion, it is a more interesting and comprehensive picture of the museum of Roman art in Mérida.
JT: You have photographed quite a few historic buildings.
ÅEL: Palladio got me interested in older architecture. Actually, I think all kinds of architecture are interesting as long as I consider it ‘good’, or as Giò Ponti put it: ‘Pure Architecture’. Sweden is a small country in architectural terms and we are probably better known for our design. Including the Million Programme in the 1960s and into the 1970s we had internationally recognised architects such as Sigurd Lewerentz, Gunnar Asplund and Peter Celsing. Since then, architects have lost their strong position and today I think, to a certain extent, it is the large construction companies that determine the architecture. From an international perspective, you see in the Netherlands for example, more companies involved, small architectural offices and smaller construction companies, which in my opinion creates better conditions to produce interesting architecture.
JT: There has been quite a lively debate in recent years that architecture, like everything else in our culture, is becoming more and more adapted to the media.
ÅEL: I read an interesting book, ‘Talking Architecture’, in which some of the most renowned architects discuss architecture. Rem Koolhaas sees a shift in architecture in the past fifteen years due to the ego of architects, but perhaps most of all due to the impact of the media. Koolhaas says this has created architecture that has no other purpose than to be seen. That is certainly true. Architects think in terms of the media when designing their buildings – how it will be presented in the media.
JT: Yes, indeed. Considering that modernism’s architects were the first to learn and experience architecture via the media, then today it is obviously the case. We see architecture through pictures and because of this dependence on the media, perhaps a pictorial architecture develops. Architecture that works in a media format. Has globalisation and the media meant that architecture has become more homogenous?
ÅEL: Yes, national differences have more or less disappeared. Grandiose buildings with advanced designs are everywhere and these, in many ways, are often better to portray in pictures. It was perhaps the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that started the trend. It seems that function has taken a back seat and the façade, the exterior, gets all the attention. One thing that has changed spatial imagery in architectural photography are the super wide-angles you have to use in order to portray the space. It makes the space seem larger than it actually is.
JT: Through your chosen field you have really become engrossed in architecture and learnt a great deal. Is it your interest in architecture that drives you as a photographer?
ÅEL: I have a genuine interest in architecture. You could say that thanks to photography I have learnt to appreciate architecture. I am extremely grateful. Today it feels like I’m standing with one foot in photography and the other in architecture. And that’s quite a good place to see the view.
Åke E:son Lindman website: http://www.lindmanphotography.com
Originally published on arcspace.com, 8 February 2015.
Ezine edition of interview coupled with his photographic work: