Introduction to 'Integral Lens' book collections
“When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: ‘To transform destiny into awareness.’ One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?” – Robert Frank
I first learned about the Fulbright Artist Scholarships when I interviewed architect and photographer Yiorgis Yerolymbos for a feature of his work for the Danish Architecture Center in 2014. As I researched his work, I saw that he had done a photographic road trip in the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar and during our interview I also read his Ph.D. thesis on the New Topographics movement, which was a new photographic perspective for me. At the time I was shifting from my 12-year architecture practice to a new career in photography, focusing on editorial and artistic architectural photography. In a period of about three years and a steep learning curve as a self-taught photographer, I was fortunate to produce a new body of work with limited means, from two trips to Europe and Qatar, and with those portfolios to receive multiple awards in international photography competitions. Since I wanted to continue practicing both personal work and commissions, the financing of the former required external support of some kind, so photography grants became an option worth pursuing.
The Fulbright application process is lengthy, but in retrospect I got to understand and appreciate the reasons and functions of such a process. From the autumn of 2014 when the application process started, till the spring of 2015 when the Scholarships were announced, it was a part-time job for to prepare for this trip. The integral approach of American philosopher Ken Wilber has been a deeply influential school of thought for me since I discovered it in 2001. After studying it extensively and applying it to personal and professional aspects of my life, I felt it was a fitting opportunity to implement it to the framing of the proposed project. The ‘four quadrants’ take into consideration the interior and exterior aspects of both the individual and the collective perspectives of an investigated phenomenon, in order to provide a comprehensive study that respects all available dimensions in a non-reductionistic manner. In the case of architectural photography, a practical interpretation meant: architects, photographers, artists owners, builders (UL quadrant); buildings, cityscapes, landscapes, suburban areas, the man-altered landscape, terrain vague (UR quadrant); styles and worldviews, relationships, communication and presentation, interviews, research (LL quadrant); modes of production and distribution, technological advancements, institutions and organisations, resource management, networks (LR quadrant). Prof. Mark DeKay, author of the book ‘Integral Sustainable Design’ was the sponsor and the University of Tennessee Knoxville the affiliated institution. The itinerary from October 2015 to March 2016 covered the following cities: Knoxville, New York, Boston & Cambridge, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, Big Sur & Monterey Bay, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Miami, New Orleans, and ending back to Knoxville, staying in each location from two to four weeks.
After an initial research for each location, examples of modern and contemporary architecture were selected and mapped out. Each day as many of them as possible were visited for commercial style photo-shoots and, in parallel, the areas near them - as well as other areas of interest - were also explored with long exposure photography and time-lapse videography. In this manner, both the fast-paced editorial approach and the slow artistic experimentation and exploration were utilised. Different points of view were used to suggest the pluralistic worldview but at the same time an emphasis was given to minimalist and uncluttered compositions that serve as a unifying underscore. The photo-shoots required a heightened coordinations of multiple faculties: managing of time and resources, continuous adaptation to new conditions, logistical issues of accessibility and permissions, 15-20 thousand steps of walking with heavy gear per day, to name a few. The photo-walks and selection of locations were based on thematic groups already established but also on exploring and experimenting with new ones.
For the editorial subjects, hundreds of images per building were taken. The initial selection narrowed them down to 30-40 and from those about 15-20 images were selected for post-processing. A natural high dynamic range editing reveals both highlights and shadows of the raw file which then is further processed in selective areas within the frame to add presence, depth and complementary lighting. The final images are then sequenced to narrate the project from context to frontal portraits to details, from exterior to interior, from daytime to dusk, with people and movement or unobstructed. For the artistic subjects, the process was not as straightforward. In locations that are visited and photographed daily by thousands of people, the challenge of creating something unique and memorable lies in giving enough time, being patient, thoroughly exploring the space, but also in the post-processing choices in the digital darkroom. The discussions, meetings and photo-walks that took place during the visits also fed into the on-going process.
The scale and scope of this project was such that the final images are meant to be viewed and used in different ways. Some sets can portray single buildings, some images can stand as individual aesthetic experiences, other images can be grouped based on their subject matter or motif, others explore urban conditions for their diversity or commonality. For this publication, images were grouped in seven series progressing in scale from the micro (details of buildings) to the macro (cityscapes). They alternate between representational and expressionistic, with some intentionally blurring the distinctions.
Even though experiencing a place for the first time with fresh eyes can be advantageous to a creative person (photographer and architect alike), the deeper memories, knowledge and connections locals have with their natural and man-made habitat over extended periods of time can be equally beneficial and inspirational. For this reason I feel very fortunate to have been hosted by locals in most of the visited cities. Being part of their daily lives while doing this project, gave me an invaluable opportunity to glimpse each location through their eyes, to have a heart-felt connection with their microcosm, and at moments, to really feel part of their élan vital.
During this 5-month trip, approximately 9,600 miles were traveled by plane, 4,200 miles by car, 1,300 miles by public commuting, and 750,000 steps walking. In total about 12,000 still images were taken from 150 buildings and locations, 65,000 images in time-lapse video, 20 meetings and interviews, and 300 hours in post-processing and editing. A lecture on editorial and artistic architectural photography, and two workshops on the aspects of architectural photography were given at the College of Architecture and Design of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and two video presentations were submitted at the ESW architecture conference in Athens. These “marathon-like” figures reflect the author’s eagerness to seize an opportunity of a life time, and his continuous admiration for architecture and iconography.
‘Integral Lens’ is a photographic vision aiming to combine a respectful representation of exterior realities with a meaningful expression of our interiority. Choosing iconic buildings as well as conventional structures and cityscapes we come across daily, is intended to share my enthusiasm for design and aesthetics, to contemplate on man’s symbiotic relationship with the material, and ultimately to trigger a more inspirational and uplifting sense for the built environment. This open-ended journey started twenty years ago with my architectural and urban design studies, spend twelve of them practicing architectural design and construction, and the last three shifting to commercial and artistic photography.
Integral photography starts with an integrally informed photographer. Wilber’s integral map is designed to be applied in different fields. For example, the ‘Five levels of sustainable design aesthetics’ by prof. Mark DeKay can also apply to architectural photography. The four essential dimensions (‘4 quadrants’) use different methods and criteria to “shape” (to design or to present) form in order to: engender experience (UL), manifest meaning (LL), maximise performance (UR), and guide flow (LR). The five levels of aesthetic complexity represent actual milestones of growth and complexity, both for the designer and the user (the photographer and the viewer). Stages of consciousness represent levels of organisation with important emerging qualities that tend to come into being in discrete quantum-like fashion. The five levels of aesthetic complexity proposed by DeKay are:
- Visual Aesthetic: beauty in form, colour, tone, structure, repetition (static).
- Phenomenological Aesthetic: beauty experienced through multiple senses, through time, including movement in space (rich full-body experience).
- Process Aesthetic: beauty in the patterns that connect, the elegant fitness and interplay between form and process, in the order of change (dynamic). - Ecological Aesthetic: beauty in things whose patterns create ecological health (higher level of ecological awareness).
- Evolutionary Aesthetic: beauty in the order of process (long-term over extended periods of time / life cycles).
Each time we operate from one of these levels we see the world differently since consciousness and existence are inseparable. Through long term practice temporary states become permanent traits. The more access we have to these stages the greater the spectrum of consciousness of the creator and richer the product of his expression.
These distinctions are like the map of a territory, but they are not the territory itself. People rarely work in such clear cut manners. An artistic product can embody multiple aesthetic levels; it can be critical or challenge our understanding or question the limitations and implications of our perceptions and actions within this matrix of reality. A more expansive analysis on the ways integral theory applies to architectural photography is beyond the scope of this epilogue but it will be further developed in volume two.
In the editorial article ‘Two-way street: the photography of architecture’, Kate Bush highlights a pivotal dialogue and exchange of ideas between European and American photographers that has defined the history of architectural photography: in 1929 the American photographer Berenice Abbott took Eugene Atget’s photographs from Paris to New York and by doing so inspired the work of Walker Evans and subsequently the New Topographics (“the baton was passed from Europe to America”). In 1973 Stephen Shore sought the advice of Hilla Becher in Germany and shortly after the Dusseldorf School at the Kunstakademie was created and dominated world photography in the 90ies (“the baton was returned”). On a much more modest but personal level, my perception and understanding of the American way has been influenced by the work of Ken Wilber, the Integral Institute and the broader transpersonal movements in the U.S. (in both the translative interpretations and transformative experiences of our zeitgeist). I had visited the U.S. once before in 2002 as I was beginning to unfold this “integral multiverse” but back then it was just for leisure and with friends and family being my guide. This time with the generous scholarship by Fulbright, I developed my own itinerary and timetable, and I got to experience a simulated version of living and working there. A non-stop fast-paced work schedule from city to city and state to state during some days; inspiring meetings, constructive dialogues and moments of reflection during other days; and above all, a heart-felt encouragement and uplifting support to continue my work.
In the acknowledgement section I express my deepest gratitude to all the people who helped me and those who participated in this project. Here I would like to give an extra appreciation to prof. Mark DeKay for his generous foreword to this book and both him and his wife Susanne Bennett for their loving support and warm hospitality during my stay in Knoxville as well as during the whole journey. I feel very fortunate to have met such affectionate and considerate souls.
This publication marks the completion of a project that started with the application period (December 2014 to April 2015), then the preparation period (May 2015 to September 2015), followed by the five months in the U.S. (October 2015 to February 2016) and then two months back in Greece post-processing, editing, and publishing; but it is not the end of the journey. It is a tree whose branches will continue to give fruits and I look forward sharing new varieties as they mature internally and externally.
May you, in viewing this visual journey, share the enjoyment of discovery and connection.