Art

The art of architecture and photography

by John L. Tran

Contributing Writer

Japanese photography of architecture has played a major part in helping to move photography as a discipline out of its own semidetached enclave and into the palaces of high art. The current exhibition at Archi-Depot, “A Gaze into Architecture: Phases of Contemporary Photography and Architecture” features the work of 13 artists, of whom more than half are Japanese. All the work is exceptional.

With limited space, the exhibition only has a few works by each artist, and the curatorial direction is more aimed at showing different ways of seeing. Accordingly, there is a provocative contrast of the restrained and formal with the experimental and experiential. At the formal end of the scale are, for example, images by Candida Hofer and Naoya Hatakeyama, whose precision and sense of ordered composition are intensely gratifying.

Hofer’s images of famed architects Herzog & de Meuron’s 2017 Elbphilharmonie Hamburg building are, characteristically, both literal and contemplative about what the building may represent in the greater scheme of human cultural activity. Hatakeyama’s black-and-white images of experimental collective housing in Montreal designed by Moshe Safdie for Canada’s Expo 67 sympathetically show off the controlled complexity and rhythm of the architect’s vision.

Other works on show take a more tangential approach to expressing the experience of architecture. Conceptual artist Mario Garcia Torres’ series on fellow Mexican Luis Barragan’s house and study does not feature the building at all, but juxtaposes recipes of some of Barragan’s favorite dishes with pictures of the garden of Casa Luis Barragan. This oblique homage to the architect hints at his rejection of international modernism and a return to regional values.

An image from Tomoko Yoneda’s late ’90s series “Between Visible and Invisible,” which viewed key historical texts through the spectacles of their authors, also asks us to consider the architect’s outlook rather than a building, and shows some of Le Corbusier’s lecture notes through his trademark thick round frames.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s blurred and dreamlike portrayal of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in Poissy, from his series on modernist architecture, is here of course. It is one of the biggest exhibits, and its grand, gorgeous technical perfection is only exceeded in size by Takashi Homma’s images of Oscar Niemeyer’s tropical forest retreat, the Casa das Canoas in Rio de Janeiro.

Homma’s giant prints are pinned to the walls of the gallery without frames, and so do not hang completely flat. In the context of architectural photography being usually hyperprefectionist, the color of his prints is off, and the lighting of the building is a mess. They also break with architectural photography etiquette by including a person; specifically, a member of the cleaning staff, who can be seen hosing down the pool area.

Homma’s intentionally less than pristine presentation style is also a key aspect of his other work in the exhibition, which is the 101-minute long video “After 10 Years.” The architectural component in this work is Geoffrey Bawa’s infinity pool at the Heritance Ahungalla resort in Sri Lanka, but the video mainly deals with the 10-year anniversary of the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.

Though relatively uncomplicated from a cinematographic point of view, there is a lot to unpack in Homma’s work. It observes, unfavorably, the vulgarity of a Christmas party for the predominantly white hotel guests, the clean up afterward by the Sri Lankan staff, who have to contend with storm rains making its way into the lobby, and then a Buddhist ceremony of remembrance for the disaster victims. An interview with a pool mechanic also features, in which he attributes his survival of the 2004 disaster to being Buddhist.

Admission is pricey, but also includes being able to view the concurrent exhibition of architectural models “Unbuilt: Lost or Suspended.” Still, it’s a shame that more works could not have been included to give each artist greater representation, but Homma’s video alone provides plenty to consider in respect of the relationship between nature and artifice.

“A Gaze into Architecture” at Archi-Depot Museum runs until Oct. 8; ¥3,000. For more information, visit archi-depot.com.