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My Best Shots

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There’s not all that many. I’m not a photographer and don’t think of myself as one even though we all take pictures now. The last dedicated digital camera I had died in 2015 when I was in New York. I went to the Fifth Avenue Apple store and upgraded my iPhone. The selection of photographs here spans that transition but I don’t remember what was taken on what. With the first two photographs, I was clearly trying to recreate the feel of more professional photographs, trying to keep the camera vertical to avoid parallax, etc. The image of the Solomon R. Guggenheim is from the same position many a person with a camera has stood. I’d wanted an image like this as many stock images had a huge ice-cream van where where that white van is parked and that made the Solomon R. look tiny. Even in this image the building still looks diminutive. [“I am a monument!”] This angle is the most becoming but many a contemporary photograph is taken from the opposite corner and framed so the Gwathmey-Siegel extension becomes a background, if it is seen at all.

New York, 2015.

Here’s another attempt to pretend it was a more professional photograph even although the taxis intrude. I generally don’t like post-production so, for me, photoshopping the parallax out won’t make this a better photograph.

New York, 2015.

Here’s another building I’d wanted to take my own photograph of. With this one I wasn’t trying to be a photographer. The building and landscape here were already composed. I just took the photo.

Paris, 2019

This next was another of those lucky shots. I like vehicles in my photos of buildings but, like the Solomon R. Guggenheim, they sometimes show us how small the building really is. Low-viewpoint photos in history books had led me to expect the old TWA terminal to be far larger. I guess iconic buildings are only as iconic as their images.

New York, 2016.

Looking over images I’ve taken over the past ten or so years, many of them feature vehicles of some kind – mostly cars but also bicycles, trucks, buses and construction machinery, occasionally boats. This next image is of Gio Ponti’s first built work – a house for his parents, 1924. It’s got a bit of red, yellow, blue and green which I always think makes an image seem complete. The light is good but it’s the cars, scooters and people that I like about it. I think what I’m saying is that the context of the building is not some backdrop that exists for the sake of the building or its image. I think I’m beginning to understand that the building is always framed by things oblivious to its presence.

Milan, 2016

I’m still doing it.

Shanghai, 2021


This next was almost certainly that 2015 evening I bought my new iPhone. It’s got “shot on my iPhone” air about it. This image has no green and it’s probably that absence that makes it seem so warm.

New York, 2015.

This next photo has always pleased me because of the happy coincidence with the ferry. I’ve always thought the Sydney opera house wasn’t a floating Japanese roof on a plinth as Utzøn had explained, or even sails on yachts as Ken Done would have it, but a superstructure on a substructure.

Sydney, 2014.

I’m unsure if this next image is a great photograph or not but I was excited to have just moved into this building. This one’s a moment in time, more so now that a fifty-story building on the other side fills the gap between the buildings. Burj Khalifa is a very shiny building as there’s always some surface directing the sun towards you, and if it’s not the glass it’s the elongated curved mullions. The last rays of the day create this burnished effect.

Dubai, 2013.

More high-rise with Les Tours Aillaud in Paris. I heard this view might also soon not exist as there’s a plan to re-clad these buildings. The mosaics have been patched and re-patched over the years but I’m not hopeful they’ll be re-clad in anything comparable. We live in times where social housing is forbidden to exist, let alone be whimsical. There’s a baguette in this photo.

Paris, 2018.

A train on my way to Munich airport. There’s nothing amazing about this photo other than the absence of colour. It was the perfect thing to look out a train window at.

Munich, 2018

A bit further on I took this photograph of a combined incinerator and power plant. That summer I’d taken a photograph of it across a field of sunflowers but I prefer this one. [The North Munich Waste Treatment Plant has a maximum treatment capacity of 2,640 tonnes/day and treats all municipal solid waste for Munich’s population of 1.5 mil.). Munich has no operational landfills and all recovered energy is returned to the city as heat and/or electricity.]

Munich, 2019

Some photographs I take to remind me of certain thoughts that usually find their way into a blog post. I worry for the future when it’s possible for a building to look more natural than a landscape. I suspect the whole living facade thing exists to make a case for the elimination of the natural environment. The conical trees on the ground aren’t making a very strong case for keeping it, perhaps because they’re planted on a raised platform and not that different from the building.

Milan, 2019.

I love the glorious messiness of Moscow. The collective noun for skyscrapers is “a build-up of skyscrapers” and it’s apt. This photo is just a snapshot of a sight I thought amazing. There’s no agenda.

Moscow. 2015.

I’d been walking all day in the wrong shoes and my host and friends and I passed by here on our way to get pizza. I just pointed and clicked and didn’t give it another thought. When something fortunate happens it’s usually an accidental rule of thirds but with this it’s that black sky I love.

Moscow, 2015.

I’ve always thought the best photographs are those that can communicate something to others but not all are taken with that in mind. This next one I just took to record a moment for myself. I’d arrived in Shanghai that afternoon and this was my first night in a quarantine hotel with me not knowing where I was but glad to be there nevertheless. Anywhere I can see red, blue, green and yellow at the same time is a good place to be.

Shanghai, 2020


For most of 2017–2019 I had an Instagram account and dutifully fed images into it for an unknown number of unspecific people. The images below include what I think are my best shots but there’s also many I posted just to avoid being silent. After a while, I became aware of using these images as a form of critical comment but also, and not entirely separate from that, as a way of showing off. It became distasteful as well as onerous so I cancelled the account. Here’s my 270 Instagram postings from first to last. Enjoy them for what they are.

[Cite]

Comments

  • In recent times, I have grown to have a preference for the square format. It seems to make the photographer think a bit more about the framing. A thanks to the smart phone I guess.

    But all on display here are great. Taken as you see them.

  • Thank you Graham for another fascinating article. You certainly have a talent for casual observational photography. I certainly see myself in this post, I have had an on again off again relationship with instagram, and photography more generally, for many of the same reasons you observe. Seeing as you’ve brought instagram up, I was wondering what you make of the critical architecture meme pages which are now popular on instagram, in particular Dank Lloyd Wright? Thanks again, Sam.

    • God, how I miss some positive architecture meme page for a change! It could prove way more educational for unspecified observants. There is too much hatred everywhere

    • says:

      Hello S! I don’t have man Instagram account or a Facebook account so I can’t view DLW’s sites directly. They’ve generated enough words elsewhere for me to get a good idea what’s going on. Here’s one I just found. https://www.domusweb.it/en/architecture/gallery/2020/07/09/memes-or-it-didnt-happen.html I agree with DLW’s targets but wonder how effective the tools are. My blog visitor numbers dropped to about one quarter when I closed my Instagram and Facebook accounts but maybe next year will be back to what they were, and without any help from social media. I’m all for there being more types of voice commenting on architecture but I think people are allowed to have their fun with memes as long as there’s no danger of it bringing about any real change. I doubt my blog will change much. I’ll keep doing what I do. It was never my intention to stake out a niche position but I welcome other people making their own critical space too and arguing for it in whatever means they want to. The days of newspapers employing hotshot architecture critics are over and journalists are replacing these people. An amorphous band of internet commenters is probably better than nothing, and probably a whole lot better than the controlled flow of opinion there was before. We certainly can’t trust architects and their business-oriented approach to perception management. Thanks S for asking. Good luck to us all.

  • Wonderful collection!
    BTW, do you find time to write your posts while flying or between flights?

  • They’re all good. For me, the Munich Incinerator / Power Plant is best in show. You certainly have a knack for finding non-cliché viewpoints to shoot some icons. I was meaning to mention this before. The main opera house glazing facing the water looks like an “open eye” on the left end vault and a “closed eye” on the right. Surely, someone has observed this before like the “nun at Ronchamp”? Cheers.