Behind the Lens looks at architectural photographers both professional and amateur, examining how they got their start, stories from their portfolios, and tricks to capturing great design. Have a lensman in mind? Send links to portfolios (no photo files) to email@example.com.
When photographer Hadley Fruits talks about shooting architecture in Columbus, Indiana, a town that, due to the patronage and vision of local businessmen J. Irwin Miller, boasts an iconic collection of modern architecture, he uses a metaphor that would please the former owner of the Cummins Engine Company. To put the town’s collection of stellar work from a who’s who of Modernist architecture—I.M. Pei, Eero Saarinen, and Harry Weese—into perspective, he compares them to pieces of an engine, intriguing individually but powerful when taken in their entirety.
"I love the singularity of the sights, and the integrity of the entire place," he says.
Fruits, 52, who grew up in the Indianapolis area and now lives in Brownsburg, considers himself a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to photography. He fell in love with architecture during his previous job at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), which gave him access to the world-famous Miller House by Eero Saarinen, since the IMA acquired the private home of J. Irwin Miller and his family and began using it as a gallery. He’s since become an expert on Columbus. He’s taken extensive photos of the home and the rest of the world-class architecture in the small Indiana town, and even added his work to an exhibit examining the legacy of photography by Balthazar Korab, the famous lensman who worked in Eero Saarinen’s office. Curbed spoke to Fruits about the advantages of being a generalist, keeping an open mind, and how passing by a famous home can be like driving by an old girlfriend’s house.
How did you get started in photography? What made you want to photograph buildings?
"Architecture photography is fairly new to me. I did art school in Indianapolis, Herron School of Art & Design, and went up to Cranbrook for my masters, and first taste of Saarinen, which was a great experience. I’ve been interested in photography since I was a kid. My mom was a photographer for an Indianapolis paper. I ended up at the Indianapolis Museum of Art as a collections photographer for 22 years."
How would you explain your style?
"I’m a generalist. I’ve done landscapes, collections photography. I’m not sure how popular that term is right now. I think that approach has given me a lot of patience. I look for different things. It think it does allow me to come at it from a different angle. It’s been helpful for me, because at 52, I feel like I’m learning to look very differently at architecture. I’d be embarrassed to say I’m an architectural photographer."
What are some of your favorite buildings and places to shoot?
"I have the luxury of having Columbus in my backyard. I find most of my inspiration there. Indianapolis isn’t known for architecture, that’s for sure, so I can borrow Columbus to develop these skills. I’m a true Midwesterner, partial to Indiana and the landscape here."
What camera and gear do you use?
"I keep it real simple. I don’t bring extra lights or anything like that, it’s all 35mm. I have a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Again, going back to photojournaliam, I like to keep things light. It’s about looking and finding. I don’t light buildings and interiors. I like to discover things as I go."
Any advice or tricks for improving architectural photographs?
"Keep an open mind and shoot as much as you can. I’m 52 and still learning. It’s not something that’s easy."
Favorite time of day to shoot outside?
"I love being there at night. If there’s harsh lighting, I move on to the next thing. Better things come from being less stringent about planning."
Any tips for shooting buildings on Instagram?
"Instagram has helped free me up and be more open to the experience and where you are and the experience in the moment. Sometimes the most beautiful images can be the most casual. That’s what I love about Instagram. The diversity of imagery is inspiring."
What advice do you have about getting ahead in the industry for people who want to become professional photographers?
"It’s really about relationships, who you meet and the experiences you have while you’re photographing. Those are the things that push you forward. You need to keep looking and finding things that interest you. I’m interested in connecting with places that have a broader goal. When I’m photographing for myself, I’m looking to photograph things that may help other groups, such as Indiana Landmarks or Landmark Columbus, groups I can connect with while I learn as I go."
Tell me the story behind one of your favorite photographs you've taken?
"The Miller House is tough one. Every time I drive by, it’s like driving by an old girlfriend’s house. I don’t have as much access to it anymore, and it was one of the places I liked the most when I worked for the IMA. I can’t really show many of those photos now because they own those photos. It’s a lovely little diamond I can’t show off that well anymore."