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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virtual Transparency, a new photography project by Ecuadorian Vicente Muñoz focuses on the beauty of architecture, but it was inspired by the mind of a poet. After he read an old conversation between French Architect Jean Nouvel and the late poet Jean Baudrillard, where Baudrillard noted his interest in the idea of transparency in Nouvel’s work. Last summer, Muñoz started to notice the beauty of capturing one building’s reflections into another—"I like to see that inanimate objects that have a little soul"—and began to focus on the phenomena, seeking it out on the facades of modernist structures in New York, and seeing a connection to Baudrillard’s ideas. The official term for the reflections, he learned from experts in curtain wall design, was "glazing distortion," and it’s triggered a series of gorgeous, abstract work. Curbed spoke to Muñoz about how he switched from banking to architectural photography, indulging in Instagram, and is love for all things modern.
How did you get started in photography? What made you want to photograph buildings?
"I come from a background in liberal arts. I studied economics, and my family worked in banking, so I was born into it a little bit. During my last semester in 2006, I took an elective course about media and technology and started experimenting with photography. It opened up a new realm of techniques and experimentation."
How would you explain your style?
"I go for a clean, minimalistic look. I have a very graphic style of photographing, I think that would be the best word to describe it. I borrow a lot from graphic design and grids."
What are some of your favorite buildings and places to shoot?
"I like modernist buildings. I moved to New York three years ago, and have tried to cover as many modernist buildings as I can. I love Mies, I love the Four Seasons, a pity what’s going on there at the moment. I’m a big fan of Gordon Bunshaft. I go downtown to see the Chase Building a lot. I love Philip Johnson’s Glass House, I love Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. I’m a big admirer of all things modern. I recently went to the Bronx to shoot a Marcel Breuer building at Bronx Community College."
What camera and gear do you use?
"I like that there are no rules. I use analog or digital, depending on what the look and feel of the images need to be. I don’t discriminate. For the abstractions project, I used a digital camera, a medium format camera with a long lens as well. I also like the formal approach. Still using film speaks of that old school feel, cherishing the craft behind the work. Like shooting and processing in a light room, there’s something to making a photo."
Any advice or tricks for improving architectural photographs?
"I would say try and keep things simple. The less busy the image is, the easier it is to read. Try to find out one point in perspective and move around. Don’t rely on the film, use your feet. When you’re using a editing program such as Lightroom, make sure you understanding your lens. Try to always remove the distortion the lens generates. There’s software called lens correction; make sure to always use it."
Favorite time of day to shoot outside?
"Very early in the morning. I’m usually out before sunrise. I like how soft the lighting is that time of the day."
Any tips for shooting buildings on Instagram?
"I do indulge (laughs). I like that perspective correction feature; get those lines straight and shoot away."
What advice do you have about getting ahead in the industry for people who want to become professional photographers?
"Make authentic work. Make true work. Originality, it’s almost unattainable. Make work that is personal to you. Have a little soul, don’t just be a replica."
Tell me the story behind one of your favorite photographs you've taken.
"First time I visited Villa Savoy, I didn’t understand the importance of the photographs I was making then until much later, when I put them on my portfolio for a job interview. They spoke a lot about me. And the person who was interviewing me at the time was legitimately curious about why I was there at that time and shooting at that space. It goes back to that idea of pushing individuality. It spoke to my true interests and skill and the ability to shoot and generate an emotion. I think photography is very much about generating emotions."