When Phoenix-based photographer Andrew Pielage came to Los Angeles last week to photograph two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous California designs, the Hollyhock House and the Ennis House, he found the work came naturally. A student of desert topography and the outdoors, Pielage often compares Wright’s work to the inspiring landscapes that gave him his start, and takes similar approaches to covering and capturing his home and buildings.
“When I go through his homes, I look for intimate views and tiny details that people often miss when they look at the whole picture,” he told Curbed. “Touring these properties, where the floor is as exciting as the ceiling, has changed how I do my photography. I often switch to landscape mode and capture the floor and furniture in one shot, then take a photo of the ceiling, then stack them up in Photoshop to provide the entire view.”
Pielage’s trip, documented on Instagram, was the latest excursion in an ongoing quest to photograph all of Wright’s work. The former nature photographer has made plenty of headway, but he’s still a lot closer to the starting line, having shot 52 of the architect’s 531 projects around the world, beginning with Taliesin West in 2011. The recently demolished Lockridge Medical Center would have been number 532.
Preparation is key for the 39-year-old Pielage. Before coming to Los Angeles last week, he researched Wright’s life and frame of mind at the time of design and construction. The Ennis House was designed during a particularly difficult period of his life, after divorce and tragedy at Taliesin. Pielage wanted his work to capture that emotion.
“Wright was big on architecture and nature, building of, not on, the hill,” he says. “But the Ennis House is a castle. You drive around the front of it and you see a sheer wall of textile block. It’s totally different from his other works. That’s what got me when I started to do my research. He was trying to hide himself in his architecture a bit, wall himself off from the world.”
Access now becomes the true test for Pielage. He’s worked with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation as an unofficial photographer, and even taught photo classes at Taliesin West, so those connections, along with his portfolio, have opened many doors. But often, Wright buildings are in private hands.
“Every scenario is a little bit different,” he says. “Sometimes it’s simply me cold calling or emailing owners.”
Pielage plans to head to Chicago and Wisconsin this August to shoot more Wright designs. He’ll be working with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism for a week to photograph buildings on the state’s new Wright Trail, which stretches from the SC Johnson Headquarters in Racine to Taliesin in Spring Green. He’d love to shoot some of Wright’s other Los Angeles building, and the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the architect’s 19-story high-rise, is very high on his list.
Pielage has some fairly legendary predecessors when it comes to documenting Wright’s architecture, including Ezra Stoller and Pedro Guerrero, who began working with the architect in 1939. Pielage says he’s up for the challenge.
“I’m gung-ho here, and on board to shoot as many as I can,” he says. “Either I need to win the lottery or get sponsored.”