On the sidelines of the Territories and Landscapes exhibition presented at the Galerie d’architecture de Paris until May 27, two of the most renowned Quebec Canada architecture photographers who have been collaborating with architect Pierre Thibault for several years confide in the links they have with architecture and architects like Pierre Thibault, discuss their approach and what feeds their creativity.
Photographing architecture, by Alain Laforest
Having the chance to work on the long term with an architect allows an in-depth understanding of his work.
This is the very great pleasure I have had with the architect Pierre Thibault, over 20 years of collaboration and friendship, and this is what I wish for all architectural photographers: a long collaboration with an excellent architect.
Seeing the germ of an idea develop over the years and projects, and becoming a strong signature of its architectural expression, having been able to photograph this evolution in its different phases, provides a guide in the photographic approach and gives a guideline to be continued. In the case of Pierre Thibault’s work, it is the increasing importance of nature, of the territory, of the relationship of the architecture with its environment which imposed on me a very broad approach which starts from afar, to focus on the subject. It is a question of discovering the architecture nestled in its broad setting, most of the time in a natural environment.
In the climate and geography of Quebec, it can become an extreme sport! Photographing an ice installation, at night, by minus 28 degrees Celsius and in large 4 x 5 format (while the architect and his little family were waiting for me quietly by the fireside); to attach myself to a tree, at the end of a ladder, to succeed in capturing a house perched hidden by the trees… photo practice is not always easy.
Obviously these acrobatics are rather exceptional, but you still have to deal with light, cars, trucks, poles and other urban ugliness and time constraints.
You also have to know how to develop your architectural sensibility with a price to pay: a deep aversion for the horrors that are implanted almost everywhere, devoid of any vision and architectural quality. On the other hand, there are moments of pure euphoria during shots where architecture and photography meet to generate magnificent images, moments when photographic emotion is triggered at the same time as the shutter!
Personally, I had the chance to work at the Canadian Center for Architecture (an important architecture museum and international research center based in Montreal) for more than thirty years. In the photographic department that I managed, I saw thousands of architectural documents, old books, plans, drawings, models and photographs from all countries and all eras from the 15th century to now. The frequentation of these works of great historical importance and of great aesthetic quality has certainly contributed to developing my understanding of architecture and has heightened my sensitivity to the built environment. The eye must nourish itself to develop.
It is also necessary to underline the importance of the personal research which nourishes the visual acuity of the photographer. Beyond the simple commercial contract, it allows you to maintain your artistic sensibility in all of your practice and to keep yourself fresh for each photo to be taken.
Architectural photography goes far beyond the simple representation of a building. Current or historical photographic documentation, whether it is a large commission such as those sometimes given by governments or cities, or by grouping existing photos, allows a better understanding of the world in which we live. As the Quebec writer Jacques Ferron said so well, architecture expresses a civilization.
Maxime Brouillet, architectural photographer
Questioning what is given to the gaze means confronting not only an easily identifiable reality, but also “thought, memory, imagination, fantastic or alienated content. This idea comes from Luigi Ghirri.
The photographer approaches projects in a reverie close to wandering, discovering space. Aware of the privilege he has of visiting exceptional places across Canada, he tries to capture all possible angles, all postures of observation, to offer them to curious eyes. From these movements, the interpreter of the photographed monument emerges.
The projects of the Atelier Pierre Thibault, in particular, have given him many opportunities to explore spaces in relation to nature. The observable changing qualities direct the photographer’s choices, depending on the season, the landscape offered, the presence of the occupants or the designers. This accumulation of experiences through the multitude of possible landscapes offered by Quebec echoes the memories of travels. It is the intimacy of a place, its atmosphere, which dialogues with the observer. But this atmosphere is not there to wait, it can be provoked, built up during other collaborations.
It is essential to mention that to transpose all these layers of perceptions, time is imperative. The time to discuss with the actors of the project, the time to walk around, even on site, the time to share doubts, the time of expectations, the time between seasons, the time to play, the time to place, the time to move, time to see, time to go up, time to go down, time for a clearing, time for rain, time to move away and time to cultivate a connection with the architects. This is why mandates are not commands, but twists in a long journey.
Maxime Brouillet remains very curious about this question that torments him: does photography generate architecture? To be continued…
Territoires et Paysages
from April 15 to May 27, 2023
11 Rue des Blancs Manteaux, 75004 Paris, France
Open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Lecture by Pierre Thibault at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal on May 9 at 7 p.m.