Richard Bryant / Arcaid Images
By Pygmalion Karatzas
Richard Bryant studied architecture before pursuing a career as a photographer. It was a modest start of site progress shots for colleagues and friends and building studies for the Architects’ Journal. Photographing the Soane Museum for an edition of World of Interiors brought him to the attention of a wider and international press and the architect James Stirling. Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Gwathmey Siegal, Richard Meier, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid followed.
Bryant’s interest in historic architecture was fed by two New York-based magazines (House and Garden and Magazine Antiques), both of which sent him around the world to interpret such projects as the Frick Collection in New York and Scholss Charlottenburg in Berlin.
In 1991 Bryant was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1996 he was the subject of a television programme and invited to exhibit his own work at the Venice Biennalle. In 1998 Bryant was given an Honorary Fellowship in Design from Kingston University.
After the millennium Bryant looked to widen his client base, embarked upon the London project for Rizzoli, and moved from film to digital. Luxury brands, Armani, Bulgari ,Gucci and Netjets and design agency Pentagram became clients, while he still enjoyed architectural and cultural projects. In parallel Bryant has continued to pursue personal projects which include Carlo Scarpa’s Museo Canoviano in Possagno and more recently Scarpa’s Castelvecchio in Verona and various Constructivist projects in Moscow.
Early in his career, with Lynne Bryant, he formed Arcaid Images Agency. Arcaid is one of the world’s most comprehensive, privately run, commercial collections of images from all aspects of the built world, ancient to contemporary, iconic to ordinary. With over 130,000 images in their library, they represent nearly 200 photographers in over 30 countries. In 2012, they launched the annual Arcaid Architectural Photography Awards aiming to highlight the skills and creativity of architectural photographers and celebrate the genre.
In this feature we are pleased to present Richard Bryant’s photography (part 1), a sample of Arcaid Images contributors (part 2) and the winning images of the 2014 competition (part 3).
Part 1 – Richard Bryant Photography
Pygmalion Karatzas: Mr. Bryant thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss and show some of your work with us here at arcspace. Could you tell us about your background and how did you start being involved with architectural photography?
Richard Bryant: My interest in photograph dates all the way back to my childhood when I received a passed-on camera from my father who was a keen amateur photographer. I became inspired by the medium and spent too much of my school days and college days experimenting with photography to the detriment of my studies.
When studying architecture at Kingston University I discovered the irresistible and perfect combination for me of Photography and Architecture. After gaining my degree in Architecture my initial photographic clients were architectural colleagues and friends. I was quickly picked up by the Architectural press and soon had Foster, Rogers and Stirling as my main clients. At that time magazines were generous with commissioning and I was sent all over the world by Architectural Review, USA House & Garden, Domus in Italy and Ambiente/AD in Germany as well as a number of international Architects.
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach? Your career spans more than three decades. Which aspects of your work have remained consistent and which have evolved and changed over the years?
RB: For me the Architectural training accentuated my feeling for space and form. This in turn gave rise to the photographic challenge to interpret three dimensional architectural space in the two dimensional medium of photography. I think the golden tenets of my working method are to respect intuition when applied to photography. To always be aware of the often indefinable feelings of space and always, always rely on careful composition and an awareness of what to include and what to exclude in a photograph.
PK: What is your experience about the relationship between architects and the photographer?
RB: Well relationships vary as to the number of different personalities. Some clients are control freaks, some are genuinely interested and some just let you get on with it. I prefer a collaborative effort where the architect is forth coming about the design objectives and the features which are important to them but respects my expertise to attempt to fulfill those desires. Of course a lot of my ongoing clients are a mixture of architects and other companies or luxury brands but who have a clear interest in Architecture.
PK: You have worked on numerous publications from thematic collections to personal projects. One of the subtle tasks of photographers is the editing. What are your thoughts about this aspect of photographic presentations?
RB: When I am working on a project I do not shoot unless the image is useful to the aims of the shoot and pleasing to me, so nearly every shot is important. Of course they have to be edited and sometimes I have strong feelings about this but at other times I feel a third person is useful to give a different take on the resulting images. I have had clients who list whether they like an image or not, sort of a grading of the images which sounds a nightmare but, while an unusual strategy, it is not disastrous. Once I was in such disagreement that the downgraded image was one of my favourites that I suggested it should be reconsidered and moved from the bottom grading to the top and the client took another look and concurred. Later insisting that it should be both a cover image and a postcard for the location.
PK: Your personal work includes photographic essays from Veneto in Italy, a study of Carlo Scarpa’s buildings, and a Russian constructivist apartment block in Moscow. What are your thoughts about the role and importance of personal projects alongside work assignments?
RB: Personal projects are wonderful for recharging the batteries. Also I rarely get commissioned to photograph historic architecture which I love, and so the opportunities have to be self generated. I am a pretty tough task master and drive myself hard to get the images I want. I still love travel and photography so why shouldn’t I indulge myself a little.
PK: The project ‘Building with History’ started with Foster’s Hearst Tower in New York and covered many other cultural buildings in Europe and the US. Could you share with us some of your experiences from studying and capturing these cultural icons?
RB: This project continued for quite a long time and was a source of great adventure and satisfaction. The joy of this sort of commission is that although the projects are by the same architect everyone is in a completely different situation. The challenge of recording some indefinable continuity through them all was interesting. I’m not sure if I succeeded but it was great fun trying. The resulting book will be launched later this year.
PK: How did you approach the portrait of London for the commissioned book by Rizzoli?
RB: The London project was indeed daunting at the start. How do you begin such a huge project? I spent a lot of time agonising over choices of subject matter and a reasonable structure for the book. In this case simplicity won and I decided to make the structure a journey along the River Thames, from the bucolic and verdant West, following the river downstream with a few excursions above and below towards the post industrial East. This worked pretty well until I ran into the disappointing problems of bureaucracy and access to various sites and buildings. It became such a problem that I had to employ someone for a couple of years to help sort out the permissions required to get what I wanted. Despite our best efforts some wonderful locations are still missing.
PK: You approach commercial projects (like your work for Armani, Bulgari, Netjets, and luxury hotels) from an architectural perspective. How does that differ in your opinion from other types of photographic approaches?
RB: I always worked in a similar fashion with the same attention to detail and awareness of composition. Some of these projects require a more collaborative approach with clients and stylists and I have always enjoyed this. I have been lucky enough to work with charming and talented people. It’s difficult to say why these projects work but perhaps the potential clients know the sort of work I do and would not invite me to create the images if my work didn’t fit their vision.
Part 2 – Arcaid Images Agency
PK: How did Arcaid Images get started and how does it work?
RB: This is Lynne’s project – it started as her attempt to get me organized and you could say it got out of hand! I am proud to be the founding photographer of Arcaid but I am very much a silent partner in the project. I will hand you over to Lynne to answer the Arcaid questions.
PK: What is the relationship between the agency and the contributors?
Lynne Bryant: When the agency started we knew all our contributors and they were mostly London based. Now we may know their work but we know very few of them as personalities. It is always a pleasure when we can meet our overseas contributors, it really helps because you feel closer to their work. Adam Mørk is a good example, we at Arcaid had always admired his work and it was a pleasure when we met. The image that made him a finalist in the 2013 Arcaid Images Architectural photographer is one that Arcaid often uses in the agencies promotion. To me it reflects well the use of the building, it is Blue Planet by architects 3XN and the image taken at dusk, makes me think of a bioluminescent deep-sea fish.
There will always be high quality books and magazines that will pay for reproducing images but these are decreasing as are the fees they pay. As a consequence we are always expanding our client base in areas other than building and construction. We are building new relationships all the time. For example we work with a company that specialises in covers for novels, where elements are extracted from our images, as is frequently the case in advertising projects. A good example of extraction is for the luxury phone brand Vertu. Their advertising agency made a composite of many images – see the attached, the only part of the picture that came from Arcaid photographer Beppe Raso was the grey door in on the left and in the final advertisement they covered most of the picture with a keyhole, as if the viewer was peeping into an exclusive club.
Arcaid’s role is to sell existing images and not to find commissions for our contributors, that would be a completely different business. On a few occasions when I know all the parties well I will, if asked, make a suggestion. Recently a client of many years needed a photographer for the official press images for the new Philharmonie in Paris by Jean Nouvel. As usual for an architectural press shoot the building wasn’t finished, the weather was bad and no-one had considered the need for permissions from neighbouring sites, tension was high on site – oh yes, and they needed the pictures immediately and the wi-fi in the building wasn’t working. If I suggested someone I had to know them well, to know they would not only find good images amongst the chaos, to make it look finished, but also be incredibly patient. This is the sort of situation that it is sometimes best to say, ‘sorry I can’t help you’. However I suggested Guy Montagu-Pollock, he is a photographer who has worked with Arcaid and still, from time to time, assists Richard. I had handed Guy a poisoned chalice. He did it – with the exception of a crane on the exterior the viewer would never know the chaos that was around him. The Philharmonie has asked him to return on commission for them in the summer. I think that is an excellent result.
Arcaid is much more than contemporary architecture and two successful areas of the built world that we represent are homes, sites of historic interest and destinations. In each area we have some wonderful contributors for example for homes and interiors we work with News UK which is the Saturday and Sunday Times and included in our representation for historic locations are English Heritage and the Chicago Historical Society.
Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin East, 1937 © Hedrich Blessing / Chicago Historical Society
PK: Have online media change/affect the traditional dissemination of architectural works? How do you project the publication world will shift in the future?
LB: Arcaid started in the pre digital age, the time when transparencies had to be posted or couriered to publications. Arcaid does not do the job it did in the beginning. We started with global architectural press being our biggest clients. If you were an architectural photographer signed with Arcaid you effectively gave your client, the architect, the added bonus of a free public relations service.
The digital age spawned on line publications with business plans that did not include paying for content. Even when these new on-line publication began to get considerable advertising the attitude for paying for content remained the same. Architects learned how to upload and share the digital images. Photographers rarely made an additional fee for extending the licence for the client/architect to give their images to publications for free. Many photographers complain that while exposure is good it doesn’t pay the bills.
How do I think the publication world will shift? Only the best will survive – especially online. Discoverability is the big problem. There is too much content, a lot of rubbish, a lot of repeat material. It takes time to find what you really want and to collate it in a meaningful way. We don’t have the time. Print will survive and eventually beautiful books will be appreciated again.
PK: From your experience which are some key points about the business aspects of photography?
LB: Photographers MUST send clients estimates for the proposed work. As well as giving costs the estimate must give the licence that the client is buying. For example: Press release of three images, in house use, exhibitions, lectures, web site and professional awards by ABC architects only.
It should say that to proceed with the assignment the client accepts the estimate and the proposed license. If it is only written on the invoice it is too late. Too many times I have heard photographers complain that a client has sold their photographs to contractors and in one case even sold an image for advertising. Don’t get me wrong – the client isn’t deliberately trying to undermine the photographer – but why should they know any better. The photographer has to be clear about what they are offering and the client has to be clear about what they are getting.
PK: From the large archive of the agency which are your observations about the matter of personal vision/style in relation to the broader movements in architectural photography?
LB: The Arcaid Images collection is diverse. We pride ourselves on representing images of the built world of which modern architecture is only a part. It is within the photography of contemporary architecture that we see styles emerging. These styles utilise digital technology to achieve, for example, a ‘high key’ image, or considerable photo stitching, manipulating positions of people and objects. There was a lot of talk about a style that showed a building in context and not in isolation, this is less about a style and all about the use of drones.
Part 3 – Arcaid Architectural Photography Awards 2014 & Exhibition ‘Building Images’
PK: How did the Arcaid architectural photography competition idea started and what is its purpose?
LB: A brain storm in the office. We wanted to bring attention to the creatives in the background that deliver the images of architecture that give the architect their international exposure. We wanted to celebrate the art of the architectural photographer.
PK: The jury consists of architects, publishing directors, artists & curators, and photographers. Could you share with us some of their impressions, comments and critic from this year’s entries and finalists?
LB: Here is the comment from Zack McKown, partner with Calvin TsaO of TsaO and McKown Architects New York:
|Thank you for inviting Calvin and me to participate as judges. As we expected the images were nearly all were of an extremely high caliber. Choosing the top two in each category was not, however, as difficult as I expected. The main reason for that is that in each category there were usually only a couple that really succeeded in the broader purposes that you had stipulated as essential for a single photo’s efficacy in representing a building, interior, sense of place, or the use of a building. Too many of the rest tended to be more about the graphic quality of the image than about the image successfully communicating a narrative of the subject.|
PK: Tell us about the accompanying ‘Building Images’ exhibition, the reception it has received and your plans for traveling it to locations outside London.
LB: Arcaid has two wonderful key supporters that give a platform to the Awards, the World Architecture Festival in Singapore and Sto AG at their Werkstadtt in London .
Here is a nice link to info on the London event. We are in conversation with locations around the world to host the exhibition, we want it to travel. The first place we have secured is in Limasoll Cyprus at the 6X6 Centre for Photography and will open at the end of February.
PK: The competition has four categories: exterior, interior, sense of place, buildings in use. Considering the broader and more diverse scope of photography related to the built environment, do you see the competition expanding in the next years?
LB: We want to keep a strong and simple format so for now we will keep only the four categories. I believe that they encompass the key tenets of architecture. Anyone seeing the images that are submitted will see they are creative.
PK: Although fine art and commercial photography are defined and practiced differently, do you think there’s also a common ground and a trend to fuse their boundaries? How would you define fine art photography?
LB: Architectural photography is – to use the words of Zack McKown – “the image successfully communicating a narrative of the subject”. Fine art photography is an image that needs a narrative!
The exhibition ‘Building Images’ took place in London between January and February 2015 and will travel to other countries.