Adam Mørk graduated from the School of Architecture of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and worked as an architect for five years before turning his full focus on architectural photography in 2002. Already as a practicing architect at Dissing + Weitling he was photographing the firm’s projects under the guidance of Hans Dissing and Arne Jacobsen. Since opening his own studio, he has been photographing for leading European Architects like 3XN, COBE, Henning Larsen, Behnisch, among others. His architectural background brings a respectful approach to all aspects of the projects – such as composition, materials, spatial relations, people’s interaction with architecture, context; while his appreciation of the photographic medium adds a meticulous sensitivity to light and environmental conditions, mirroring those of the architectural design process itself. With a diverse technical expertise, he moves freely between the slow contemplative photo shoot style of medium formats and the fast editorial style of DSLRs giving an end result both versatile and rich in cultural documentation. His work is regularly featured in international web and print publications showcasing his deeper appreciation for the architectural profession.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Mr. Adam Mørk 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?
Adam Mørk: Thank you so much for this invitation – I have followed arcspace since it’s founding and I really appreciate the great effort you do in communicating architecture and not least architectural photography. I’m an architect by training, I graduated from the Royal Danish Academy here in Copenhagen and straight after graduation I started working as an architect, mainly doing competitions for Dissing+Weitling, the former Arne Jacobsen office. It was an office with a great tradition for photography, Arne Jacobsen photographed himself, so did Hans Dissing. I got the chance to photograph The Great Belt Bridge for the office and a few days after Hans Dissing passed my desk, placed the keys for the photo cabinet on the table with the words “It’s your turn now”. Those keys gave access to a lot of opportunities, besides a cabinet filled with Hasselblad cameras and even Arne Jacobsen’s old Plaubel, I got the chance to photograph many of their projects. After a year with over 10 competitions, I needed a break away from drawing, took a 6 month leave and never went back, but started photographing full time.
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach? How did your photographic training and skills develop over the years?
AM: My photography is based from a starting point of respect – respect for the spaces created, respect for the light entering and shaping those spaces and respect for the material used to transform, distributing and containing the light in the space. On another level, respect for the use of the space and curiosity for how people are using and interacting with the space. Last, there is a deep respect for the whole process of creating architecture, the many sleepless nights in the beginning of the projects, the endless meetings and dedication from a whole project group from the client to the architects and engineers and to the builders on site – this makes me very humble and that tremendous effort deserves more than just a snapshot. I know how many hours that goes into a good drawing or model – why treat the finished project any different?
With this mindset, I try to approach each project on its own rights – I know it sounds banal and maybe too simplified but in essence, it is more or less the same that I used when I created architecture, instead of photographing it. I like to step in the background in relation to the architecture which I try to portray using the cliché “let the project speak for itself” is not far off – but – staying in the metaphor, I’m trying to turn the monologue into a conversation, keeping it civilized and not starting to shout at each other. I have never received any training as a photographer. I started out when it was all analogue, first medium format and then 4×5” large format cameras, even from the start I always tried to include the people and their use and interaction with the projects, that could be a challenge with 4×5” and the switch to digital have made that so much easier especially when using DSLR. Lately I have start using my medium format cameras more and more again, the whole approach and the slower, more thoughtful, workflow that these demands appeals to me more and more, a bit like going back to the large format analog camera but with more freedom for experiment.
PK: In which ways having studied and practiced architecture before taking photography has helped your photographic work? And reversely, do you think photography can benefit architecture students in their education and work?
AM: The whole basic understanding of architecture and the process of its creation have not just only helped me but is the whole foundation for my work as a photographer – I still consider myself as an architect with a camera rather than a photographer photographing architecture. I have never been the type that got a camera from an early age, I got my first camera as an architecture student so my knowledge and interest for architecture and photography have always grown simultaneously, that’s maybe why I have a hard time separating the two. I’m in no doubt, that photography can benefit architecture students and even architects in their work, maybe not necessarily the finished image on its own, but more the process of creating the image – observing how the light shapes and bringing the space alive – how people interact and use the space, what is working what is not. I see it as a big privilege that I often spend more time in a building than the ones designing it.
PK: The relationship between architect/designer and photographer is at the heart of this type of photography. From your experience what makes such a relationship successful on both sides of the equation?
AM: I think it all comes down to, here is that word again, respect for each other’s work, and the ability to listen to each other. I’m so lucky that I have worked with many of my clients through many years, so we have a clear understanding of each other’s work and I’m more and less completely free to do what I want – but this freedom also comes together with expectations for the end results. So, I’m still very excited and to some extent nervous about what the whole process will bring on almost every assignment. Even that I still photograph for my first client when I started out, 3XN, I’m not taking anything for granted and try to start each project on its own rights and not from a predefined formula – I will get bored to quickly, if doing that.
PK: How do you approach a project from the communication with the client, to the on-site photo shoot, to the editing of the final selection of images? Tell us a bit more about your process in the various stages of architectural photography.
AM: This can vary a lot, from project to project, but I like to walk the course with the architect, ether on site or in their office with drawings and models – not for pin-pointing viewpoints or specific images, I prefer to find my own, but for discussing the architecture, their dreams and purpose with their approach for any given project. This often stimulates my own interpretation of the project that I’m going to portrait. Other times a just get an address, arrive with a free mind and simply take off with what is provided in front of me. The change of light during a day is the most essential aspect of my whole approach, often I have only a few minutes where the interaction between light and shadow is exactly as I want it – I see the good photoshoot as a choreographed dance where the building is the stage and the daylight is your partner, who is only willing to move forward and never back… The aspect of time, the specific freeze of time as the fundamental for the photograph itself, have always fascinated me. I like to work with this in different ways, as an example in series from the same viewpoint, where the change of the light over a day or even weeks often reveals aspects of the projects that is not shown in a single image, how does the facade reacts to the light, how is people using the space at different time in relation to the different light and so on – that interest me a lot. For a lot of projects I can’t imagine photographing them without people using it, when doing so, my images will often be a compression of time, meaning the finished image will be a collage, where the people in the images have been on the exact spot, but not at the same time, but over a period of time, sometimes minutes but can even be hours. I do this to emphasize the spatial flow of- and the specific use and interactions in the space. If I get the chance I like to photograph a project as a continuous series of images, where one image handing the baton to the next instead of a hunt for hero shots only – they will come naturally in the series but hopefully in a dialogue with other images.
PK: Which are some of the influences on your photographic work and in what ways have they affected your approach?
AM: I work with light every day so I’m very inspired by artists working with light as the medium, where the light takes completely other shapes and functions than in my own work. I admire artists like James Carpenter, Steven Scott, Olafur Eliasson and my all-time favorite James Turrell. The way Turrell can create space with no matter but light, is astonishing – he can manipulate a space, contract/expand just with light – some of the projects, mainly his sky spaces is impossible to photograph and document the change in space and appearance because it all happens in our brain as a complementary color effect, I like that as a photographer, that you can’t photograph it… can’t wait to experience his Roden Crater project first hand. As an architectural photographer it’s hard not to be inspired by the Düsseldorfer Photoschule and their approach. A photographer that have inspired me a lot is the Danish artist Joakim Eskildsen his sensitivity for light is so touching, almost too romantic, but used such a clever way for the stories he wants to tell that it leaves me in awe and very humble when looking at his big prints – the images online does not communicate this that well.
PK: What photographic gear and post-processing workflow do you use and what are your thoughts about their role in the creative process?
AM: I use different systems, depending on the nature of the project. I use Canon DSLR’s with tilt/shit lenses. Alpa cameras with Rodenstock lenses and a Phase One 100mpx digital back and also the new Hasselblad X1D system. The Canon’s forces are versatility, speed and to a certain point convenient. It covers a lot of ground with good quality – but it’s just a tool. The camera I really enjoy to use is the Alpa Max, it’s a technical digital camera, a modern version of the old 4×5” analog camera, the nature of the workflow with the Alpa slows you down – often in a good way, it makes you think twice and makes you commit to the composition in a more precise, dedicated way – This is oversimplified, but I have the feeling that when using a Canon; I take an image, with the Alpa; I create an image. The Alpa system rewards you with an unsurpassed image quality and can reproduce materials and light beautifully. I also enjoy using a drone for aerial images, not just from high up in the air, but also from maybe 5-10m height for a different perspective, quite similar as when you are viewing an architectural model up close. I will consider my post-processing work flow quite basic and straight forward – I like to let the light at the time of capture do the most. I like to remove distractive elements in the image, as fire alarms or other technical bits and pieces, that on site is hardly noticeable when being in the space, but as soon you see the 2-dimensional medium in front of you, they tend to attract far more attention than the deserve.
PK: Could you tell us your thoughts about the matter of a personal style/approach in relation to the broader currents in architectural photography?
AM: There are so many good photographers these days so having a distinct style can for sure be an advantage for getting noticed, the danger as I see it, is if you are forcing a certain style for the sake of its own then I feel it’s missing the point when talking architectural photography. In my opinion your personal style should never get in the way of the architecture – it should treat it respectfully, only underline and extract what is already there and through your style/approach you can sometime add something extra, not obvious present in the project. An example could be Walter Niedermayr’s images of SANAA’s projects, where his images almost dissolve the space and through that, almost expands it into a completely new dimension.
PK: In Lumas Gallery we find some limited edition prints from your architectural abstract series. What are your thoughts about artistic photography and the wider value of architectural photography as a cultural asset?
AM: The series from Lumas Gallery, was not intended as art in the beginning, it started out as documentation for a book about the light-art installation “77” by the artist Steven Scott. The piece is the whole underneath of a five stories staircase in an office building by 3XN, the Deloitte HQ in Copenhagen. In the process I realized together with the artist that due to the nature of the subject and how strong the 4×5” slides came out on the light table, this was a bit different than most architectural projects or art documentations. The images had a clear relation to the subject that they first were meant to document but suddenly there had a life of its own so to speak. I think this is maybe the only case where one of my assignment turns into a kind of art. Architecture is often referred to as a bound or restricted art form – some architectural projects are very close to- or is even art – but as a general there are so many circumstances that somehow dictates the outcome to a certain degree. The same, in my opinion, is true for architectural photography. It has a purpose to fulfil, communicating the architecture and the use and life that the architecture is a platform or generator for – and is therefore, kind of, important as a cultural document also and not just as a beautiful/flashy image for commercial use. I think what I’m trying to say is, that I see architectural photography as a cultural document since I see the architecture as the asset in the partnership between the two. The artistic photography is in my opinion a more “real” cultural assets on its own right. Like in Walter Niedermyr’s images of SANAA’s architecture they do not try to explain or illustrate the projects, but it’s a part of his own investigation as an artist into the perception of the space and that is what makes it so interesting and inspiring.
You can see more work by Adam Mørk here.