Danica O. Kus Interview
Born in Slovenia, Danica Kus studied photography in Belgium at Rhok Academy and Ecole des Arts d’Ixelles. Her passion for photography grew in the darkroom and after working for a Slovenian architectural magazine she decided to focus on architectural photography. The poetics of space, innovations in sustainability, the process of restoration, temporary exhibition spaces are among her interests. Working on commissioned assignments and personal projects, her work is regularly published and exhibited in solo and group exhibitions. Images are part of the permanent collection of Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Rodin Museum Paris, Bibliotheque National de France, and private collections. She has received numerous awards in international photography competitions; and has documented the Serpentine Pavilions since 2009. Her appreciation of timeless architecture is evident throughout the documentary, editorial and expressive typological approaches she deploys seamlessly.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Mrs. Kus 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 backgrounds and how did you start being involved with architectural photography?
Danica Kus: Thank you very much for the invitation. I am a freelance architectural photographer working for architectural practices, architectural magazines, also for companies that specialize in restoration works and other techniques.
I have entered the photography world in 1999 when I moved to Brussels. I wanted to learn more about photography since I was working in an advertising agency in Slovenia, my native country. In Brussels, I studied photography at RhoK Academie. I was especially excited to work in a darkroom when the image came out of the chemicals. That was a magic moment for me and from that time on I have been very devoted to photography. I’m glad that I had a chance to work with analog cameras, and to experience developing black and white films and making prints in the darkroom. That was an important part for me in learning and understanding photography.
At the beginning of my photographic practice, I was working for Slovenian architectural magazines. With an architect friend, we were looking for interesting contemporary buildings in Belgium, especially in the Flanders region where a lot of new developments were happening. We discussed the idea and concept then I photographed the projects, she added the text and then the articles were published.
It was a special feeling when our project appeared in architectural magazines, also with cover page images. This was a great motivation and a great source of new energy for my future work in the field of architectural photography.
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach?
DK: As an architectural photographer, I am interested in photographing architecture, which pushes the boundaries in a sense of innovation and solutions for sustainability. I am also interested in architecture as space, as poetry.
I like to explore the unique identity of the space. Through photography, I became aware of how to pay attention and how to feel the atmosphere of the space. I became very sensitive on things I have never paid attention before: the play of light, sound, smell, temperature, structures, rhythm, and material. Sometimes I feel that I am able to get connected to the building and then I try to create an imaginary and ambiguous space with my camera.
PK: Which are some of the influences to your photographic work and in what ways have they affected your approach?
DK: Many great photographers from the last century and also contemporary artists and architectural photographers have inspired me. I would like to mention Edward J. Steichen and his photograph of The Flatiron building taken in NYC in 1904. It’s a beautiful image for me, very atmospheric and mysterious. For that time it was a newly completed skyscraper. I’m impressed by the mood, composition, and color. My inspirations are also Bauhaus artists. I like very much the powerful image of Bauhaus photographer Herbert Bayer named “The Lonely Metropolitan” which can be interpreted in different ways. It is a photo collage and shows two hands and eyes of different persons. The idea behind is about the alienation in the city, living anonymously in the building of flats and willingness to integrate into the city.
PK: Some of your projects are self-initiated while others are commissioned assignments. Can you give us some examples from each type and highlight some of their differences and similarities?
DK: My work is divided between personal projects and projects for clients. I can say that I photograph the buildings and spaces with the same passion when the work is either for a client or my personal work. The excitement is not always the same, but even in less interesting places, there is always something to search and to be creative in order to find a way how to approach the project. For example, images of restoration works can be very poetic and beautiful. Usually, I document a building from the beginning of restoration until the completion. It is interesting for me to follow the whole process and see the evolution of the space.
PK: Could you tell us your thoughts about the matter of a personal style/approach in relation to the broader currents in architectural photography?
DK: It is always a great pleasure for me to discover new spaces, in a building, city or a country. I am particularly excited when I enter a space where I can feel how the light touches the walls and floors and creates a special atmosphere, new space, and new architecture. That is what I enjoy very much and I am happy if I can translate these feelings into photographs.
PK: What photographic gear and post-processing workflow do you use and what are your thoughts about their role in the creative process?
DK: I work with DSLR camera Canon EOS 1DX. I use different lenses, also Canon Tilt-Shift Lenses. I prefer working with the available light but rarely use artificial light. I do postproduction with Photoshop and some other software. A photographic gear is not so important for me. I think that the most important thing is the photographer’s imagination and how the photographer sees and presents the built environment.
PK: What are your thoughts about the shift from print to online media? How has it affected the way architectural photographers work and how do you see the field changing in the future?
DK: Personally I prefer to look at printed magazines and books. On the other hand, the shift from print to online media has a lot of advantages. The news about new buildings reach a much broader audience and quickly. More people are aware of great contemporary architecture and they become more interested in architecture. Tourists, for example, don’t visit only historic buildings but also new architecture and they are excited about taking photographs and posting them on social media. There are also many different ways for architectural photographers to present their portfolios on different online architectural pages.
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.
DK: Good relationship and communication with a client is very important. It is very helpful if I have a chance to visit the site with the clients and listen to their explanation and expectations. I try to realize the commission work as soon as I can. Sometimes the photo session should be postponed because of weather conditions or some other reasons. After the photo shoot, I prepare my pre-selection and deliver a set of images for preview to the client. After their selection, I retouch and deliver the final high-resolution images.
PK: You have been photographing the Serpentine Summer Pavilions these past ten years. Tell us about your experience from this showcase of unique temporary exhibition spaces and how you observed people’s interactions through your lens?
DK: I have been documenting Serpentine Pavilions since 2009. Since then I wanted to point out the uniqueness of each pavilion, new architecture, design, and connection to nature within the park and connection to their visitors. I have been inspired by their high aesthetics and technological achievements.
I shot the first summer pavilion in 2009 designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the Japanese architectural practice SANAA. It was delightful to photograph the reflective metal structure standing on tiny columns and reflecting the park surroundings. I remember that it was difficult to stop photographing because the aluminum structure was changing in relation to the time of the day and weather conditions. It was also a pleasure for visitors to take photos and be creative.
PK: Your portfolio includes both editorial and personal projects (like the ‘Poetics of Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture’ and ‘Infinity by Tadao Ando’, among others). Tell us in which ways your personal work supplements your photographic vision and expression?
DK: With my personal projects I try to present the space as an emotional experience. The photographs from the series “Poetics of Oscar Niemeyer’s Architecture” were made in Spain (Avilés), Brazil (Niteroi, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Sao Paulo), and France (Paris, Le Havre). I have been photographing the unique buildings of legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer for several years. Inspired by his originality, pure aesthetics, graceful curves and expressive details I was captured in the world of his timeless architecture. I was not concentrated on the realistic architectural object as a whole but I was searching for the characteristics of the space, its atmosphere, and form enriched by light. The rhythms and proportions of white concrete inspired me when I was walking through his buildings. The constructed forms appeared to me as sculptures, dignified by light.
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?
DK: New technologies will bring more and more mechanical solutions without a human touch, but I hope that architectural photography will remain because each architectural photographer understands and presents architecture on her or his own way…so maybe in the future architectural photography will appear more in art.
Danica O. Kus website: https://www.danicakus.com