Laurian Ghinițoiu Interview
Laurian Ghinițoiu was born in Romania where he also received his training in architecture. Moving to Germany he completed his Masters in 2014 at Dessau International Architecture (DIA) and worked for two years. Soon after he shifted his focus on photography as an instrument for the documentation of architecture and travelling around the world for self-initiated projects and commissioned assignments. In a span of a few years his images have received distinctions in international architecture photography competitions such as Arcaid Awards (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018); Sony Awards (2016); and the Architecture Photography Awards (2017, 2018); and published on Architectural Record, Phaidon, Domus, A+U, among others. He is also teaching photography seminars at the DIA and workshops in architecture schools, and co-founded another : with filmmaker Arata Mori. His approach patiently searches for visual and decisive moments where the designed and informal elements of the built environment coexist in an objective yet empathetic gaze. Through this curated selection of images Ghinitoiu takes us on a journey around the world balancing physical and social themes of the contemporary urban landscape.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Laurian, thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss and show some of your work with us here at arcspace-com. Could you tell us about your backgrounds and how did you start being involved with architectural photography?
Laurian Ghinițoiu: Thank you Pygmalion for inviting me! I moved to Berlin in 2014 and worked in an architecture firm for a year after graduating from the DIA. Within the lapse of a week I found out that I wouldn’t be working at the firm I was employed at. At the same time, I got an e-mail from Wolfgang Buttress, designer of the UK Pavilion at Expo 2015 in Milan: “Good morning Laurian, we just saw your photos! They are very beautiful! We already have a lot of images, but yours are special”. I was drawn into the unknown. I could have easily turned away, but I decided to take the risk and look for my own way. What seemed very scary at the beginning transformed into a way of living, which suited me very well – a camera, a backpack, and continuous travelling. Fortunately, as an architect, all my travels were around architecture, which was mostly in the background of my photographs. Now, it became a continuous journey which gave me a more complex understanding of architecture and the world. Due to my approach, I don’t think of myself as an architecture photographer, I still consider myself an architect whose work is focused on documenting topics around the built environment.
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach?
LG: I would say that it is almost a journalistic process, where the camera is just a tool used to document and analyze the built environment. An objective approach, very contextual and atmospheric, focusing on materiality, scale and people, with their daily habits and behaviors. I’m exploring the edge of designed and informal architecture, and looking for the moment where the two meet and harmoniously coexist. I am trying to put architecture in time and context with as many layers as possible, from small and punctual examples, but also to urban scale research spread all over the world. It became more than a job or just a passion, it is already a lifestyle. Since I consider that my career has just started, I’m in the process of defining a series of topics that I’m interested in, which will end up as books and exhibitions (I could mention few – belonging, transition, living, temporary, reuse etc).
PK: From your experience what makes the relationship between architects and photographers a successful one?
LG: In my opinion, a photographic documentation starts when the design ends. I’m quite independent and very curious to explore architecture and its surroundings, and always trying to show the whole picture through my work. In other worlds, as photographers, we have the chance to visit many places and projects (sometimes being the first ones there), and that comes with a big responsibility to be objective and honest with what we find. I take in consideration any guideline or suggestions as an input to my photographic work. Based on my experience of understanding architecture and the built environment, I always take my freedom to adapt the results to my vision and to what I find there. I strongly believe that a successful collaboration has to start with mutual trust and respect for each other’s work.
PK: Which are some of the influences to your photographic work and in what ways have they affected your approach?
LG: Everything I interact with is a source of inspiration especially when I travel – the people I meet, stories I hear, places I randomly discover. My first interaction with photography started almost randomly, discovering the countryside of Romania, its informality and the simple life around the household, atmosphere and light. The architectural experience is the base of almost everything I do now, photographic or not. My student projects were always questioning and provoking the limits and the existent context – physical or not. That gave me a certain understanding of what is now my photographed subject. Perhaps less directly, currently I feel inspired by the work of Junya Ishigami and Asif Khan. The visuals of Andreas Gursky, or by David Hockney’s atmosphere in his architecture paintings. I also find inspiration in Iwan Baan’s lifestyle and his work or Vivian Maier’s street ‘snapshots’. The list can go on.
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 or similarities?
LG: I don’t think there is any difference. I approach every photographic project with the same energy and excitement. Commissioned or not, I document designed architecture with the same passion and energy as a refugee camp or a slum as an informal built environment. The most exciting moment is when the two extremes meet and coexist.
PK: Could you tell us your thoughts about the matter of a personal style/approach in relation to the broader currents in architectural photography?
LG: I am not sure what are the trends, but I know how I approach my documentation. I always plan and explore the subject and look for the unexpected. I search for day to day moments and unique situations that can be easily found in time. I place myself as a witness that can tell a story about the space, the context, and the behavior of the people as a reaction to the built environment. I look for the edge of the designed & informal, from the built elements till the spontaneous actions; the temporary and permanent; the known & unknown.
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?
LG: I like to be present or even progressive, and make use of the tools of the moment. I use any app that make my life/travel easier, from car-sharing / co-living etc. I am also trying to own less and less physical objects in order to be more flexible. Whenever one needs to go more into detail, one still looks for a printed book/a physical library, but that will become less and less available as everything is being digitalized now.
In terms of work I believe in both. I started my photographic career by sharing it online, which got me into printed media. It’s very clear that printing is slowing down, but doesn’t that make it more special?
Nowadays, Instagram plays a big role regarding the relation between user and architect. In order to understand how people are using their projects, OMA inserted onto their official website an Instagram feed, where content from random users is shown. It is a research tool, and the result can be an input in their new design. Platforms like Archdaily/Dezeen/afasia are making articles with Instagram posts as they circulate faster, before any press release (see burning man or long-waited design as the new National Museum of Qatar NMoQ)
If print slowly dies, the “Mega Pixel” is not so important anymore, the equipment is smaller and more affordable – already, any phone owner is able to provide photos directly to the media. The architect will not be any more in control of how their stories are curated and told. At the end, the shared content will make the general architecture perception to be more honest and authentic.
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.
LG: If it’s a commission, the communication is very simple: I get the name of the project, the address, and a contact person (when it’s needed) who is helping me to open any door. Commissioned or not, I stop when I consider that I have everything that’s important and each frame is special and tells a story by its own. Otherwise, I do everything by my own.
Regarding post-production, as I’m always on the road, my temporary office can be anywhere: bus, taxi, airplane, train, or a sidewalk edge. Because of that, most of my post-production is primarily about selection in order to focus on storytelling and basic editing.
PK: What conditions allow you to take your best photographs and what are the challenges in your type of work?
LG: I believe is very important to be flexible, and to be able to adapt to any situation that can occur, even if it’s just a logistic issue or within the act of shooting itself. What helped me a lot was my spontaneous way of doing things, my intuition and sometimes the courage to go outside from my comfort zone, but also empathy in order to know how to react to a sensitive context.
My photography work exposes me to contentious subjects such as elitism, poverty, income disparity, political agendas, and environmental problems. It was very challenging the first time I had to deal with these extremes. Hopefully through my collection of moments, it will give to the viewer more empathy whenever they encounter such situations in their daily lives.
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?
LG: I cannot relate to my work as being commercial, and definitely not fine art. According to the context or people’s interest, the same photo can be part of an exhibition or as a standalone piece in a private collection, and at the same time it can be used to talk about a specific series/theme/idea/work/detail by the architect or by the owner of the building or by any other 3rd party.
PK: In collaboration with filmmaker and video artist Arata Mori, you have co-founded “another :” to “blur the border of space, architecture, art and image”. Tell us about this collaboration and the ways you want to combine videography with architecture?
LG: I’m able to capture movement and time, but I often felt that photography is too rigid and unable to represent space. I always wanted to push it further and experiment with video and add another dimension to architecture but I didn’t have the knowledge. Meeting Arata and starting another : came very organic. He has an interest in architecture and the built environment, his father is an architect, actually he was named after Arata Isozaki.
Although another : is one year old, we have already established a tool and a vision, and we are confident that our results can bring something new to the field. Besides that, we are now in the research phase and we are focusing on some concrete topics around the built environment and we will start soon to develop them.
You can find out more about Laurian Ghinițoiu’s work here.