by Pygmalion Karatzas
Marcela Grassi is a trained architect specialising in architectural photographer. Born in Argentina, studying in Italy and living in Spain has given her a multi-cultural development that along with her architectural background informs and enriches her perspective from the detail to the urban scale. She has collaborated with EMBT Miralles Tagliabue, MBM Architects, BAAS Architecture, Penzel Architects, Carlos Ferrater, Wilkinson Eyre Architects, among others, and her work is regularly featured in international print and web publications. Her sensitivity and meticulous approach pays tribute to the beauty of the built environment and its relationship to light and context.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Ms. Grassi 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?
Marcela Grassi: Many thanks to you, Pygmalion, for inviting me to this space next to great architectural photographers. My education started in the field of art, then I studied architecture. Photography has always been present in my family, first with my grandfather, who gave me a camera at age 10, then with my friend and master Carlos Vallejos, who explained me how to photograph architecture through his vision of the greatest Gothic and Romanic churches. I took the first architectural photos since the first year of University, and I always found it natural to observe architecture through photography, rather than drawing.
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach?
MG: I like to see architecture as if it were a drawing, an elevation, a section. I like to represent it in its highest purity, with the strength of its materials and its volumes. I like to play with daylight and shadows, creating lines and nuances, photographing an architecture within the architecture. When I’m working, I approach the building very slowly, study it carefully, listen to it, and after a while I begin to photograph it. Normally I need an entire day to make a photo session, to capture the different shades that light creates, throughout the whole day, in the architectural work. And finally it is at the moment before the night, when the illumination of the building becomes the protagonist, assuming an abstraction that hides the environment and emphasizes its qualities.
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?
MG: That is a very good question. I think the relationship of comprehension between the architect/designer and the photographer is fundamental. In my point of view, the photographer has to convey the values of the project, remarking them, and giving him his personal reading, but without imposing his ego and a forced vision that does not correspond to what the architect thought at the time he conceived it. Many times the constructing progress is full of frustrations for the creator, and I think the photographic session should be an opportunity to put aside past problems, and recognizing in the images what he wants to express. I also believe that having a background as an architect is a great advantage, because it’s easier to understand the concept and design of architecture, read the drawings, capture the three-dimensional features.
PK: Which are some of the influences to your photographic work and in what ways have they affected your approach?
MG: I have always admired Gabriele Basilico, great master of modern architectural photography. His reading of architecture in its context, his sensitivity to understand cities and society, are the traits of his work that have influenced me the most. Some time ago I met Jordi Bernadó, a catalan photographer who I really appreciate, who inspired and encouraged me to take my first steps in professional architectural photography. I like his point of view of reality, reflecting as it is, sometimes with funny contradictions.
PK: What photographic gear and post-processing workflow do you use and what are your thoughts about their role in the creative process?
MG: My photographic equipment consists of a full-frame digital Canon and various lenses, decentralized, wide-angle and zoom. In addition, carbon fiber tripod and adjustable head. If necessary, for indoor sessions I also use artificial lighting. For me it is very important to use a variety of lenses, to have a full range of points of view, from the general frame to the detail; alternating a vision of architecture more static, with the variety of frames that can only be achieved without the use of the tripod. Concerning my work process, after the photo shoot I make a selection of the most relevant images and send them to the client, then I work on the ones he has chosen. The indications from the customer on the retouching are very important to me, so they can solve eventual problems that arise during the construction, reflecting a more similar project to the one conceived by the creator. I always dedicate meticulous attention to the post-production, thanks to the advances of the retouching programs, it is possible today to give a more pure vision of the project, avoiding distractions of other elements.
PK: You were born in Argentina, studied architecture in Italy and are now living in Barcelona. How did this multi-cultural development inform and influence your photographic perspective?
MG: It is a very interesting question. My multicultural training has been fundamental to define my identity, each country where I’ve lived has left an influence on my vision of photography. From my early years in Argentina have remained the predilection for the saturated colors, the intensity and purity of the blue skies. My studies in Italy have left the admiration for the masters of classical and renaissance centuries, respect for the historical value and for context. Barcelona has given me a great lesson on public spaces, being a society more focused on living outdoors. I am fascinated by the wide variety of architecture in this city, starting from the modernist fantasies, to the austerity and sensitivity of contemporary works. I like the effervescence and freedom of this city, dressed by this beautiful Mediterranean light.
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?
MG: In recent years we have witnessed the rapid growth of online media compared to the printed media. Before, the process of viewing an image was much slower, but I think also more durable. Now we are facing a democratization of photography, but images have a shorter life, given that they are consumed very quickly and that we live surrounded by them. The great impact of social networks and the advances in the digital mobile cameras make that we are giving more value to the time in which images are realized, to its quality and detail. When the only publications were printed, I think it was easier to control the process of reproduction of the images, and the consequent rates. Now, with digital broadcasting, it is more difficult to control the path that an image makes, and unfortunately, copyright infringements. From the economic point of view, the lower possibility of paid publication is detrimental to photographers. I think the possible solution is to consider that it will be difficult to obtain more gaining from publications, and to re-adjust the rates of a photographic session with these calculations. Also, in the digital age, print magazines receive more submissions and have to choose amongst more projects, so the possibilities of publication decrease. On the other hand, thanks to online publications it is easier and faster to reach more people, and you can have a control of the spreading and effectiveness of each publication. I believe that in the future the printed publications that power through will be the ones that really give value through quality articles and impressions, while online publications will keep on growing… but they should also be distinguished by their quality of information, since competition will continue to increase.