Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Architecture’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 15th October 2013 – 2nd March 2014


William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800-1877) 'Boulevard des Italiens, Paris' 1843


William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800-1877)
Boulevard des Italiens, Paris
Salted paper print from a Calotype negative
16.8 x 17.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



Another gem of a photography exhibition from the Getty. These In Focus exhibitions are just a treasure: from Making a Scene, Still Life and The Sky to Los Angeles, Picturing the Landscape and now Architecture. All fabulous. To have a photography collection such as the Getty possesses, and to use it. To put on these fantastic exhibitions…

I like observing the transition between epochs (or, in more architectural terms, ‘spans’ of time), photographers and their styles. From the directness and frontality of Fox Talbot’s Boulevard des Italiens, Paris (1843, below) to the atmospheric ethereality of Atget’s angular The Panthéon (1924, below) taken just three years before he died; from the lambent light imbued in Frederick Evans’ architectural study of the attic at Kelmscott Manor (1896, below) to the blocked, colour, geometric facade of William Christenberry’s Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama (1964, below).

I love architecture, I love photography. Put the two together and I am in heaven.


Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Eugéne Atget (French, 1857 - 1927) 'The Panthéon' 1924


Eugéne Atget (French, 1857-1927)
The Panthéon
Gelatin silver chloride print on printing-out paper
Image: 17.8 x 22.6cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



Eugène Atget made this atmospheric study across the place Sainte-Geneviève toward the back of the Panthéon, a church boldly designed to combine the splendour of Greece with the lightness of Gothic churches. The church’s powerful colonnaded dome, Atget’s primary point of interest, hovers in the background, truncated by the building in the left foreground.

In order to make the fog-veiled Panthéon visible when printing this negative, Atget had to expose the paper for a long period of time. As a consequence of the long printing, the two buildings in the foreground are overexposed, appearing largely as black silhouettes. Together they frame the Panthéon, rendered entirely in muted greys. This photograph exceeds documentation to become more a study of mood and atmospheric conditions than of architecture.


Frederick H. Evans (British, 1863 - 1943) 'Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics (No. 1)' 1896


Frederick H. Evans (British, 1863-1943)
Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics (No. 1)
Platinum print
15.6 x 20.2cm
© Mrs Janet M. Stenner, sole granddaughter of Frederick H, Evans
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



Frederick Evans’s architectural study of the attic at Kelmscott Manor, a medieval house, part of which dates from 1280, is a visual geometry lesson. The composition is all angles and intersections, formed not only by the actual structure but also by the graphic definition of light within the space. Soft illumination bathes the area near the stairs, while the photograph’s foreground plunges into murky darkness. The sharp angles of intersecting planes are mediated by the rough-hewn craftsmanship of the beams and posts, almost sensuous in their sinewy imperfection and plainly wrought by hand. The platinum print medium favoured by Evans provides softened tonalities that further unify the triangles, squares, and diagonal lines of the dynamic composition.


William Christenberry (American, born 1936) 'Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama' 1964


William Christenberry (American, b. 1936)
Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama
44.5 x 55.9cm
© William Christenberry
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



William Christenberry began photographing this makeshift wooden structure in his native Alabama in 1974. Since that time, he has made nearly annual trips to document the facade of this isolated dwelling, located deep in the Talladega National Forest. Such vernacular structures were uncommon photographic subjects until Walker Evans, Ed Ruscha, William Eggleston, and other twentieth-century photographers elevated their stature. Like the edifices photographed by Eugène Atget, Bernd and HIlla Becher, and others, the buildings Christenberry recorded in the southern United States were often in disrepair and in danger of disappearing altogether.



Soon after its invention in 1839, photography surpassed drawing as the preferred artistic medium for recording and presenting architecture. Novel photographic techniques have kept pace with innovations in architecture, as both media continue to push artistic boundaries. In Focus: Architecture, on view October 15, 2013 – March 2, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, traces the long, interdependent relationship between architecture and photography through a selection of more than twenty works from the Museum’s permanent collection, including recently acquired photographs by Andreas Feininger, Ryuji Miyamoto, and Peter Wegner.

“Architectural photography was an integral part of the early days of the medium, with the construction of many of the world’s most important and magnificent structures documented from start to finish with the camera,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This exhibition demonstrates how architectural photography has grown from straightforward documentary style photographs in its early days to genre-bending works like those of Peter Wegner from 2009.”


Beginnings of Architectural Photography

Recognised for their accuracy and precision, photographs could render architectural details as never before and show the built environment during construction, after completion, or in ruin. Nineteenth-century photographers were eager to utilize the new medium to document historic sites and structures, as well as buildings that rose alongside them, or in their place. In 1859, Gustave Le Gray photographed the Mollien Pavilion, a structure that constituted part of the “New Louvre,” a museum expansion completed during the reign of Napoleon III. Le Gray’s picturesque composition highlighted the Pavilion’s ornamented façade and other intricate details that could inform the work of future architects. Louis-Auguste Bisson, a trained architect, worked with his brother Auguste-Rosalie to photograph grand architectural spaces such as Interior of Saint-Ouen Church in Rouen (1857). The Bisson brothers produced a monumental print, derived from a glass negative of the same size, to feature the nave of the structure in an interior view rarely depicted in 19th century photographs.

A burgeoning commercial market for tourist photographs emerged toward the end of the nineteenth century. Views of architectural landmarks and foreign ruins became popular souvenirs and tokens of the ancient world. Artists such as J.B. Greene, who ventured to exotic destinations, provided visions of historic sites in Egypt, while Louis-Émile Durandelle took a series of photographs that documented the construction of the Eiffel Tower in the years before it became a symbol of the modern era at the World’s Exposition of 1889. Durandelle’s frontal view of the structure underscored its perfect geometric form, and his photographs were the earliest of what became a popular motif for amateur and professional photographers. Other noted photographers of this period included Eugène Atget, who obsessively documented the streets and buildings of Paris before its modernisation, and Frederick H. Evans, who created poetic photographs of Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals.


The Rise of Modern Architectural Photography

As the commercial market for photographs expanded and technologies advanced, representations of architectural forms began to evolve as well. In the twentieth century, images of buildings developed in conjunction with the rise of avant-garde, experimental, documentary, and conceptual modes of photographic expression.

Andreas Feininger, who studied architecture in Weimar, followed what Bauhaus instructor László Moholy-Nagy called a “new vision” of photography as an autonomous artistic practice with its own laws of composition and lighting. In Portal in Greifswald (1928), Feininger created a negative print, or a photograph with reversed tonalities, resulting in a high contrast image that enhanced the mystery of the architectural subject and removed it from its ecclesiastical context.

“The experimental spirit that permeated photography in the first half of the twentieth century inspired new ways to look at architectural forms,” says Amanda Maddox, assistant curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “As photographs could present buildings in abstracted, close-up, or fragmented views, they encouraged viewers to see the built environment around them as never before.”

At the same time the Bauhaus was influencing photographers throughout Europe, Walker Evans was at the forefront of vernacular photography in the United States, which elevated ordinary objects and events to photographic subjects. In keeping with this trend, architectural photography shifted its focus to ordinary domestic and functional buildings. Derelict and isolated dwellings feature prominently in the work of William Christenberry, whose photograph and “building construction” of Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama (1994) will be on display in the exhibition.

Architecture as a photographic subject became more malleable at the end of the twentieth century, as artists continued to explore the symbolism and vitality of the modern cityscape. This transition is exemplified in Peter Wegner’s 32-part Building Made of Sky III (2009), in which the spaces between skyscrapers in New York, San Francisco and Chicago create buildings of their own. Wegner described the series as “the architecture of air, the space defined by the edges of everything else.” When presented as a grid, the works form a new, imaginary city.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty website


Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820 - 1884) 'Mollien Pavilion, the Louvre' 1859


Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-1884)
Mollien Pavilion, the Louvre
Albumen silver print
Image: 36.7 x 47.9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



Standing opposite a newly built pavilion of the Louvre, Gustave Le Gray made this photograph when the sun’s position allowed him to best capture the details of the heavily ornamented facade, from the fluted columns on the ground level to the figurative group on the nearest gable. Paving stones lead the viewer’s eye directly to the corner of the pavilion, where the sunlit facade is further highlighted beside an area blanketed in shadow.

Though the extensive art collections of the Louvre had first been opened to the public in 1793, after the French Revolution, it was not until 1848 that the museum became the property of the state. Le Gray’s image shows the exuberance of the architecture undertaken shortly thereafter, during the reign of Napoléon III, when large sections of the building housed government offices.


Ryuji Miyamoto (Japanese, born 1947) 'Kowloon Walled City' 1987


Ryuji Miyamoto (Japanese, b. 1947)
Kowloon Walled City
Gelatin silver print
34.4 x 51.1cm
© Ryuji Miyamoto
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


Robert Adams (American, born 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973


Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 19.4cm
© Robert Adams
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



The long, interdependent relationship between photography and architecture is the subject of this survey drawn from the Getty Museum’s collection. Spanning the history of the medium, the exhibition features twenty-four works by such diverse practitioners as William Henry Fox Talbot, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Ryuji Miyamoto. Seen together, the varied photographic representations of secular and sacred structures on display reveal how the medium has impacted our understanding and perception of architecture.

In the nineteenth century, photography surpassed drawing as the preferred artistic medium for recording and presenting architecture. Recognised for their accuracy and precision, photographs could render architectural elements as never before. The intricate ornamented facade, the sprawling sunlit Napoléon Courtyard, and the classical design of the Louvre appear in magnificent detail in Gustave Le Gray’s picturesque image of the Mollien Pavilion, a structure completed in the 1850s during the reign of Napoléon III.

Photographers working in the nineteenth century documented historic structures on the verge of disappearance as well as contemporary buildings erected before their eyes. They also captured the built environment during construction, after completion, and in ruin. This photograph by Louis-Émile Durandelle shows the Eiffel Tower, the centrepiece of the 1889 World Exposition, in November 1888 when only its four columns, piers, and first two platforms were in place.

With the advancement of photographic technologies and the modernisation of the built environment around the turn of the twentieth century came innovative representations of architecture. Compositions and photographic processes began to reflect the avant-garde and modernist sensibilities of the time, and photographs of buildings, churches, homes, and other structures often showcased these developments. Andreas Feininger, who trained as an architect, utilised an experimental printing technique to depict gothic St. Nikolai cathedral in Greifswald in a nontraditional way.

Images of architecture by contemporary photographers Robert Adams, William Christenberry, and others working in the documentary tradition often underscore the temporality of buildings. Vernacular structures found in his native Alabama are among the subjects Christenberry has systematically recorded for the past six decades. By returning year-after-year to photograph the same places, such as the red building shown above, Christenberry chronicles the decay (and sometimes the ultimate disappearance) of stores, tenant houses, churches, juke joints, and other rural buildings.

Experimental and conceptual approaches toward the representation of architecture have been embraced by photographers. Peter Wegner used skyscrapers in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago as his framing devices to feature the spaces between high rises that form buildings of their own. By upending images of these canyons, he created buildings made of sky. When presented as a grid, they form a new, imaginary city.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website


Henri Le Secq (French, 1818 - 1882) 'Tour de Rois à Rheims' ('Tower of the Kings at Rheims Cathedral') 1851


Henri Le Secq (French, 1818-1882)
Tour de Rois à Rheims (Tower of the Kings at Rheims Cathedral)
Salted paper print
35.1 x 25.9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


Louis-Émille Durandelle (French, 1839 - 1917) 'The Eiffel Rower: State of Construction' 1888


Louis-Émille Durandelle (French, 1839-1917)
The Eiffel Rower: State of Construction
Albumen silver print
43.2 x 34.6cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



The Centennial Exposition of 1889 was organised by the French government to commemorate the French Revolution. Bridge engineer Gustave Eiffel’s 984-foot (300-meter) tower of open-lattice wrought iron was selected in a competition to erect a memorial at the exposition. Twice as high as the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome or the Great Pyramid of Giza, nothing like it had ever been built before. This view was made about four months short of the tower’s completion. Louis-Émile Durandelle photographed the tower from a low vantage point to emphasise its monumentality. The massive building barely visible in the far distance is dwarfed under the tower’s arches. Incidentally, the tower’s innovative glass-cage elevators, engineered to ascend on a curve, were designed by the Otis Elevator Company of New York, the same company that designed the Getty Center’s diagonally ascending tram.


Andreas Feininger (American, born France, 1906 - 1999) 'Portal in Greifswald' 1928


Andreas Feininger (American, born France, 1906-1999)
Portal in Greifswald
Gelatin silver print
23.4 x 17.5cm
© Estate of Gertrud E. Feininger
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


William Eggleston (American, born 1939) '(Untitled)' Negative about 1967 - 1974; print 1974


William Eggleston (American, b. 1939)
Negative about 1967-1974; print 1974
Chromogenic print
Image: 22.2 x 15.2cm
© Eggleston Artistic Trust
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
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Saturday 10am – 8pm
Sunday 10am – 5.30pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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