Architecture and/for Photography

“Architecture and/for Photography” (2016 – 2017) is the second in a series of multidisciplinary research projects funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This second project aims to foster a broader and more critical understanding of the role of photography in shaping architecture and its discourse, from the 19th century onwards. “Architecture and/for Photography” employs the photography collection of the CCA, which represents a long history of intellectual and archival engagement with the medium, as well as an instrumental and unique resource. Our photo collection holds over 60,000 objects produced from the invention of the medium to today, ranging from daguerreotypes to large-scale photographs and digital prints. The collection assembles individual piecesand series, albums and portfolios, showing the multiple interpretations, intentions and uses of photography in different contexts.

In 1982, the CCA published a pioneering book entitled Photography and Architecture: 1839-1939, edited by Richard Pare, our first investigation of the encounter between the medium and the built environment. Today, however, we need to take into account the paramount power of photography as both medium and mediator in the visual culture of the digital era and its reflection upon architectural discourse through mass dissemination. This (social) media turn implies that the representation of architecture, landscape, and the city has become a commodity, consumed at an unprecedented scale.

In order to rethink the relationship between photography and architecture as vehicle for knowledge and to critically understand the medium’s aesthetic and epistemic values, we propose to look at photography from two perspectives: as artefact and as record. First, since photographs are objects fabricated in a specific cultural context, we re-imagine the collection as a repository of specimens. Second, since photographs are documents of the development of architecture, we investigate how these transformations also changed the cultural significance of visual representation.

The objective of the collective research project “Architecture and/for Photography” is to understand if and how a photography collection such as the CCA’s is capable of fostering critical reflection on architectural practice, public education, civic memory and social awareness. An interdisciplinary team of researchers and cultural producers was selected in a peer-reviewed process, following an international “call for captions,” to work out micro-histories of how architecture and photography relate.

The team is composed of Francesca Ammon (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia), Davide Deriu (University of Westminster, London), Reto Geiser (Rice University, Houston), Sara Goldsmith (editor/writer based in London), Catalina Mejia Moreno (University of Brighton), Bas Princen (photographer based in Zurich / Rotterdam), Mika Savela (Aalto University, Helsinki) and Peter Sealy (Harvard GSD, Cambridge).

Through workshops and residencies at the CCA in Montreal they will develop a collaborative, transversal approach that builds on their different perspectives to question the role of photography in the shaping of the built environment.


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