Multidisciplinary Research Program: Architecture and/for Photography

Francesca Ammon, Davide Deriu, Reto Geiser, Sara Goldsmith, Catalina Mejia Moreno, Bas Princen, Mika Savela, and Peter Sealy
Research, May 2016 to September 2017

“Architecture and/for Photography” aims to foster a broader and more critical understanding of the role of photography in shaping architecture and its discourse, from the nineteenth century onward. The project draws on 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 photography 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 pieces and series, albums and portfolios, showing the multiple interpretations, intentions, and uses of photography in different contexts.

In 1982, the CCA published the book Photography and Architecture: 1839-1939, edited by Richard Pare, our first investigation of the encounter between the medium of photography and the built environment. Today, however, the paramount power of photography as both medium and mediator in the visual culture of the digital era must be taken into account, as well as 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 a vehicle for knowledge and to critically understand the medium’s aesthetic and epistemic values, we propose to look at photography from two perspectives: as artifact and as record. First, because photographs are objects fabricated in a specific cultural context, we re-imagine the collection as a repository of specimens. Second, because photographs also document the development of architecture, we investigate how such transformations also changed the cultural significance of visual representation.

Collaborative research process

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. Following an international “call for captions” and a peer-review process, an interdisciplinary team of researchers and cultural producers was selected to work out micro-histories of the relationships between architecture and photography. Through workshops and residencies at the CCA in Montreal, the interdisciplinary team of researchers developed a collaborative, transversal approach that built on their different perspectives to question the role of photography in shaping the built environment.


Francesca Ammon
University of Pennsylvania, United States

Davide Deriu
University of Westminster, United Kingdom

Reto Geiser
Rice University, United States

Sara Goldsmith
Editor/writer, United Kingdom

Catalina Mejia Moreno
University of Brighton, United Kingdom

Bas Princen
Photographer, Suisse et Pays-Bas

Mika Savela
Aalto University, Finland

Peter Sealy
Harvard GSD, United States

“Architecture and/for Photography” (2016–2017) is the second project of the Multidisciplinary Research Program, a research initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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