Yale student Kate McMillan joined the RIBA’s photographic exploration of the Alexandra Road Estate… 

Participants exploring the Alexandra Road Estate, London

Participants exploring the Alexandra Road Estate, London
© Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

As photographer Andy Day brought up during the RIBA’s Run, Jump, Shoot public workshop last week, so much of architectural photography seems to depict “post-apocalyptic visions of empty worlds experiencing seemingly endless summers.” Why is this so? Through a discussion of the transformation of architectural photography paired with a hands-on photo shoot of the Alexandra Road Estate, London, participants had a chance to challenge this idea and leave with some fantastic photographs.

Participants looking at photographs from the RIBA collections, 66 Portland Place © Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Participants looking at photographs from the RIBA collections, 66 Portland Place
© Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

To kick off the session, participants met at  66 Portland Place, the RIBA’s headquarters, to hear presentations by Justine Sambrook (Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection) and Andy Day whose photographic work focuses primarily on parkour and free running.

parkour runner

Parkour runner
Photographer: Andy Day
Image from www.kiell.com

Low-rise housing, Thamesmead, Greenwich, London: a resident relaxing on his balcony, 1970

Thamesmead, Greenwich, London: a resident relaxing on his balcony, 1970
Photographer: Tony Ray-Jones
© Tony Ray-Jones / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

Justine spoke about the history of communal housing, connecting the buildings themselves to the changing standards of photographs at the time. Through photographs documenting housing estates such as Thamesmead, Park Hill, Ronan Point, and Alexandra Road, she explained how photography went from focusing on iconic, peopleless images, to more realistic depiction of buildings in use. Participants then had the chance to handle original photoprints (such as of Thamesmead, image above) from the Photographs Collection, normally held at the RIBA in humidity-controlled storage.

Andy followed by sharing his views on successful architectural photography. He used visual examples to emphasise key ideas such as:

  • minimalism
  • empty space
  • patterns
  • texture
  • verticals
  • converging horizontals
  • geometric shapes

 

Central to this was the importance of people in architectural photography. Throughout the presentation he brought up a few interesting questions for participants to explore:

  • are architects building for people or for other architects?
  • how can the photographer incorporate people to capture more than just a “post-apocalyptic vision of empty worlds experiencing seemingly endless summers?”
  • is the photographer’s job simply to document, or should they aim to make the piece more than just the building?

 

This was the challenge as participants headed off to Alexandra Road, a successful example of a public housing estate which, as we discovered, is still a vibrant community buzzing with activity. Photographers took the chance to capture the incredible views…

Workshop participants, Alexandra Road Estate, London © Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Workshop participants, Alexandra Road Estate, London
© Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Workshop participants, Alexandra Road Estate, London © Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Workshop participants, Alexandra Road Estate, London
© Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Workshop participants, Alexandra Road Estate, London © Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Workshop participants, Alexandra Road Estate, London
© Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Workshop participants, Alexandra Road Estate, London © Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Workshop participants, Alexandra Road Estate, London
© Kate McMillan / RIBA, British Architectural Library

Overall, the day was a great success! Many thanks to the speakers and everyone who came.

Kate McMillan

 

The next RIBA workshop will be an opportunity to develop new approaches to drawing. Sky Walks and Slab Blocks takes place on 13 July 2013, it will take participants to the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle. Booking essential.

 

About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit www.architecture.com

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