Architecture and photography: disruptions in the politics of architectural meaning making 1925-1960
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date04/07/2020
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This thesis explores the changes in architecture’s use of photography in the wake of photography’s rise to an independent, artistic medium in the 1920s through an analysis of the distribution and characterisation of architectural photographs. Research into the relationship between architecture and photography has so far tended to focus on how the discipline of architecture incorporated photography into its production processes, often emphasising the visual qualities of this relationship. This thesis turns instead to the usually hidden politics in the distribution and reception of architectural photographs and aims to explore if and how photography challenged architecture’s processes of production. Relying on a theoretical framework that brings together Walter Benjamin’s elaboration on the changing relationship between art, architecture and photography and concepts from Jacques Rancière's political aesthetic theory, the making of architectural meaning comes into view as a complex process of social and aesthetic negotiations. Emerging as an independent source of meaning, photography disrupted the mechanisms and hierarchies that constituted the traditional apparatus of architectural production, thereby initiating a fundamental change in the character of the discipline of architecture. Focusing on the period from 1925 until the late 1960s, which coincided with the emergence and professionalization of architectural photography as a specialised genre, my thesis traces how photography as an independent source of meaning became an intrinsic and valuable part of the production of architecture. It furthermore shows how, at the same time and for precisely the same reasons, this created friction as photography undermined architecture’s sovereignty over this production process. To explore this shift, I analyse three individual cases: Firstly, the ways authors make reference to photographs in articles from the architectural magazine Der Baumeister between 1925 and 1932; secondly, the case of negotiations between architects, author and publisher on the selection, presentation and rights to use photographs in the making of four books of the Blaue Bücher series during the same period; and finally the dispute between Lucia Moholy, Walter Gropius and various publishers and authors in the 1950s concerning Moholy’s expectations to be recognized and compensated as creative originator of photographs that depict designs by Gropius. Using these cases to trace the changing understanding of photography and the reassignment of its role and place in architecture’s production and distribution processes, the thesis exposes an intricate process of aesthetic and social ordering that concealed rather than mediated the unresolved tension between architecture and photography. The thesis finally proposes that, in order to engage photography’s productive interference with architecture more actively, it instead becomes necessary to acknowledge this tension by making photography fully visible as an independent source of meaning making in the architectural production processes.