Question Beauty

Posted in Vol 13 No 4 by bsaab on November 4, 2010

Photographs by Filip Dujardin

Photographs by Filip Dujardin

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Now that nearly everyone has given Photoshop a try, if only to fix red-eye, we have all learned to question the authority of the visual document. But the problem of photography predates photo-editing software and lies in its inherent plausibility—its “deceptive impression of truth,” as the American Heritage Dictionary defines the term, or its “really truthy lies,” as photographer Tim Griffith observes.

It’s hard to imagine what path 20th-century Modernism might have followed without the presence of the camera. Manipulated reality is at the core of the relationship between the two: the mere act of framing a view edits an experience. But early practitioners—Hedrich Blessing, Ezra Stoller, Julius Shulman—went further, posing and styling their subjects much like fashion photographers. Their work irreversibly married Modern architecture and commerce—selling individuals on a lifestyle and corporations on a sophisticated brand.

The path of 21st-century Modernism will be very different, partly because its visual transmission will be different. Technology has moved us beyond manipulations of scene and lighting to manipulations of subject and image. Soon, videographic 3-D technology will be commonplace, enabling manipulations of experience.

Striding into this technological free-for-all is Belgian architectural photographer Filip Dujardin, who has embraced the truthiness of photography to create a series of “fictions,” turning the process of documenting architecture inside out. Dujardin imagines structures, which he builds as cardboard or computer models, and then searches the cityscape of his native Ghent to photograph buildings that will serve as his materials. The resulting montages are simultaneously beautiful, disturbing, and provocative; even the most structurally improbable become plausible in the age of the Koolhaas CCTV tower. Other artists are exploring the manipulation of architecture through Photoshop, but perhaps none combines both technical mastery and knowledge of the subject to make the unlikely so convincingly real.

View the work (select his "Fictions" series under "Work.")

As Dujardin’s work gains more recognition, it is hard to imagine that its unreality will not influence reality. Much as Julius Shulman’s photograph of the Case Study House #22—the icon of Mid-Century Modernism with its dramatic cantilever framing two women perched improbably over a nighttime Los Angeles—fostered countless imitations of Pierre Koenig’s design, the architectural concepts presented in these images will undoubtedly find their way into actual buildings. The falsehoods of Shulman’s photo—the furniture was on loan, the women were models and not owners—never mattered. That Dujardin’s constructions exist only in one man’s mind won’t matter, either.

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  1. Letters « ArchitectureBoston said, on February 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    […] the “UnModern” issue, seemed unsurprised, but sadly shook their heads at the buildings in Filip Dujardin’s photographs. I had to tell them that they were fictional. Tells you something about how Modernist architecture […]

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