In the late 1960s, the New York architect Stan Ries was consulting on design and photography for the art nouveau exhibit Hector Guimard at the Museum of Modern Art, when the director approached him with an unusual opportunity to photograph the entire design collection. Given two days to decide between architecture and photography as a career, he chose the latter. “With photography, the creative cycle is much shorter, and you don’t have to have a client,” he said. “I can make the photograph and I can suit myself.”
Since that time, Ries has amassed architectural photographs from nearly three dozen renowned artists, among them Ansel Adams, Julius Shulman, Margaret Bourke-White, and Martin Rich. Over 70 pieces from his unique collection can be seen in the exhibition Architectural Photography: from 1860 to the Present at Carrie Haddad Photographs in Hudson, New York, on view through November 29. The works on display have helped Ries sharpen his own eye behind the lens.
Photographs from Ries’ collection range from English cathedrals to American skyscrapers, from antiquated architectural relics to minimalist interiors. They explore how the two-dimensional photograph captures three-dimensional structure through light, angle, and proportion. Paraphrasing the great architectural photographer Robert Lautman, Ries said the two most important things about architectural photography are knowing where to stand with your camera, and what time to stand there. “Architectural photographers do a lot of ‘hurry up and wait,’” he said. “The most interesting thing I discovered was that the earliest photographers were doing that too. The people that shot in the 19th century—there’s about 15 mid-19th century pictures in the exhibit, and they were not the straight-on Cathedral of Notre Dame,” he said.
At the same time, his collection includes work such as David Trautrimas’ surrealist compositions of household appliances as architecture. “It’s the complete opposite of the 19th-century photography, which is what appealed to me about it,” said Ries. The exhibition also contains supplementary art such as the seven- and eight-foot-tall steel columns used in sculptor-photographer John Cross’ photos of ancient ruins.
For Ries, architectural photography succeeds when it avoids two issues: generic subjects, too often prominent in travel photography; and poor framing, a symptom of content-driven street photography. “There’s a sense of design and there’s something very interesting going on in the composition. And I particularly like things that are not, how should I say, typical elevation photographs of a building,” he said. “You see the thing, and it has to grab you.”
Ries will be present at Carrie Haddad Photographs this Saturday, November 14, at 4 p.m., when photographer Norman McGrath will speak about his newly released book, Architectural Photography: Professional Techniques for Shooting Interior and Exterior Spaces. Featured photographers Richard Edelman, Harry Wilks, Chad Kleitsch, and Martin Rich will also be in attendance.