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Architectural dialogue


Hélène Binet: Cornerstone At the Shine Gallery, 3 Jubilee Place, London SW3 until 1 June

In a recent text written to accompany a photographic study of the play of shadows at Le Corbusier's monastery of La Tourette, Hélène Binet described her work as a 'process of reduction', saying: 'In the process of taking photographs of architecture, I want to move away from the idea that you can represent architecture with photography' (AJ 2.5.02).

This is, of course, a very different attitude to that inherent in the imagery normally used in the profession's books and journals.

Binet claims that, if the relationship between architecture and photography has proved to be productive, it is not because of the technical proficiencies of large format photographic documentation, but because of the degree of estrangement between the two disciplines.

The current exhibition of Binet's work, in a commercial gallery off London's King's Road, emphasizes product rather than process. But it presents an interesting quartet of contemporary architects: Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Peter Zumthor (see picture) and Dom Hans van der Laan.

All the images imply a hermetic fusion with architecture - the wider, surrounding context is completely excluded. Most are interior details, while Hadid's Land Formation at Weil am Rhein is shot at night, it concrete forms embedded in an impenetra ble mezzotint black. The disorientation o the close-up is unremitting. There are no overviews, no complete architectura objects, just one endoscopic slice of light shadow and matter after another.

The exhibition is not, however, simply a sequence of formal, abstract composition procured from architecture. The best image attain an experiential fullness, reflecting a heightened awareness of ambient condi tions. Bodies apprehended in movemen appear in the images of Zumthor's therma baths at Vals - fragmented views of the user of the space, recorded as trace elements.

As the title 'Cornerstone' suggests, a well as portraying architecture's primary forms, Binet searches out spaces where th stylistic traits of an individual architec meet with the universal elements of buil structures. This infers a pursuit for th emotional essence of a building, which steers representation away from th crescendos of design, in the belief that a certain order and sensibility might persis quietly at the margins of a space.

This strategy is not without risk for th architectural photographer - blurring th distinctions of stylistic signature in a milieu where the creation of identity is often o paramount concern. Indeed, at Shine, th hanging would seem actually to support a certain confusion of identities. The transi tion from Libeskind's spaces to those o Hadid is particularly ambiguous.

This is indicative of the privileged posi tion that Binet has earned, that her work ha achieved dialogue as opposed to simple doc umentation.Both Hadid and Libeskind hav written eulogies to Binet. Hadid in particu lar claims that these images have directly influenced her thinking, that they hav enabled her to advance the more fugitiv aspects of design, toward increased aware ness of 'phenomenological complexity' - spatial tension, defamiliarizing light effects atmospheric variables.

The significance of Binet's photograph lies in the subtlety of the equation estab lished between the photographic medium and the architectural object, a slowly calcu lated contract drawn up between architectural space and the chemicals o the dark room. This work is not about th creation of architectural details, but th reduction of the degree of contras between architecture lived and architec ture represented.

Robin Wilson writes on architecture, art and landscape

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