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The shifting focus of architectural photography

The joint Archis and Photographers' Gallery debate on the relationship between architecture and photography turned into an attack on architectural magazines for an obsession with satisfying 'target groups', and failing to nurture an explorative, critical view of architectural production: factors which, Archis editor-in-chief Ole Bouman revealed, are currently threatening the magazine, committed to 'exploring architecture in depth', with closure.

As Bouman points out, architects like their buildings to appear in magazines in a flattering light; magazines like them to be photographed in context; and photographers like to introduce their own visual agenda. This triangular relationship is inevitably resolved in a safe compromise, prohibiting the development of a polemical debate around buildings. In short, photography usually serves a legitimising role in the architectural press.

However, Bouman suggests the situation is beginning to change. He pointed to the emergence of an 'architectural paparazzi' driven by the elevation of architectural 'stars' into the ranks of celebrity, and illustrated by his own experience of witnessing a photographer use a pneumatic lift to snap a new Tschumi building over the hoardings before its official unveiling. The implications of this phenomenon are an increasing 'haziness' in the status of architectural photography as a separate category, and its absorption into the general 'image culture' of our time.Architecture, like other material forms, is 'not product-driven, but consumption-driven now', and photography is 'the perfect vehicle to convey this shift'.As an example, Bouman mentioned van Berkel and Bos's use of models to animate the space of their buildings for photographic shoots, and increasing deployment of 'the vocabulary of social photography . . . to create suggestive situations'.

But at the same time, the infiltration of architecture, as well as its representation by other media - for example light and display technology and computer animation - are making it difficult for photography to maintain its monopoly as the primary medium of architectural communication.

If this is the case, it would seem that architectural magazines are lagging behind the broader visual culture, held back by the 'advertisers and marketeers'who cannot conceptualise a market that 'transcends disciplines' - except, protests Bouman, as one which is the preserve of 'cultural lunatics'.

The tremendous possibilities of a more exploratory form of architectural photography were vividly presented by the photographer- artists Ralph Kamener (recent winner of the Rietveld Prize) and Rut Blees-Luxembourg. Kamener's work portrays the 'experience of architecture as an environment', not as an 'aesthetic object', and Luxembourg's, published in a new book, Liebeslied, shows 'how architecture as a built manifestation informs subjectivity in other ways.'

The event Imaging Space: representing architecture through photography, took place at the Photographers' Gallery in London

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