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Strike a pose

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people - At this year's AJ/100% Design seminar, photographer Tim Soar will discuss his new AJ series that combines architectural photography, portraiture and reportage

Do you see these images (a selection of which are shown on pages 26-34) as capturing a moment in time, or as capturing the essence of a practice - or both?

They are very much a moment in time; light, lives, ideas and practice are constantly on the move. I seek only to react to the moment and the forces that shape that moment.

Has taking these pictures for the AJ changed the way you approach your work?

I have learned to place greater trust in my intuitive reaction to image-making, to relinquish some of the control I have previously exerted. Basically, to have more fun and enjoy the extra dimension of the relationship that the sitter and I are making.

Has the picture-perfect 4 x 5 transparency had its day?

The beautiful, sculptural, highly controlled large-format image of purity and delicious aestheticism is definitely here to stay. As long as photographers and their patrons enjoy seeing, making and paying for these images, they will be made. Breathtaking photography is an essential part of conveying the spirit, aspiration and art of architecture.

In layman's terms, tell us about the equipment you used for the portrait shoot (and its approximate cost).

The equipment for this shoot is a basic professional digital camera, compatible with 35mm-system lenses. The lighting is an American import miniature electric-flash system, all connected to Apple Mac computers. Together, I guess, it all cost around £20,000.

Which of the images are you particularly proud of - and why?

The image I am happiest with is the shot of Burd Haward [this week's front cover], although I have enjoyed making all the images.

The day in Shoreditch is memorable because of the fun we had, the conversation, the connection we made. I was able to bring together all my experience and insight, a sense of how the light was working, the volume and shape of the space, the desires and passion of Buddy [Haward] and Catherine [Burd]. The shaft of light was perfect for a matter of seconds - we built the making of that image to peak at that precise moment. Happily, the whole process felt easy, relaxed and joyful, with none of the stress and anxiety that normally accompanies such precious moments.

Tell us honestly: to what extent are these images staged?

All of the images are a conceit; highly staged, structured and composed. Simply, after making images for over 20 years, artifice, conceit and vanity are embedded in my image-making. I 'see' in a very particular, architectural and formal way; every photograph I make will be 'staged' in the sense of theatre, musical composition or drawing, simply because it has become such a part of the person I am and the way I express myself.

Do you find architects difficult to work with (both as subjects and clients)?

Architects are rarely difficult to work with, and all of my sitters have been an absolute pleasure to photograph. If there is a difficulty in working with an architect it can be because the desires and passion for a particular result are so great. If a problem occurs, it's generally a communication breakdown - when a relationship is working well, communication is effortless, with a great deal of trust, honesty and respect.

Architects tend to fancy themselves as photographers. Will digital technology spell the end of professional architectural photography?

Architects may fancy themselves as photographers, just as I often fancy myself as an architect, but I hope I am wise enough to understand the complexity of the nature of both professions, and the skills required to master both. Great architecture deserves great photography - neither are easily done. Both require commitment, passion and sacrifice.

The qualities that you need to excel in both disciplines are rarely found in one person.

What do you think is the most difficult shoot you have ever done?

I am blessed with my commissions, rarely encountering 'difficulty'. Of course, each shoot is approached with a 'belts and braces' mentality, so I am mostly over-prepared and over-equipped for any problem that may arise. Any difficulties are purely a matter of logistics, and hopefully resolvable.

If you hadn't been a photographer, what would you have been?

I was born a photographer.

How did you get into architectural photography?

I grew up in Cambridge, so it helps to have fantastic architecture as part of your day-today environment. My father (a lawyer) has a passion for urban planning, architecture and design. Growing up, our house seemed to be full of architects and we enjoyed books on architecture and design, and great furniture by Eames etc. I guess I just feel comfortable working with design. It's generally a much more fulfilling area to explore than some avenues in photography.

Who are your photographic heroes?

Paul Strand, AndrÚ KertÚsz, Irving Penn, Ezra Stoller.

Which do you consider to be the best AJ cover you've ever taken?

My best AJ cover will be the next one.

What's your favourite building?

My favourite building, and probably the one that convinced me of the power and transforming potential of great architecture, would be Richard Rogers' Pompidou Centre. My father took me there when it opened, and I can honestly say it opened my eyes to an architecture for and of its time; an architecture that expressed the hopes, desires and positive values of the generation that built it. My wife and I honeymooned in Paris - in part so we could soak up its energy, optimism and spirit.

Who do you think are the architects to watch?

Every architect has the potential to be the next great thing. All it takes is tireless energy, brutal personal honesty, relentless outpouring of heart, spirit and soul, and staggering intellectual accomplishment. Simple really.

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