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BEHIND THE LENS

Ben Blossom: an architectural photographer in the time of coronavirus

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The first in a new series giving voice to the photographer behind the lens as lockdown leaves streets deserted and photoshoots indefinitely postponed. Ben Blossom takes us on a thoughtful journey from Norfolk to Nepal

Producing the AJ involves a continuous schedule of commissioning photographers to go and shoot buildings, make short films, compile material boards and – in summary – furnish our art editor with great imagery to bring architects’ drawings and models and the text of the building studies vividly to life.

If not specially commissioned then we are always on the look out to find the photographer who has most recently visited, or most innovatively captured, the building or site in question and agree how best to reproduce their work.

Coronavirus has put a freeze on the regular rhythm of things, but we are still keen to feature and promote the work of photographers – and rather than bring you their silent imagery, we have asked a handful of regulars and those previously unfeatured some questions that explore what life as an architectural photographer looks like in lockdown.

Ben Blossom is a photographer who explores and documents the built environment, people and places. Ben has been commissioned by clients including The Canadian High Commission, Design Council, Wallpaper* Cityguides, The Sorrell Foundation and several architectural practices. Ben is a contributing photographer for the AJ, one of his best-known contributions to the AJ were his photos of Norman Foster for the cover of the AJ120 issue in 2015.

Benblossom journal 2020 february 1 2000 c


When was the last time you took a picture?
I went for a walk this morning to Turnpike Lane station which is my usual route to the office from N17. I keep a photographic journal which captures my routines and sequences of daily life. Some of the pictures frame the same viewpoints, but captured at subsequent time periods. This morning I went to capture the same view of the coffee kiosk embedded into the facade of the tube station. Here I usually buy a £1 coffee on the way to the office. Not great coffee, but I pay modestly for the morning interaction. (I’ve attached the previous shot, this morning’s shot on film still needs to be processed).

 

Students had been notified to sit 2m from one another, whilst we choreographed our movements around concrete pillars

 

Benblossom journal october2 2019 2 2000 c

Benblossom journal october2 2019 2 2000 c

Portraits of Ben’s kids on the site of his Manufactured Landscapes project

How has coronavirus lockdown affected your work?
I shot two building study jobs just before lockdown which I am working on at the moment. One was of the retrofit and re-configuration by Burwell Architects of the IALS Library, the original Denys Lasdun building on the edge of Russell Square (lead image). Law students had already been notified to sit at 2m social distance from one another, whilst we choreographed our movements around concrete pillars to find shots. However it was quiet. Even for a library.The attraction of stillness is it allows you to get considered shots and appreciate what’s in front and around you. A general feeling we all might be getting whilst currently walking the streets.

I’m working on Fridays and the weekends as I’m home schooling (so I think) two hyperactive boys during the week. We’re devising ways for them to use a compact camera and we’ve made a couple of stop frame animations (still, below).

Benblossom2

Does the potential for deserted streets appeal to you as a photographer of architecture and the built environment? If so, what is your dream location/building? If not, why not?
I’d prefer to take photographs of landscapes to appreciate isolated places. I’ve previously visited Jomson, Nepal and walked part of the Annapurna route, along the deepest valley basin in the world. I’d like a sponsored return visit and I’d make sure I take in the views properly this time.

I’ve an appreciation for deserted places having spent my early years growing up in Norfolk, down a half mile long track set within farmers’ fields. To get anywhere at any given time, you had to make the trip up the ragged flint stone track – by a rickety car lift from my folks – otherwise on foot or pedals. Every now again you’d meet a tractor coming the other way.

Benblossom jomson 8 2000 c

Benblossom jomson 8 2000 c

Deserted Nepalese landscape from Ben’s trip to Jomsom

Benblossom jomson 32 2000 c

Benblossom jomson 32 2000 c

Jomson, Nepal 

There’s little visual interruption en route as the fields either side are flat horizons, only with the odd pheasant and telegraph pole for distraction. I documented this with a series of photographs, Manufactured Landscapes. It could be a frustrating lead-in time to get anywhere, but I now value the journey times spent. Commuting time on the Piccadilly line is not the same ‘me time’ experience. I’ve since taken portraits of my kids in the same landscape.

Benblossom

 

Manufactured Landscapes series

How has the way you think about photography more generally changed?
The lockdown might encourage me to capture more of the activities and experiences within the built environment. I completed a community photography project called Villagers (commissioned by Passen-gers, Arts Council funded) which asked residents and users of the Brunswick Centre to document one another using disposable cameras. The exhibition in the Brunswick Tenants & Residents Association community room, exhibited 156 portraits. Collectively I think they offer an effective building study, as well as capturing a spirit of the place.

01 villagers bb 26 2000 c

from Villagers

We’re now more aware of the physical presence of one another in the built environment. Whilst documenting Canada House re-vitalization for Stantec, I collected a series of images of Trafalgar Square which is an iconic stage to showcase our public distancing, or closeness with one another.

Benblossom chc seq 83 2000 c

Benblossom chc seq 83 2000 c

Inadvertent social distancing in Trafalgar Square, from the Canada House revitalization project

Canadahouse obvs 85 2000 c

Canadahouse obvs 85 2000 c

A glimpse of normality, how long until which we will return, spied in Trafalgar Square through the trees from Canada House


You can follow Ben’s twitter and instagram and check out more of his work on his website; benblossom.com

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