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BEHIND THE LENS

Jim Stephenson: an architectural photographer in the time of coronavirus

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In the latest in a new series giving voice to the photographer behind the lens, Jim Stephenson – whose work centres on human interaction with architecture – takes a break in order to allow for new reflections

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.

Jimstephenson

Remember going to concerts and live events? Marlborough College’s Memorial Hall by Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt and Diamond Schmitt Architects

Jim Stephenson is a regular AJ contributor; a photographer and film maker based in the UK, working worldwide. After studying Architectural Technology and working in practice in the UK and US, he turned to photography and film making.

His work is marked by a keen eye for human interaction with architecture and the built environment, be it the occupation of space or the traces left behind. His photography and films lean to a documentary style and he has cultivated a meditative process capturing the small, fleeting moments of people and light in architecture.

His photos and films cover work by architects such as Zaha Hadid, Assemble, Herzog & de Meuron, dRMM, Frances Kéré, Peter Zumthor, Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners, Sou Foujimoto and many more, including a number of exciting new and emerging practices. Jim regularly shoots for the AJ and his work has appeared extensively in print and online publications. For the last few years he has made films for the AJ of the RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist and the AJ Small Projects Award winner.

Cityofglasgowcollegeriversidecampus reiachandhall  webres 1

Cityofglasgowcollegeriversidecampus reiachandhall webres 1

Busy places captured in earlier days; City of Glasgow’s Riverside campus by Reiach and Hall

When was the last time you took a picture?
The last photoshoot I did was on March 17th, a few days before the lockdown came in. Apart from the odd snap of my cats on my phone, I’ve not taken a photo since. I know a lot of photographers who are making some really tender images of their life at home or the area they live in as a means of understanding what’s happening, but my motivation has always been to use photography as a tool to investigate architecture, so I’ve slowed down with making images and turned to editing old work instead. [Jim has been sharing highlights from old work on his instagram]

Photography changes as we change and every image reflects the photographer and their emotions

How has coronavirus lockdown affected your work?
Like a lot of people, it’s had a massive affect on my work. I think that photography and film making is important but there’s no way you could describe what I do as an essential service. It’s been a month since my last commission and as of today [17.04] I have 22 shoots that have been postponed. Being self employed means that without commissions I have no money coming in, so I’ve taken a part time temp job in admin for a friend’s company to help pay the bills (and to give me something to do…).

Londonbridge grimshaw webres 2

Does the potential for deserted streets appeal to you as a photographer of architecture and the built environment?
To be honest, leaving home to photograph spaces because they’re empty doesn’t appeal to me that much right now. There’s a curiosity in that uncanny ‘28 Days Later’ cityscape and the way architecture operates without humans present to be the protagonist, but not so much that I have the desire to pack up and travel somewhere for it. My work usually focuses on the way people interact with architecture and the built environment, so it’d be a very different way of working for me [see a busy London Bridge by Grimshaw left and below].

Londonbridge grimshaw webres 1

How has the way you think about photography more generally changed?
This is the first time in my career I’ve had the time to reflect and revisit my archive. It’s a difficult time, but I’m trying to make the most out of the chance to slow down; a process I have actively been fostering in my practice for several years. My interest in slow film making and photography has reflected the ideas of meditation, contemplation and observance that I have been studying. The interesting time will come when I can safely start working again.

Photography changes as we change and every image reflects the photographer and their emotions in some way. I think the images being taken now, and for the next few months (even after lockdown), will be a fascinating social and historic document even if they don’t appear to be directly documenting the crisis we’re currently in.

Fosters bloomberghq webres

Fosters bloomberghq webres

Office life as normal, some months ago, at Foster + Partners’ 2018 RIBA Stirling Prize winning Bloomberg building

Following the AJ’s coverage of ‘architecture’s poet-in-residence’ LionHeart, Jim has collaborated with the poet on a short film in which LionHeart discusses his route into architecture and poetry and the power of architecture to heal – which, with Jim’s permission, we reproduce here:

Follow Jim on twitter and check out his website clickclickjim.com

Lead image: Tate St Ives by Jamie Fobert, which Jim filmed for the AJ when it was nominated for the Stirling Prize in 2018.

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