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Martina Ferrera: 'There is no such thing as a lasting change – change is always in progress'

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Make Architects in-house photographer Martina Ferrera muses on the cathartic experience of photography to tell a story concisely and beautifully

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.

Covid-19 has put a freeze on the regular rhythm of things, but we are still keen to feature and promote the work of photographers navigating this unusual time. From regular contributors to newcomers documenting the different facets of the built envornment.

Martina Ferrera is Make Architects’ in-house photographer. She joined the practice in 2016, and works in their graphics team to coordinate imagery for the Annual (part of their publications series) and other projects around the studio. She takes a special interest in combining documentary and still-life photography to explore material forms in architecture and the urban landscape – as exhibited in the showcase of her portfolio featured in the slideshow above.

Martina studied at the University of Roma Tre and has an MA in photography from London College of Communication. Her work has been nominated for the Foam Paul Huf Award and the Magnum & Photo London’s Graduate Photographer Award, and shortlisted for international competition Latent at Rome’s Matèria Gallery.

When was the last time you took a picture?
This morning when I went for a run along the river Lea in the Hackney Marshes.

How has coronavirus lockdown affected your work?
My role as architectural photographer at Make Architects has seen the challenges of the whole architecture community, as buildings haven’t been accessible and construction sites have been shut for months. During lockdown, I used the photography as a ‘cathartic’ experience, through both the act of taking lighthearted photographs to see how the world looks like in them and that of editing older photos that bring memories. I kept positive and I started editing a personal photographic project about people connecting through preparing food, that I hadn’t had the time to work on yet. With life being more local, I enjoy walking around east London photographing green spaces and domestic details, without trying to get drawn into ‘artistic’ projects on people-less streets.

Did 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?

In early March I started getting photos of an empty Rome from my family so I wasn’t really interested in documenting London in the same way. Although, I cycled to Southbank a few times as I was curious to look at the area during lockdown. Same as the talked-about lack of distance through constant video conferencing, I thought it was interesting how similar street life (or the lack of) has become between Rome, where I’m from, and London, where I live. All contrast of beautiful sunny days with the signs of the pandemic, people in masks and benches taped off.

Southbank April 2020, London

That made me think of my relation to architectural photography, how important it is to tell the story of how people interact with spaces and of course how buildings sit within the context of the city. I usually wait for people to move freely into the frame that I compose, into the spaces I’m photographing. They are part of the story within the composition, this is how architectural photography can go beyond portraying the building just as a beautiful product. I’m interested in documenting how buildings and urban spaces come into being, and how they are used and welcomed by the people they are designed for, so closed off areas in the city felt pretty heartbreaking. 

How has the way you think about photography more generally changed?
I think that since photography is a product of the modern world, it will constantly change and adapt with our society changing as well, so photography as a way to record our society in history or simply the development and ageing of a building will always be important and in constant evolution as a medium.

It will be an interesting moment to deeper explore the blurring between the still and moving image and probably people in architectural photographs will become even more relevant. The development in thinking about spaces for architects and designers will likely influence architectural photographers and how we document buildings. These times gave us all the chance to re- consider the things we’ve become so used to, but I firmly believe that change is constant and that we need to, and will be able to react light-footedly and creatively. In many ways, the crisis appears to have merely accelerated developments that were in progress already and now it’s time to catch up!

If any, what lasting changes to the way photographers work will result from this time?
I believe there is no such thing as a lasting change, as change is always in progress. I also understand photography as a medium of narrating the story of a building, a person, a product, independent of it being moving or still, with additional narration, or on its own. These elements will always have their place, as stories always have their place. Simply the language may change, but a story needs to be told concisely and beautifully. 

The images in the text are from Martina’s time in London during lockdown.
All images: Martina Ferrera. 


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