Monday, 21 November 2011

Deconstructing Environmental Photographers

The Flatiron Building or Fuller Building as it was originally called is located at 175 fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan, New York City and is considered to be a ground breaking sky scrapper. The Americans regarded the building as the icon of a city being modernized and therefore it resulted in many different photographs been taken by several photographers. I am going to deconstruct and analyse the photographs that were taken by some of the photographers. 

Edward Steichen, 'The Flatiron Building, New York' 1905

In Steichen's image of the flatiron building he added colour to the print by using layers of pigment suspended in a light sensitive solution of gum arabic and potassium bichromate. This photograph is the quintessential chromatic study of twilight -indebted with its composition to the japenese woodcuts. It is also a prime example of the conscious effort of photographers in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz to assert the artistic potential of their medium. Steichen has used a straight on camera view, looking directly at the building but from a distance, across a river. Also by having the tree across the frame this may suggest that he didn't want to focus on the building entirely. The way Steichan has used twilight in this image gives it a sentimental feel, which is different to say Gropius' image where he has an architectural approach to photographing the building.

Alfred Stieglitz, 'The Flatiron Building' 1903

Using contrast with the natural shape of the tree, bathed in snow and the evening light, the building is an element of quiet beauty creating a photograph of soft tones and simple shapes. Stieglitz argued that photographers dealt with the same concerns that modern painters considered when translating the influence of Japanese prints from painting and print making to photography which was both modern and artistic to do. He also tried to represent the Japanese wood block prints by using specific camera techniques and camera angles. Stieglitz uses the snow and trees to create a sentimental feel to the photograph, also the building becomes the background to the photograph whilst he focuses on the snow and simple shapes of the surroundings. 

Alvin Langdon Coburn, 'The Flatiron Building' 1911 

Coburn would often look down from the top of a sky scrapper to create a series of images that attempted to create pictures which emulated the cubist movement. His technique of changing the perspective of a scene by pointing the camera down also created images that had no horizon creating a more abstract image. He followed the movement of photographs looking like the visual styling of paintings by using a slight camera blur affect on the photograph. Coburn also uses a tree in his photograph like Steichen which could also represent the idea that the building wasn't the main focus of the photograph. His approach is very similar to Steichen with the lighting and camera position, creating the same outlook of the building.

Walter Gropius, 'The Flatiron Building, New York' 1928

The angle that Gropius has used in this image reveals that he found the Flatiron prow-like profile irresistibly exciting, despite the buildings old fashioned decoration. Gropius' architecture background makes him photograph in a way which makes the building look as flat as possible. Also by having a certain camera position and angle he has used focuses only on the Flatiron building making it stand out and look iconic. Compared to Coburn, Stieglitz and Steichen photographs, this image shows the building more clearly as it is the main focus of the photograph.  

Walter Evans, 'Flatiron Building seen from below, New York City' 1928

[Flatiron Building, Seen from Below, New York City]

Evans uses a camera position from below looking up at the building making it look iconic and important to the 'new modern america'. compared to Steichen and Stieglitz approach of making the building have a sentimental feel , Evans has focused on the modern feel that the building brings to the people of New York. He also uses a lamp post and sides of other buildings to create a horizon and frame for the photograph. Evans' approach and camera position is completely different to the others, creating an image which has a definite  perspective of looking up at the building from the street below. Whereas the others have simply photographed the building from a distance or straight on.

Berenice Abbott, 'The Flatiron Building' 1938

In this photograph Abbott's has captured the buildings symbolic status with her foreshortened truncated view that converted the building into an 'arrow in space'. She demonstrates her principals of documentary photography, it serves a record for the future and has content or meaning. But Abbott did not intend her content to express feelings. By using smaller surrounding buildings it shows the scale and iconic presents of the building. Like Evans she uses a low camera position looking up at the building which symbolizes the 'new america' with its  iconic building. 

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