The Art of Architectural Photography and the Art of the Familiar
I recently received a request for an interview from a Malaysian university student majoring in design. Very respectfully, through a series of questions, the student wanted to know what I thought of Art Deco. I responded that I love Art Deco and believe that Art Deco will always be relevant to art. Thinking carefully about the questions as to why I feel the way I do about the Art Deco genre, I understood that it was familiar to me as an aesthetic I grew up with and deeply admired as a child. For that matter, Art Deco, with its geometric shapes and designs, is easily recognizable to most everyone anywhere. Art Deco is based on the rudimentary mathematics we learn at a young age in school. It echoes the straight lined forms of our lives and the everyday encounters with building, transportation, networks of communication and so forth. In other words, Art Deco artists, architects and designers take the familiar and create the dynamically beautiful art that can translate geometric shapes and lines into art. (Of course, math in its own way is art, but that is a different topic.)
So then, if Art Deco is familiar, is that cause to love the genre as I do? I think so. From the beginning of time, artists have been devoted to recreating, communicating and expressing their art through the familiar. Monet did not simply paint water lilies because because he loved them. They were familiar to him in his water garden in Giverny. That he created the garden or that it was specifically planted as inspiration matters not. Monet, over and over again, painted the beautiful blooms, leaves and reflections as well loved subjects. This repetitive return to subject has been a mantra of many notable artists who either are commissioned to paint certain themes (John Singer Sargent's society portraits) and/or artists who see something in a subject they wish to capture again and again (Constable's landscapes). The well-spring may also be from the imagination of the artist (Botticelli's paintings of mythical subject or Munch's psychological themes). Whatever the reason, the artist may explore, out of necessity (commission painter to the court, such as Velasquez) or desire (Henri Fantin-Latour's flowers) or sheer enchantment (Disney's animated animals) art that is based on familiarity with the subject.
Art Deco themes have existed from the cave paintings, and probably before "discovered art." The visual appeal of intricately interlocking forms attracts me as it does so many others. I might spend a long time in Rockefeller Center simply looking at the exquisite friezes, details and murals. The Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and many other spectacular examples of Art Deco architecture have captured my attention almost every time I am in Manhattan. I use these building motifs repeatedly in my architectural photography. However, the brickwork and stone Art Deco architecture I grew up with in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx is just as fascinating. It is familiar and I return to it again and again, searching for new insights and opportunity. And, the more I search for the new and unique, the more I return to find ever original aesthetics in the familiar.
Here are some of the Art Deco buildings I cherish and return to for inspiration, appreciation and pure aesthetic enjoyment: