• Ellen Fisch

The Art of Architectural Photography: Defining Place as a Memory

I often take photographs of places. I create stories of places through themed exhibits of images that communicate a specific place as I see it or as others tell me they know it. These place photographs are born of remembrances. Memories of a place and what occurred there can be kept forever as a marker of a wide spectrum of emotions. A place may call to mind unbridled happiness, ineffable sorrow, wistfulness, hope, connections with loved ones. The conscious recollection of place may also bring to mind a specific moment when life changed: a birth, death, marriage, graduation, a milestone that altered our very existence.


Some time ago the impact of place affected me very deeply. In my childhood, I had a best friend. Growing up in Brooklyn during the late 40's and early 50's was conducive to such very close relationships created by proximity. In those years, mothers opened the front door and commanded their small children to "Go play in the street!" Today, in NYC, such a parent would be harshly rebuked, but in those years it was the ting to do. I, sent outside, found another such child and we became fast friends. Our parents, after we 4-year-olds introduced them, socialized and our universe was circumscribed to one street. Others drifted in and out of our lives, but my friend and I remained constant as the North star. Then we each moved away from the street: the place of our early childhoods.


We were still quite young and while my family relocated only a few miles from "our block," my friend now lived in another state. We tried to remain in touch, nurture the friendship that had been almost our whole world, but time passed and space separated us. The bonds of our friendship remained pressed in memories and black and white, scalloped edged photos. Then one day I got a call. My friend had passed away and her children, never having seen where their mother's early childhood years had been spent, asked me if I would give them a tour of the places my friend had told them about in her rememberences. I willingly arranged a date and we met in Brooklyn.


Everything changes, yet all remains the same. As I guided my friend's children through the old neighborhood, memories flooded over me. Even though some things had changes, here a cement driveway where a garden had flourished; there a brick facade covering the worn shingles I remembered, the street looked as it had many years ago. I brought my childhood snapshots and more detailed photographs from my collection, for I had returned to the street several times to chronicle its changes. We exchanged pictures like sacred objects because these images were recounting my friend's history for her family. Although the young people I was with had not been to Brooklyn, their mother's personal oral history and my narration created the visualization of a place, a slice of her life for them.


The places in my own memory have been quite varied and each evokes its own individual and very different memories. As a photographer, I try to define place as a connection with those who see my photography. My own intellectual and/or emotional ties to a place are evidenced through angles, forms, values and composition. The Apollo's marquis, shining in the evening sky brings to mind some of the greatest music I know; Newport's mansions are remembered as waterfront "cottages;" my years at Brooklyn College remain imaged by the clock tower and Vienna will always be imprinted by Otto Wagner's architectural genius. These black and white architectural photographs are my memories. I am ever hopeful that those who see them will call upon their own remembrances of place.


“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”

Joan Didion


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