Lords of the Lens - Page 4

8 great architectural photographers—mid-century California was their domain


A house could hardly get less pretentious than the Gregory Farmhouse, a 1927 rustic structure with doorways that open flush to the dirt ground.

It was designed by a young man, William Wurster, who would go on to define modern Northern California architecture, making a name both with the structures he designed and his influence as an educator.

The farmhouse also helped define Bay Region architecture, not because people saw it—it was in a forest above Santa Cruz—but because images shot by Sturtevant (1903-1982) appeared in Sunset and House Beautiful magazines in the early 1930s, then in many other publications to this day.

One of the first photographers to build a career around architecture, Sturtevant worked closely with Bay Area modernist pioneers, including Wurster, architect Gardner Dailey, and landscape architect Thomas Church, just as the first truly modern residences were being built in the Bay Area in the 1930s.

He shot for Wurster for decades.

Lords of the Lens
Photographer Roger Sturtevant is represented here with his photo of the Herspring House (1948 – Henry Hill, architect) in Ross.

Sturtevant got his start in photography while in high school in San Francisco, as printing assistant to Dorothea Lange, who would go on to win fame for photos documenting farm workers during the Depression.

During that time Sturtevant shot thousands of photos for a federal jobs project for photographers, creating straightforward yet evocative images of historic buildings.

Sturtevant, who won an American Institute of Architects award in 1960, got his photos published in all the leading magazines, often in Architectural Record.

Unlike photographers like Julius Shulman, whose photos could become "choreographic compositions," author Pierluigi Serraino writes, Sturtevant produced a "stern representation of space with natural light and virtually untouched settings."

His photos could be dramatic. Sturtevant, who shot dozens of modern schools for Ernest Kump and other architects, turned hallways and playgrounds into almost abstract compositions of lines and shadow, with groupings of students to provide a human touch.

Like every architectural photographer, Sturtevant shot a wide variety of work, from high rises to tract homes designed by Anshen and Allen at Gavello Glen in Santa Clara, and a custom-designed home built by Joe Eichler in Atherton.

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