Lords of the Lens - Page 5

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


Like several of his peers, Baer (1916-1995) was as much an art photographer as an architectural one. In later years he dropped architecture for nature and landscape photography.

Yet his love for architecture was deep and comes across in his loving attention to detail—stone rubble embedded in an adobe wall, shadow patterns cast by foliage. In addition to his commercial photographic work, Baer photographed historic buildings across the state, producing books about California barns and adobes.

Baer, an Ohioan who came to San Francisco after serving as a Navy photographer under Edward Steichen during World War II, lived in Carmel and then in a modern home in Berkeley's Greenwood Common. Baer and his wife and business partner, Frances Baer, built a second home, on the Big Sur coast designed by Wurster.

For years Baer headed the photography department at the San Francisco Art Institute.

He photographed works by many of the leading modernists, notably the now-legendary Donnell Garden by landscape architect Thomas Church, in 1948. In later years he became a leading photographer at The Sea Ranch in Sonoma, which was laid out by architect Lawrence Halprin, who'd been the designer of the Donnell Garden.

Lords of the Lens
Morley Baer's 1968 shot of the Hines House (William Turnbull, architect) at Sea Ranch.

Baer often photographed buildings in a classic, clear-eyed, objective style—but he imbued them with emotion. You can almost feel his eye lingering on them.

His night image of architect Craig Ellwood's Daphne House in Hillsborough is a horizontal box glowing from within, dark lawn below it, silhouettes of trees and sundown sky above. The image is moody, placid, welcoming.

Baer's photos of the second Mark Mills House in Carmel are a calm take on an adventurous home by a Wright disciple, complete with triangular windows that open by letting the glass swing out from the bottom. Baer enlivens one interior by allowing a black kitty to play in the middle of a shag rug.

Baer's photos of Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons' Center for Advanced Study in Palo Alto, with a live oak tree writhing in the courtyard casting calligraphic shadows on the structures' boxy, homelike forms, combine his appreciation of the built and natural environment.

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