Lords of the Lens - Page 7

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


It was an architectural historian, not an architect or another architectural photographer, who convinced Rand to start taking pictures of buildings.

Esther McCoy, the Los Angeles writer who brought early attention to the work of such California architects as Irving Gill, Bernard Maybeck, the Greene brothers, and Rudolf Schindler, suggested that Rand turn his attention to architecture.

He and McCoy later organized an exhibit devoted to Gill.

A native of Los Angeles, Rand (1924–2009) was an aerial photographer during World War II and afterwards studied photography at the Art Center College of Design, then in Los Angeles.

He launched his career in 1950, and began focusing on architecture in 1952. One early and repeat client was architect Craig Ellwood, whose Hunt House, seen from the street, is nothing but two dark boxes separated by opaque glass.

Lords of the Lens
Marvin Rand's 1952 view of the Tuttle House (Thornton Ladd, architect) in Pasadena.

Rand shot the Hunt façade in a way that was equally stark, indeed unflinching. The house fills just one quarter of the image, with equal weight given to the highway in front of the house, and to the sky. We see how the ugly utility lines attach to the roof. We see life too—a flock of birds.

Besides the many projects he photographed for architects and major magazines, Rand did photo books on Greene & Greene and Gill, the Craftsman and early modernist designer, respectively.

Rand's photos are often cool and quiet, a mix of natural light and illumination, producing images with subtle rather than stark contrasts in tone and color.

In a 1957 night photo of Edward Killingsworth's Opdahl House, for example, light from the brightly lit two-story interior washes softly over a walkway that enters the house after crossing a reflecting pool. Exterior furnishings are lit from a contrasting angle. The result is a picture of great complexity, but also of repose.

This is architectural photography that does more than show a building. It makes palpable the photographer's love for its beauty.

"When he took pictures of your buildings, they came alive," Rand's friend and client, architect Lawrence Scarpa has said. "They weren't just something to look at. You could understand the building conceptually."

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