Storytellers of the Lens

New CA-Modern story delves into the muse behind today's architectural photographers
Fridays on the Homefront
For 'Telling Tales,' the lead story featured in the new fall '20 issue of CA-Modern magazine, three contemporary California practitioners of architectural photography—Joe Fletcher, Darren Bradley, and Elizabeth Daniels—reveal the 21st century challenges and pitfalls of illustrating a building's 'tale.' Above: Joe Fletcher's photograph of a high desert retreat in Palm Desert (Aidlin Darling Design, architect). Photography: Joe Fletcher

Shhhh…listen. Can you hear it…with your eyes?

Your house, and indeed every architectural structure, has a visual story to tell. To the certain delight of architecture fans everywhere, now a story in the new fall 2020 issue of CA-Modern magazine tells the story of those storytellers.

"The architects are almost like talking through their work. You can see what they were thinking," says Elizabeth Daniels, one of three California-based architectural photographers contributing to 'Telling Tales,' the revealing inside story by CA-Modern features editor Dave Weinstein.

Weinstein provides a contemporary take on the architectural photography topic, which is accompanied by a historical perspective sidebar (titled 'Lords of the Lens') about eight famous architectural photographers from mid-century California.

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Architectural photographer Joe Fletcher of Oakland.

For the contemporary leg of Weinstein's story, Los Angeles-based Daniels and two other practitioners of the craft, Darren Bradley and Joe Fletcher, describe the 21st century challenges and pitfalls of illustrating a building's 'tale,' be it tall or small.

"The profession of architectural photography, which got its start in the early 20th century, has changed quite a bit in recent years," writes Weinstein, noting, "For starters, [Julius] Shulman and his peers shot with film, and often with large, cumbersome cameras and lights."

For Darren Bradley, studying the work of Shulman and other renowned photographers helped him find his way in the field after a rough start. The San Diego resident was initially drawn to the profession by a desire to save "buildings that were about to be torn down."

"Nobody cared for the most part, because they were terrible photos," he admits of his early attempts, 20 years ago, with a point-and-shoot camera.

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San Diego-based architectural photographer Darren Bradley (pictured below) with his view of the living room in the Albert Frey House II (above - Albert Frey, architect), Palm Springs. Photography: Darren Bradley

"I began looking at the classic architectural photographers," he recalls to Weinstein of entering the field in the late '90s. "The photos didn't look anything like mine. People did appreciate these buildings when they were photographed by Shulman."

The ultimate goal of the profession for some is summarized by Weinstein as, "A good photo can make clear that a building has a place in history, and it can help define what that place is."

Daniels tells Weinstein she looks at her role as "deciphering" the architect's visual language. Even that approach did not fully prepare her to shoot the historic Hollyhock House in Los Angeles designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, known as 'The Master' of modern architecture.

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Of course, most architectural photography is done, at least in part, for real estate marketing. Every now and then, though, a shooter gets to spend a few hours, and sometimes days, illustrating and documenting the existing work of a master—or even The Master.

"I remember walking in feeling scared that I would mess up," she recalls in the story, "but the door was so inviting and easy to shoot that it calmed me down. Really, it's like a Mayan temple, especially on the roof…I've had religious experiences in these buildings."

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