Nicolas Grospierre's axonometric Manhattan
How the photographer created this amazing photograph of a modernist housing estate in Łódź, Poland
One of the interesting things about buildings – though perhaps the least academically observed - is how the scars of ageing take a toll on them, giving them character, new meaning and occasionally, a life beyond that envisaged by the architect.
It’s this process that Polish photographer Nicolas Grospierre captures so eloquently in just one photograph in our new book, Shooting Space, authored by Elias Redstone, the curator of the current Barbican show, Constructing Worlds.
If you’ve never heard the term before, here’s a brief explanation. Axonometry is a technique used by architects to show building projects in an abstract, geometric fashion (which, obviously, is inconsistent with how people actually view reality).
The axonometric view encourages the viewer to reconsider the system’s architectural properties with all the signs of age and decay captured in the photograph. Or, as Grospierre puts it: “The photograph looks like a design, artificial, yet bears signs of use, degradation."
Nicolas has made three photographs using this rather surreal method. His first was of a huge Modernist housing estate in Łódź, Poland, nicknamed Manhattan, and it’s the one featured in Shooting Space. It came about when he was invited to show by a gallery housed in this very block.
“The name of the show was In A Contradictory City so I thought it would be interesting to try and make a contradictory photograph. So I photographed the block in such a way as to make it a visual contradiction in terms,” he told Phaidon.com earlier this week.
“You see that the block has already lived. You see traces of the people in it and all sorts of signs of usage so it’s a kind of representation of something that could be a plan, but you see it after it has been used. We tend to think about architecture as something that is once and for all, whereas architecture is projecting a form to make it become something three-dimensional - the life of the building often escapes from the architect’s vision.”
“The axonometric view is something that you usually use to show or represent a building before it’s built. And photography, because it works like an eye, perceives perspective but axonometry is, by definition, without perspective.”
So how do you actually go about taking an axonometric photograph? Well, according to Nicolas the difficulty is being able to locate the correct angle.
"First of all you need to be pretty high above the building. And then, especially with a building of this kind, you need to be able to move along it in a parallel line at the same height. I was lucky enough with this building that there are several housing estates around it – in fact it’s like a forest of housing estates so I could just simply be on top of another building and walk along the roof.
"I made the pictures not at say a 90 degree angle but at a skewed angle, say 45 degrees downwards. I would then make about 50 or 60 pictures and then assemble them. The funny thing also is sometimes when people look at the picture in the book they have the feeling that it’s a maquette.”
"So that’s also the thing that I like - this kind of dissonance between something which looks quite familiar but not really familiar. It seems very simple at the same time and very theoretical. There’s something strange there. (RCA professor) David Crowley once told me that he thought it was kind of God’s eye onto the building. Which I thought was a nice formulation!”
You can read some of our other Shooting Space interviews with Stephen Shore, Iwan Baan, Hélene Binet, Nadav Kander and Elias Redstone by clicking the links. Or just head into the store and buy the beautiful book here.
We launched the book last night at Bookmarc's Los Angeles store. Author, Elias Redstone and photographers Catherine Opie, Sze Tsung Leong, Luisa Lambri and Richard Ross were all in attendance.