In Focus is Archinect's series of features dedicated to profiling the photographers who help make the work of architects look that much better. What has attracted them to architecture? How do they work? What type of equipment do they use? What do they think about seeing their work in blogs?
In this feature, we talk to Paul Raftery based in the South of England.
What is your relationship with architecture? What drew you to architecture, as a photographer?
I was brought up in the shadow of the famous Brutalist “Tricorn Centre” (by Architects Owen Luder and Rodney Gordon) in Portsmouth. I even remember the nightclub at the top of the building - I photographed it as part of my A level project so the signs where there early on about my interest in the urban landscape. I never realized that 20 years later I would be living in the Unite d’Habitation in Marseille working as a professional photographer shooting architecture.
I left Portsmouth to study Fine Art in Nottingham in the UK, specializing in photography and film making. During this period, I was drawn to photographing the urban environment and a lot of my student work was shot in cities - in fact, a lot of my degree show was shot in cold war Berlin. This continued when I left college and moved to London. I was artist in residence photographing on the Isle of Dogs in London during the period of development there. Looking back, I have always found cities inspiring, London, Marseille etc. Shooting new buildings is one manifestation of that interest.
Describe how you work... who are your clients?
The way I work depends a lot on the client. Some clients have very particular needs or vision for their project and of course I help to fulfill that vision whilst also trying to add something extra. Some clients give me free rein and let me shoot the project as I wish. Most magazines that I work for let me get on with it.
Clients are anyone who needs professional images of the built environment. It ranges from architects to developers to engineers. At the moment, I have been shooting a lot for engineers and larger construction companies such as Bouygues. This may be a consequence of making a couple of films about the building of iconic London buildings, The Leadenhall Building and The Shard.
Do you mostly work in a specific region? What is your travel schedule like?
I work around the world shooting where ever interesting buildings are being built. That said Europe takes most of my shooting time. I try if possible to travel by train in Europe if the project is quite close, in France, Belgium most of Germany for example. I love this slower meditate form of traveling, it kind of fits architectural photography. I shoot nearly every month in Paris - I used to live in Paris and shoot for my old clients there and UK architects who are building there. I shoot in Berlin about every three/months. I have several personal projects on the go there.
What is your goal when capturing buildings in photographs?
To combine the wishes of the client with my responses to the building. Satisfying the client and their brief whilst also being free and intuitive enough to shoot the aspects of a building that I like.
What are your thoughts about including people in your photos? Is it important to photograph a building in use, or by itself?
I am agnostic really. Before the rise of digital I used to shoot 5x4 trannies and because of the technical limitations of shoot sheet film it was very rare that people ever featured in architectural photography. Now it’s much easier photographing with a digital DSL and it’s become very liberating. With some projects it can really help to tell the story of the building. I shot a Maggie’s Centre in Newcastle a while back and I think it was very important to show how the Centre helps cancer sufferers. On the other hand if a client wants a more formal style of photography or if the project is very sensitive and it’s not appropriate to shoot people then a more formal approach is easy to enact.
What are your favorite pieces of equipment?
Canon DSL’s cameras. I can shoot stills to a quality which is as good as 5x4, I can make 4k time lapse videos and I can shoot regular video plus it fits in as hand luggage in a plane - what’s not to like! The new generation of tilt and shift Canon lens are pretty good too.
Do you work alone?
I shoot still architectural images alone whenever possible. It’s a singular occupation which calls for quiet thought and so I prefer to be alone. When I shoot architectural video’s, I work with Dan Lowe. Dan is a film maker who brings his experience in film making and editing to my architectural eye - I think it works well.
How do you feel about seeing your photographs on blogs and websites?
By and large I think it’s part of the job: it’s my function to produce images when I have been commissioned by architects which can be used on social media, that creates interest and discussion about a project. I do get a little fed up with people ripping my images that I have shoot on an editorial budget and start using them though.
Paul Raftery - Bio:
Paul has been working as a photographer for over twenty years and has exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, in New York and at the French National Architecture Centre in Paris.
His worked has led him around the world working for some of the most reputable architects and magazines including; Roger Stirk Harbour and Partners, Cullinan Studio, Blueprint and The Architectural Review.