In Translation
Erieta Attali. Lard Buurman. Rory Gardiner. John Gollings.
Written by Curator Felicity Martin

This essay is currently presented in partnership with the Auckland Festival of Photography Online Programme, as part of the 2022 festival theme Disruption [raruraru].

In Translation, an exhibition presented as part of the 2021 Ballarat International Foto Biennale, explored the approach of four leading contemporary photographers, Erieta Attali (ISR), Lard Buurman (NLD), Rory Gardiner (AUS) and John Gollings (AUS) whose careers have taken them across borders to some of the most unique public and private spaces where they translate, narrate and showcase the language of architecture and the built environment.

2021 Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Artistic Director and CEO: Fiona Sweet
Exhibition Curator: Felicity Martin
Artists:Erieta Attali (ISR), Lard Buurman (NLD), Rory Gardiner (AUS), John Gollings (AUS)

Architecture through the lens

In Translation is an exploration of the aesthetic, technological and philosophical decisions and devices that photographers and artists employ to translate architecture and the built environment.  

Photographers have been making buildings famous through their iconic images for decades. Bauhaus artists of the 1920’s elevated architecture through their abstracted images of light, form and perspective, capturing vignettes of the built environment. Architect, Harwell Hamilton Harris successfully raised the profile and public perception of his buildings by commissioning surrealist artist Man Ray to translate his architectural language through black and white photography in the 1930’s.

The relationship between the architect and photographer is a unique collaboration where one artist interprets the theories, ideas and aspirations of another, capturing a narrative and history of our built environment. Many of the intimate private residences and public spaces in faraway places, are often not accessible. Instead, we experience the language of the architect through architectural photography which is disseminated across mass media platforms.

The pandemic has altered our experience of these spaces, we have been restricted to our borders and our homes in our new masked normal. This has changed the way we relate to public spaces, where we once met on mass. Once exotic locations are now sites for discomfort, social distancing, alienation and disconnection.

In Translation exists outside the gallery context, occupying a community space in the Ballarat GovHub, one of the latest significant architectural projects to alter the streetscape of Ballarat. Ballarat is ‘aesthetically and architecturally significant as an outstanding example of the 19th century provincial city centre representing the development of modern urbanism, initiated by the 1850’s gold rush in rural Victoria.’[1]

John Wardle Architects, designed Ballarat Govhub as a workplace for over one thousand people and represents new thinking in office design. The exhibition is in the Catobeen Building, where the Lower Civic Hall once stood. Named after Ballarat’s Traditional Custodians and Wadawurrung ancestor Catobeen, also known as Queen Mary of Ballarat, we are acutely reminded of how colonisation and rapid urban development has irrevocably displaced our First Nations peoples.

In Translation explores the journey of four leading contemporary photographers whose careers have taken them across borders, to the peripheries of the globe. In these private and public spaces they translate, narrate and capture the language of architecture and the built environment. Each photographer; Erieta Attali (ISR); Lard Buurman (NLD); Rory Gardiner (AUS) and John Gollings (AUS) has developed a unique language exploring architecture in context. Attali’s beautiful images reject the notion of context, rather she explores architecture as landscape. Buurman and Gardiner consider the figure in context, however their approaches are very different. Buurman explores the figure as infrastructure and is interested in capturing the energy of space using cinematic devises while Gardiner uses the figure to translate scale and mood. Gollings, on the other hand aims to represent the full context of the building in one single hero image. What binds these artists together is their passion for their craft, questioning of traditions, the eagerness to traverse treacherous locations to create memorable, stunning and inimitable images of our built environment.

[1] (City of Ballarat, 2015)

Erieta Attali

Erieta Attali is an Israeli architecture and landscape photographer who works with many of the world’s leading architects, producing images of the built environment that challenge conventions. In contrast to traditional photographic representations of architecture as static objects in space, Attali’s focus is on capturing the transient spaces between built environments and their surrounding landscapes, which she explored in her PhD at RMIT in Melbourne.

Attali considers this two-way dialogue capturing the narrative of light and place through time, viewing the landscape and architecture as one. Instead of isolating and extracting the architecture, there is no distinction between object and its environment, the architecture is the landscape. She is concerned with capturing the identity of place, choosing climatic conditions, atmosphere and light as her inspiration.

This unique view was influenced by Attali’s early training in antiquity where she photographed tombs and archaeological digs. The architecture is imbedded in to the landscape where the site is crucial to the reading and significance of the architecture.

In Translation exhibits work from Attali’s key collaborations with architects Kengo Kuma and Marc Mimram. Attali’s images of French architect and engineer, Marc Mimram’s Solferino Bridge, France and Kehl Bridge Strasbourg captures the atmosphere where the architecture dissolves and disintegrates into the environment.

 “Through my lens I began to follow the lines in space, the curves touching down softly on the ground only to take off again. I chased the illusory spaces reflected through the voids in the water but also the real ones, fuelled by a vision of deeply democratic public life.”[2]

Attalis’ series of photographs capturing Kengo Kuma’s, architecture in glass,Water | Glass, Atami, JP, 2002 and Miyazaki Garden Terrace, Miyazaki, JP, 2014, are studies on mapping the edge and capturing the infinity of light. Here the architecture is erased, and instead we witness the climatic transitions of the landscape through glass.

Attali arrived in Paris just as the famous city of love was heading into pandemic lockdown. Paris 2020/2021 Echoes of Absence is a series ofimages that capture the romantic melancholy that washed over the restricted movements of society.

“Erieta Attali’s hauntingly beautiful body of architectural photography over the years was based in a paradoxical counter current. She photographed with film, rather than digitally, and favoured a Linhof camera – as heavy and demanding to use as it is remarkable for its precision – pushing it to exposures of even several hours with a f32 setting, returning to the origins of photography in a sense to achieve the subtle combinations of timeless architecture and passing luminosities and reflections that characterize her impressive body of architectural photography, often organized into carefully planned campaigns of documentation. But suddenly the situation had changed and the new iPhone she had purchased in Tokyo a few months before her Parisian sojourn was to prove the instrument for rapid deployment. The French capital’s rapid pivot towards lockdown that transformed city life overnight just days after she arrived to begin an artistic residency led to an unplanned project.” (Barry Bergdoll)  

[2] (Attali, 2019)

Lard Buurman

Lard Buurman is a Dutch cinematographer and photographer who searches for new and hybrid forms of photography, constructing his images as a storyteller. Buurman does not photograph architecture and the built environment for architects, rather the built environment and public space is a recurring theme in his work. This public space is occupied by people first, buildings, architecture and infrastructure are the backdrop to the narrative of those who inhabit the space and how they interact with their environment. Architecture becomes the framework where the audience witness communities in operation. The hero in Buurman’s work is not architecture but humanity, with a focus on communicating how our public spaces function. The figures are choregraphed into the built environment using a collage technique, stitching multiple images together. This cinematic approach creates the illusion of movement, capturing people going about their daily lives, ‘not just the recorded frozen moment, rather capturing the everyday moment from multiple documentary photographs.’ [3] He ‘avoids the ‘risky lure of the single shot to depict or attempt to represent the truth to context.’ [4]

Buurman suggests his approach is a hybrid of documentary and tableaus. Visiting the site over time he documents movement and people, then constructs the narrative in the studio.

This fracture in time slowly reveals itself as one considers the plausibility of the images. The architecture and infrastructure illuminate their structural purpose rather than an aesthetic conversation about form, light and beauty. These beguiling images capture a sense of place transporting us into the frame.

In the exhibition, there are five images selected from Burrmans’ renowned Africa Junction series which he began in 2008. Criss-crossing the African continent, Buurman photographed 14 cities in 12 countries over a period of six years to produce the extensive body of work that has been published in book form, Africa Junctions, Capturing the City. When launching his African project, Buurman was acutely aware that there were very few images of Africa in the Western lexicon that were not cliched images of poverty and war, the result of white man’s bias and colonial lens. Rather, Buurman has been fascinated by images of Africa’s cities and how people go about their everyday rituals and actions in this varied built environment.

[3] (Lard, 2021)

[4] (Opper, 2014)

Rory Gardiner

Rory Gardiner studied photography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and after a short stint as a snowboarding photographer in Japan, moved to London where he now works with some of the world’s leading architects to interpret their buildings and projects. Gardiner’s understanding of architecture was formed early as he witnessed his architect father, sketch buildings and discuss the design of cities. 

With a preference for film and working with analogue processes, Gardiner’s work seeks to inhabit space where contemporary photography and architecture intersect, adding a layer of authorship to the human experience of the built environment.

“There is a romance to Gardiner’s photography, which is cloaked in soft overcast light, muted colours, and a rich tapestry of contrasting textures and geometries. At times sombre and moody, and at others, light and ethereal, what weaves his disparate portfolio together is a tonal palette and considered sense of intimacy.” [5]

For Gardiner, film is the best way to capture buildings in the way we experience them. Architecture is more than its obvious function, ‘there is a geometric language in which volume and proportion present an artificially-altered materiality, inevitably denoting its own cultural moment,’[6]

Using mostly medium format film cameras, Gardiners’ process is slow and meditative, often visiting spaces for long periods of time, reading and noting the changes of light on form. This meditation on space is reflected in the often-solitary figure Gardiner embeds into his images, communicating scale and mood. The collection of images from Christ & Gatenbein Architects, Kunst Museum, Basel, Switzerland 2016 are an example of Gardiners’ early focus on the figure in context of the built environment.

Gardiner is currently interested in challenging the notion of perfection in architecture and the trend to focus on the ego-driven highlights of a project. The Garden House by Barracco & Wright Architects is one of Gardiner’s latest projects where he explores the beauty of the imperfect moment.

Conventional architectural photography aims to capture architecture in its pristine, unlived-in condition, glossy and sexy. Gardiners’ approach is focussed on the human aspect of how the space functions and process of construction, inhabitation and dereliction.

Gardiner visited the Garden House site seven years after the polycarbonate structure was built, examining how the architecture has literally grown into its environment. We witness these spaces with a unique intimacy as someone sleeps in a dishevelled bed, dishes are still out from the last meal and the wild landscape blurs the barriers between internal and external spaces. Gardiner captures a series of vignettes of geometric space as opposed to the building in its entire context. He spends considerable time in post-production, altering the colours and tones to reflect the atmosphere and feeling of the space. In this way, Gardiner presents us with a curated selection of narratives that communicate a sense of space.

[5] (Wade)

[6] Ibid

John Gollings

John Gollings is one of Australia’s most prolific architectural photographers who has captured the diversity of Australian architecture and the changes in our built environment, over his nearly fifty- year career. Gollings is renowned and respected for traversing great obstacles and heights to capture that one iconic heroic image that signifies the essence of the architect’s design intentions, etching the image into our memories. Gollings has been instrumental in defining and shaping our understanding of Australia’s built environment.

At age 9, Gollings was fascinated by photography and enjoyed experimenting with his Ensign box camera.  He started studying architecture at Melbourne University but his passion for photography won over. Advertising and later fashion photography was his initial foray into professional photography but his connections with some of Australia’s up and coming architects wooed him to capture their latest architectural projects. Gollings collaborates with architects to describe their buildings and communicates their intentions and language in the full context of the built environment in which it inhabits.

Preferring a centralised composition, Gollings searches for the striking, sexy image, experimenting with new technology to push his search for the memorable. Often collaborating with other creatives, Gollings has used infra-red lighting, light aircraft, 3D rendering and drone technology presenting new perspectives of our built environment.

In Translation also presents work from Gollings exploration into the built environments of lost civilisations.  Having fallen in love with India when he visited Hampi in 1980, Gollings has been returning on a regular basis, with his latest project capturing the ancient step wells that are located across India. With 125 in the collection already, these innovative engineering feats remind us of the fragility of our societies and built environments. [7]

Gollings’ work in India had a profound impact on his modern architectural photography work. While trying to reduce the muddiness of the grey stone monuments in India, Gollings started photographing at night. Lighting the architecture at night creates a magnificent glow that reveals the internal and external structure in one frozen moment. This has now become a signature feature of Gollings impressive oeuvre.

[7] (Malik, 2019)

Finally, In Translation explores photography as an ‘interpretative tool in the study of space’ (Attali) where each artist manipulates time, light, reality and form to develop their individual language to interpret architecture and the built environment. These images speak of our contemporary lives, our humanity across the globe and our ability to create, build, dominate, subjugate and sometimes collaborate with our natural environment.

Felicity Martin
Felicity Martin is an independent curator living and working on Dja Dja Wurrung country in the central goldfields of Victoria. Martins’ curatorial projects explore feminism, trauma informed practice, sustainability and gender. In 2019 she was the recipient of the Ian Potter Foundation In Focus Curating Forum Award, hosted by the Ballarat International Foto Biennale and is currently working for the Greater City of Bendigo as Creative Industries Officer, overseeing the implementation of the Greater CREATIVE Bendigo strategy.