2015 11 - Architectural

02nd December 2015
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
1st December 2015
Images by Martine Hamilton-Knight

25 Years of Architectural Photography

Our speaker for the evening was Martine Hamilton-Knight, returning by popular demand some five years after her last visit to us. Members vividly remembered Martine's excellent presentation previously. Around a third of the large audience had attended on that occasion, which Martine remembered for entirely different reasons. She said 'It is lovely to be here again; to see the great mix of people, how the club has grown - and to be warm enough to take my coat off!'

Martine's youthful appearance and approach belied her subject - '25 Years of Architectural Photography'. In a lively talk we were taken through the elements of this specialist area of photography with hints and tips about the significant challenges and how to deal with them followed by a whistle stop tour of the 25 years with reflections on some influences which shaped Martine's career.

We learned that despite spending the first year of her degree, when she aspired to work in fashion, photographing shoes for an emerging designer called Jimmy Choo, Martine's experience of buildings as the daughter of a builder had drawn her to the architectural arena.

Nottingham featured throughout the talk. Martine has lived here much of her life and through her long career her work has inevitably charted many changes in the city. Not least this includes the transformation of the area around the canal, which we saw in the 1980s as heaps of rubble; the university buildings both here and in the Far East, and 'Slab Square'.

Martine began her career working in film, which continued for some 15 of the 25 years. She explained how she had to learn to use specialist tilt shift lenses to overcome the familiar issues of converging verticals in shots of tall buildings. As digital has become the norm for her work over the last 10 years it was interesting to hear the comparison.

Film work posed many technical challenges and involved big, heavy cameras. There was little alternative but to get the shot right in camera and lighting could be continuous via fixed, mains powered light. Photographic images were perceived to have a value and barely ten people worked in the field of architectural photography. The public thought nothing of being photographed and working in public spaces was not an issue.

Nowadays, as many other speakers have commented, 'Everyone is a photographer'. Photographs are perceived as ‘free’, making it harder to earn a living from photography faced with both falling prices per image and increased competition. People have become more aware of the potential uses of photographs and more conscious of their privacy and identity. Obtaining permission to publish pictures of people, and children in particular, who may be in public areas when a photographer is working is now almost prohibitive. Finally lighting now has to be flash driven as it is impossible in our risk aware times to run cables across public spaces.

The main things which have not changed are the challenges the subject matter presents. Martine identified five key areas which must be addressed for success.

Getting the light right is something most speakers emphasise, although in this field ‘lighting is everything’ to give the resulting image a 3D appearance, to enhance creativity and to draw attention to the building. The challenge is that the photographer cannot control the sun and weather. This ties in with the second challenge, which is timing. It may mean the timetabling of the shoot to be at the right part of the building when sunlight falls in the right place or if at all possible timing the shoot for the right weather or time of year. For twilight shots it may mean arranging for premises to be open and lit well into the evening. The industry is driven by the timetable for the national awards, meaning flexible timing of shoots for the season is a luxury.

As with other genres, being different will help your work stand out from the crowd, so researching the best viewpoints is the third challenge. Martine recommended walking the scene without the camera looking for the shots which can then be built into the timetable for the shoot to fit the lighting and other constraints. This will include finding and securing access to vantage points for wide shots of the site which will become the establishing shots in the final presentation of the building's story, closer shots to show how the building works in use, shots to pick out colour and detail and opportunities for including the people who bring the building to life.

Finally, to ensure the resulting images are crisp and striking, it is important to ensure styling is painstaking. ‘Hospital corners’ was not a phrase many might have expected to hear this evening, but the attention to detail they represent is something Martine considers essential. Assistants to straighten chairs, tidy desks, remove casually discarded jackets and generally present a clean, uncluttered scene for the photographer are value for money. As Martine said 'This is the vital touch which turns the nondescript into the sensational.'

Finally Martine explained the impact of the recession. The building industry was very hard hit. The major areas of development moved from the commercial to the public sector. Beauty gave way to economy and latterly, as the industry gets back on its feet, many small practices are achieving great things with domestic extensions as people adapt rather than move. For Martine the effects were long lasting as the recovery had to work through design, tender, construction and completion before photographers were needed to record new buildings. During this period she and a colleague developed a photographic school and she continues to offer training opportunities for photographers of all levels of experience and ambition. With architectural photography thriving again, she enjoys this other dimension to her work, which involves engagement with many more people and causes her to continue to learn and develop as a photographer as she finds new and creative ways to pass on her skills and boundless enthusiasm.