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On Judith Turner and Abstraction

October 26, 2012

. . . . .

The top 3 photos are mine.

The rest of the photos are from Judith Turner Photographs Five Architects, published in 1980 by Rizzoli

I recently picked up a copy of this book at Bright Lyons in Brooklyn (one of my favorite shops). I’ve been looking through it repeatedly over the last couple of months and I’m really obsessed.

Judith Turner’s architectural photography is atypical in its abstraction; rather than showing you wide-angle views of soaring ceilings and double-height windows, she focuses on the details in the designs. Turner trained as a designer and it’s apparent that she understands the ideas and intentions behind the architectural designs she photographs. In this book, she photographs the Kislevitz Residence (Gwathmey & Siegel), House VI/Frank Residence (Eisenman), The Cooper Union Renovation (Hejduk/Bruder/Aviles), the Benacerraf House Addition (Graves), and the Bronx Developmental Center (Meier).

By focusing on the details and the light, shapes, forms, and materials, Turner reveals more about these places than other photographers might – she is distilling the essence of a design and telling a story about a space through the details and the way the light moves through it.  As John Hejduk says in the intro, “She understands that it is impossible to see architecture in its full complexity at once. Architecture is made up of details, fragments, fabrications. And the very idea behind it can be captured in a fragment, in a detail.”

I think her work appeals to me because I try to do the same thing with my photography (whether the subject is architectural or an interior, or simply a photo taken while traveling to a new place). It’s about distilling the essence of a place/person/experience into a photograph – or at least the essence as experienced by the photographer.  It’s a way of communicating what I see.  I love how Turner shows us these places and communicates her experience of them.

The top 3 photos in this post are my own photographs, taken in Los Angeles earlier this month. I was shooting some photos at the Vitsoe apartment (more on this soon) and I was drawn to create abstract photos similar to Turner’s work. That top photo is one of my recent favorites; I’m printing it large to hang in my living room (is it egotistical to prominently hang your own photos in your home? Oh well).

Anyway, you should look for this book if you’re interested; it’s no longer in print but I’m sure there are copies on Ebay and in used bookshops.  It’s a gem.

  1. October 26, 2012 2:44 pm

    Thanks for the book recommendation and your inspiring photos!

  2. Sara permalink
    October 26, 2012 4:14 pm

    This is so nice to see Judith Turner’s work online. In 1990 I printed (photogravure) plates of her work. A Vincent Fitzgerald & Co limited edition “Parables and Pieces” Text a translation of Kafka. Peek at it in a rare books room. Or the Veatches’ may still have (what was my) copy for sale online. The plates were made by photogravure engraver Jon Goodman. I love her work. Vincent’s books are amazing. Some of the nicest projects I have ever worked on.

  3. October 27, 2012 6:21 am

    amazing work.

  4. October 27, 2012 7:58 am

    Brian I didn’t study photography formally and I can see the appreciation of looking of abstract forms in photography. I think one of the hardest job is the art of seeing it. Thank you for the book recommendation. I do like visiting blog on a daily basis and study the images that you capture.

  5. October 27, 2012 10:34 am

    Reblogged this on Waltzs Lesson.

  6. October 27, 2012 1:41 pm

    Brian –
    I agree: photographing buildings and photographing people are similar efforts.
    Both are dynamic entities, and “the way the light moves through” us changes – daily, hourly, minute-ly.
    It works like memory works, I think. When you remember a building, you think of the chair in the living room with the stain on the left armrest. It’s too big a job, to picture it all at once. It is immense. It could break your heart.
    A good friend of mine is studying to be an architect, and she told me yesterday about something called ‘clerestory’. Clerestory are windows above eye level, designed to bring light into a building without compromising the privacy of its inhabitants. Probably the clearest examples are seen in Roman basilicas or Gothic churches.
    So it all comes down to the question of light – Not only how it moves through us, accidentally or organically, but our attempts to control that current.

  7. October 28, 2012 6:32 pm

    These are really beautiful

  8. November 1, 2012 4:14 pm

    Your images are wonderful Brian and thank you for sharing Judith’s book. I always marvel at how beautifully everyday objects and scenery can be captured in this kind of abstraction. It’s like being able to see with different eyes or rebend your mind …. really nice work here.

  9. November 2, 2012 12:38 pm

    These photographs look amazing. I hope I can take a look at a print copy soon.


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