Nowadays, I like to refer to “photography of architecture” rather than to “architectural photography”. This is intentional. Within the notion of architectural photography is the sense of a practice of image-making that gravitates exclusively around the field of architecture—thus relating to the stricter aims and legitimation criteria of that discipline and its professional domain. With the broader scope of a “photography of architecture” we may hint at a practice that, while still permeated by architecture-related subject matters, is not dependent on architecture’s specific discourses. Curiously, this approach may have deeper, if less obvious, implications for the culture of architecture and the depiction of public spaces as we have known them until today. From the untold history of architectural photography a profound contradiction emerges: Underlining architecture and urban landscapes as specific topics opposes photography’s progressive flight from a primary emphasis on its topics or themes towards an understanding of it as a self-governing form of art. As I have put it elsewhere, “it goes against the grain of photography’s autonomy to acknowledge that there is a particular practice of photography that is conditioned, or somehow individuated by its focusing on a given subject matter”. If we want to enjoy the critical insights that this foreign discourse can have on architecture, we should overcome this contradiction. Indeed, in addressing how architecture and the representation of public space are impacted by current image-making, we may need to do more than just confront it with the “faithful” mirror of architectural photography.
It is true that beyond the possible relevance of this subfield to the wider history of photography, architecture’s century-long romance with architectural photography has had many concrete outcomes. From Erich Mendelsohn, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe’s early uses of documentary photography and photographic collages, to the delayed recognition of photographers who mostly portrayed buildings as a service to the architectural industry, such as Ezra Stoller and Julius Schulman, architectural photography has a specific yet overreaching history. With growing architectural diffusion through various media, including the internet, the practice has also had the opportunity to amplify its field, find its new heroes, and open up to innumerous practitioners. Through the early adoption of visualization techniques such as photomontage to the proliferating commercial uses of retouched images of just-finished buildings, architectural photography has established its own degrees of autonomy.