The works of Australia’s most celebrated architectural photographer John Gollings will feature in the upcoming photo-festival Habitat Photosphere, which will open in the capital on February 18. The travelling exhibition, titled ‘The History of the Built World’ will showcase 67 images framing architectural marvels, heritage buildings and modern structures. Indian architectural marvels like the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, Hanuman Temple in Hampi, The Taj Mahal in Agra, Vittala Temple in Hampi, among others will be presented many of John’s photographs from world over. In an interview with ACF, the veteran photographer talks about built heritage, his approach towards work and the larger message he wants to convey through these captivating frames.
Is there any significant difference you have observed in the structures that were created in the past to the ones constructed now.
The main difference is longevity. The stone civic buildings of the past are still standing while recent structures, especially the steel and glass ones are fragile and impermanent. They have a design life of 25 to 100 years and even as a ruin they will corrode fairly quickly.
Can you also elaborate on the highlights of the exhibition and what message do you want to convey to through these images?
There are 67 images in the Delhi show but it covers the same range of time and location. The very serious message is that none of the great civilisations of the past have survived and that no modern government or ruler should be so smug as to think that they are the exception. The collapse of past societies have been due to war, disease, climate change or politics and each of these reasons are simultaneously cogent in the modern global world.
What approach do you follow to capture the soul of architecture?
I first try to find the one definitive angle and the time of day to best describe the building. Heritage structures are photographed with longer focal length lenses. Modern architecture is amenable to wide angle interpretation but older buildings have an established typology from the earliest days of photography when only normal focal lengths were used. To treat these known buildings much differently seems to disrespect their classic style and overly distort their geometry.
You are a self-taught photographer, but a trained architecture. How has studying architecture benefitted you to capture the essence of build environment rather aesthetically?
Studying architecture taught me the mathematical underpinnings of a design which in turn led to my fairly severe compositional approach to a building. However, when you look at the broader context of the whole built environment it often comes down to light angles and simple composition to make an informed image.
Was it a difficult journey to make a living by clicking only buildings? Any advice for budding photographers?
It’s getting harder to make a living photographing buildings. I think a young photographer needs to embrace video, CGI rendering and virtual reality as new techniques to sell to clients. Many clients are bringing these approaches in house already so freelance days may be numbered.
Can you also elaborate on your association with India and its architecture?
I’ve travelled to most parts of India, either shooting commercial advertising for hotels and resorts or my own cultural projects like Vijayanagara or the step wells of northern India. India’s built Heritage is significant and surpasses its modern heritage. In particular, the older palaces, temples and mosques exist as primary forms with a muted colour palate which makes the search for a definitive angle both more challenging but equally exciting.
(The exhibition is presented in partnership with the Monash Gallery of Art, the exhibition will be open for public viewing at the India Habitat Centre as part of Habitat Photosphere from 19 February to 18 March 2019).