Berenice Abbott recognised in Eugene Atget’s images of Paris his ability to fill ‘inhuman architectural photography with human experience’.

This set the tone for my recent visit to the Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London.

Berenice Abbott

18 photographers, 250 images.

The works are shown in chronological order: Starting with Berenice Abbott who documented the rise of skyscrapers in New York during the interwar years of 1930s and ending with Iwan Baan who recorded the daily life of people who lived in Torre David, an abandoned incomplete tower in Venezuela.

Bernd and Hilla Becher - Water towers

The following passage in the introduction by Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone in the accompany book sums up what the Construction Worlds exhibition is about:

The understanding that photography which takes architecture as its subject matter has the ability to communicate wider truths about society is fundamental to the works presented… However diverse their aesthetics, each artist or photographer challenges the orthodoxy of architectural photography, by not simply interpreting the intentions of the architects, but by revealing through the photographic medium the lived experience and symbolic value of our built world.

Thomas Struth - Market with Stupa, Beijing 1996

Some of the pictures are in colour, others in monochrome. Some are presented as 8×10 prints, others in grand format. Irregardless of the size, colour or style, there are many that made me pause for thought while some captivated me.

Bas Princen + Andreas Gursky

Constructing Worlds is an excellent exhibition that inspires, informs and intrigues.

I could have lost myself for hours amongst the sublime and poignant images on show. It was fascinating to see the details of how society functions within and interacts with various built environments across different times.

Nadav Kander - Yibin I (Bathers), Sichuan province 2007

Iwan Baan - Torre David

Looking at these images, I was reminded of some of my favourite pictures that I took in Hong Kong:

Ah Shan Hostel @ 83 Argyle St, Mongkok10-11k64

As mentioned in a previous post about voyeurism, there were several details that I had not spotted when I was taking this photograph from an opposite building. Click on the image above to see it in a larger format and you’ll see what I mean.

If you are in London between now and 11 January 2015, I’d strongly recommend a visit to the Barbican Centre to see the Constructing Worlds exhibition.

If you don’t get the chance, you can see a selection of the photographs on the website.

The book is also on sale on the online shop. However it doesn’t contain all the photographs that are on show.

There were some pictures that I wish were included in the book. But since they aren’t, I went looking for them on the Internet and am making a note of them here.

Berenice Abbott - Esso gasoline station 10 ave
From l’oeil de la photographie
From the Library of Congress:
From the Library of Congress:
From Moeller Fine Art
From Moeller Fine Art

I hope you get to see in person the images created by these excellent photographers: Berenice Abbott, Iwan Baan, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Hélène Binet, Walker Evans, Luigi Ghirri, Andreas Gursky, Lucien Hervé, Nadav Kander, Luisa Lambri, Simon Norfolk, Bas Princen, Ed Ruscha, Stephen Shore, Julius Shulman, Thomas Struth, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Guy Tillim.

On a final note, tell me, how does photography shape the way you view the urban world around you?

12 replies on “Constructing Worlds: Grain by grain, pixel by pixel

  1. Very interesting exhibition Angelina, thank you for sharing with those of us who can’t make it there. Very fittingly in the Barbican too, so we’ve got thought provoking urban architecture and photography combined.

  2. Wonderful post, Angelina — I feel as if I’ve been to the exhibit with you! But in truth, I think my favorite image of the lot is the one you shot of the flats in Hong Kong: It’s a perfect example of how an everyday scene we normally wouldn’t even notice becomes rich with meaning when we pause for a moment and look a little deeper. And that’s also my answer to your closing question! Photography has forever changed the way I experience urban environments by making me aware that even seemingly mundane scenes can, in fact, be extraordinary. Anyway … well done!

    1. Thanks Heather for taking the time to comment. It’s great to be able to notice the extraordinary in ordinary, everyday scenes. Just got to keep our eyes and minds open to them!

  3. Looks like a great exhibition. I love the aesthetics of the photo you took in Hong Kong: the colors, the higgledy piggledy chaos of living on top of each other. But how horrible it would be in real life. Like chickens in a coop. So I guess for me the answer to your question would be that something can look unpleasant when we walk by it on the street but when captured in a photograph, a sense of distance is added and it can become an example of beauty,

    1. I agree with you Jackie – the high-rise residential buildings in HK often remind me of birdcages. I suppose the thing with photography is that each image is in itself an edited perspective (of the person who made the picture). What one leaves in or out of a photo would thus influence how another person might view the scene.

  4. Your photos are really incredible. I would like someday to capture with same texture you do. Would you mind telling me, what kind a camera you use to excavate your moment.

    1. The photo of the Hong Kong building was taken with a Canon 30D with a 28mm lens. I used a software called Raw Photo Processor / RPP ( to edit the raw files. RPP is a great photo editing tool and the film simulations in the programme are good.

      The black and white photo of the Barbican Estate was taken with an iPhone and edited using the VSCO Cam app.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Great post, thanks for the link to the exhibition site.It’s difficult to answer your question (which means it’s a good question!) because photography makes me like something I wouldn’t like normally, sometimes. Maybe a huge building which is disturbing a beautiful landscape has some geometric lines which take the photographer’s attention because of the graphic aspect or a special color. Let say photography drives my attention to details but this does not apply to architectural only. I’ll think more about it 🙂

    1. I agree that photography sometimes makes me like something that I wouldn’t like or even notice. For me, a good photograph is one that make the viewer pause and think.

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