Unarguably, there are intrinsic connections between the two, because preservation would be lacking the significance of architectural mastery, technique, and craft without the movement of architectural history. Balancing the need for documentation and preservation, photography acts as a method by which architectural history and preservation rely for information about the built environment. No matter if the building can be experience in real life, or not, a photographed image, a palm-size reference, enables the viewer to master a scale, typically, larger than humankind. Details can be witnessed, and time becomes a captured entity. Yet, the power of the photographic method on the disciplines of architectural history and preservation needs to be continually referenced, because, more than often, the impact of the photograph is overlooked by the average researcher. The photographed image can sometimes create or sustain interest in a building.
Not only does photography interject meaning onto images, but it, in turn, creates iconic references within the fields of architectural history and preservation (including the collective memory). Even though historians may not necessarily understand the methods and processes of photographers, they implement these two-dimensional views into their disciplinary canon. Mary Woods explores photography’s actual degree of influence in Beyond the Architect’s Eye. In her essay, she discusses the nature of the picture plane in relation to the architect’s view. For example, she suggests the Modernist designs were heavily injected by photography’s tendency to work with volumes of light and shadow. While the positive influence of photography is the great ease of built environment documentation, the effect created by the camera’s lens, happens to be the dismissal of certain types of structures and buildings that do not photograph well, as well as, the auteur.
An object difficult to capture would be architectural ruins. Their soft organic lines of decomposition do not react to the imposition of a two-dimensional format in the same way sharp, crisp, lines act. Also lost in translation, are the historical events that created the ruin. As photography relies on light and volume to represent the captured images, it is more difficult to create a dynamic composition with soft angles. For example, a steep cliff is vertically powerful, and light plays are strong and dynamic. Whereas, a rolling hill, becomes a soft massive volume, and therefore presents a different type of verticality that translates as part of the horizon rather than a volume in itself. When it comes to ruins, their state of decomposition becomes more a reflection of the “return to nature” of man-made things, than their strength as an architectural object. We also cannot possibly know from one picture the full story of the ruins, but at least we are provided with some visual information that can lead a researcher to find the reasons.
Indeed, there are photographers who have dedicated their lives to documenting built environmental ruins. Frances Benjamin Johnston (figure 1), a pioneer in architectural photography and preservation itself, provides us with an example of an “architect’s photographer”, who was able to captivate audiences despite the common problems of photographing buildings in a state of decline. Frances B. Johnston entered the photography world in its beginning stages, and she was able to capitalize in a burgeoning market. Seeing necessity in capturing the changing South, Johnston, a Yankee herself, spent the last several decades of her life documenting the “Yankee infiltration” of the Old South. Her success in commercial architectural photography enabled her to influence history towards the preservation of the built environment. As the antebellum South was altered by the new northern landlords of plantation estates, Johnston preserved buildings in situ, by use of photographic methods; before they were dramatically altered by the aesthetic influences of New England (she also captured some buildings before and after restoration).
In essence, she formatted architectural documentation via photography. Also, she instigated the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) project, by purposing to the Carnegie foundation the need for documentation, which three years after her proposal came into fruition.
Dramatically, her work presented these buildings, in a state of decay, and interjected the South’s “reality”, in regards time and space. Whereas other women, such as Susan Pringle Frost of Charleston, South Carolina, were heading up preservation movements that instigated a “new cash crop… for the South, which was, sanitized and amnesiac architecture”, Johnston was addressing the actual situation of the South before it became Mickey Mouse history. Her images, despite what type of audience they drew, addressed the reason behind the South’s built environmental appearance. War and slavery was not just something of fleeting history, but all the events leading up to the Civil War and emancipation were internally saved within the volumes and shadows of the South’s buildings.
|Frances Benjamin Johnston: Self Portrait|
|Cupola House (1758), Edenton, North Carolina: Photo By Johnston|
experience happens to be, composing equally dramatic photographs that captivate an audience.
It shall be stated, architectural history and historic preservation are tied together by the desire to push information through time, but they are equally hindered by temporal restrictions of time, space, and reality. While the photographic frame allows for easy replication of a perspective, it restricts the ability of time, space, and reality to fully evolve. Although, some photographic studies have attempted, by montage, to overlap time, and thusly created a type of photography that enacts preservation’s need to address the built environment as a useable human experience rather than just a sample of architectural vision fixed in time.
As stated by the National Park Service, “Architectural History is the study of the development of building practices through written records and design and the examination of structures, sites, and objects in order to determine their relationship to preceding, contemporary, and subsequent architecture and events”. While the standard definition for historic preservation is “the application of strategies that promote the identification, evaluation, documentation, registration, protection, treatment, continued use, and interpretation of prehistoric and historic resources” . There are also other disciplines that correlate with both architecture history and historic preservation. These professions are historic architecture, archeologist, historic landscape architect, historian, historic preservation planner, cultural anthropologist, engineering, folklorist, conservator, and curator. Not to mention, these professions are not the only related disciplines, but rather just direct examples that can easily be tied to architectural history and historic preservation.
It seems like an obvious point to make: architecture history and preservation’s tie-that-binds. At the same time, it is easy to overlook the importance of individual disciplines and techniques of documentation like photography, when we, students of the American educational system, are accustomed to absorbing curriculum without questioning its place. For example, as we trudge along through our undergraduate degrees, we check off requirements, and blink our eyes in delight as we speed along to some professional destination. Yet, it is the simplicity of what we study that explains why we study, and the complexity enters when we yearn to learn the how variations of our disciplines connect.
When we start to emphasize what historic preservation does for architecture history, as well as, the inverse, that the true brilliance of each discipline emerges. All too often, urban specialization blankets our desire to understand why we do what we do, and we demean our own desire for specialization through the ignorant flailing of commercial need (we lose sight out importance when focusing on economic demand for our academic specialization). Architecture History gives Preservationist the market to understand what is important for building techniques, it emphasizes the craft, and master architects/builders shine within the built effigies that preservationist preserve.
|Cupola House, Present Day|
Contemporary preservation should preserve the full spectrum of history within the preserved buildings, structures, and objects. Not only are preservationist responsible for their subjective influence, but they should also be greatly responsible in representing objective realities in their work. Iconic imagery does greatly affect how we view our world, and if underrepresented, the impact of a single photograph can alter history. When captions are attached to photos, they add text to the context held within the “silent” frame, and can mislead future researchers.
Prehistory adds an element of abstraction from human history. Looking at the photographic images of Stonehenge, we find prehistoric architectural techniques that unfold unto other techniques, and become involved in a spectacle of time, space, and reality. Without the ruins, we cannot see where the stream of consciousness began, and we ultimately lose engineering, artistry, and cultural resources that speak to the symbolic and functional nature of humanity. Being able to preserve something before it turns to ruin is indefinitely the feat of a preservationist, but we shouldn’t view a ruin as being in need of restoration to some former glory. We seek to engage the community with the built environment, so that, architecture does not deteriorate to a state of ruin. While we can learn a lot from ruins, it is more useful for a community, society, to gain direct use from historic properties. If say Stonehenge retained its original use the mystery of Stonehenge would not exist, while sometimes mystery is interesting, most likely the knowledge lost in the mystery could serve as more beneficial than the source of mystery? Or does this mystery say something greater?
|Stonehenge: A Ruin Standing With Impact: Present Day|
|Windsor castle: Home to Monoarchy Not Man|
While on the other hand, Architectural Historians grimace, because ruins depict the dismantling of civilization. What should be taken from ruins is the grace of natural decline, and the ability to inform, even if, only a pile of stone and mortar. We often want to preserve things exactly as they were at their “highest” point of glory, does reality really allow for such sustainment of glory, or is this just an attainment of fantasy? Ruins would suggest that we need to seek out variations of pristine examples that not always include intact high vernacular. Perhaps the high vernacular is best represented as social stratification, rather than pristine elements of “society”. Society is, in turn, greater than elite examples of its architecture.
In the end, the examination of the inflected image determines our need for continued research and magnification of architectural images. If only to expose ourselves to subtext in photographic images, we can use ruins as a key to addressing the influence of time onto preserved buildings, structures, and objects. The continued question of appropriate period of significance will, most likely, continue with the discipline of historic preservation, but, as with Johnston and Woods, we can begin to see that our perception of time, space, and reality deserves representation. In order to gain a holistic understanding of space, architectural or not, the viewer should always search deeper before accepting a defined history.
Cupola House Association. Cupola House History. 2009. http://cupolahouse.org/history.html (accessed November 6, 2009).
Edenton, North Carolina. Heritage Tourism Division. December 10, 2008.
http://www.visitedenton.com/News/News.detail.asp?ID=17 (accessed November 5, 2009).
Hull, Lise. Understanding the Castle Ruins of England and Wales. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: MacFarland and Company, Inc., 2009.
National Park Service. Historic Preservation Professional Qualification Standards. unknown. http://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/gis/html/quals.html (accessed November 1, 2009).
Woods, Mary. Beyond the Architect's Eye: Photographs and the American Built Environment. Philidelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.