Fernando Guerra was a pioneer in the way of photographing and communicating architecture. 24 years ago he opened the FG + SG studio in collaboration with his brother and together they are responsible for much of the dissemination of contemporary Portuguese architecture over the last twenty-four years.
Fernando Guerra is an architectural photographer. His training, however, is that of an architect. His gaze is divided between two different ways of building the world. Due to this circumstance, he finds himself in a privileged position to lead the metamorphosis of the photographic field that will make this practice of image creation come to be identified, in part, with the architectural field itself.
In order to understand the space, the architects, possibly with a more conscious intention than the simple users, move around the buildings. They capture the spatiality of architecture wandering around, scrutinizing, making associations of ideas, shapes, dimensions. It is through this movement that they discover the infinite variables of architectural space, the singularities that distinguish a significant space from the myriad of insignificant constructions that invade our visual field. And they do so by crossing what they see with the memories of other buildings that they carry with them, often acquired through observation mediated by photography. Our architectural culture, given the impossibility of visiting all the buildings in the world, is mostly built through the eyes of others.
It is in this sense that Fernando Guerra takes a generous look at the architecture he registers. Among the buildings he photographs, one does not exactly perceive a value judgment on the contents of architecture; rather a control, at the level of emotions, which seeks to homogenize all registers. Therefore, the absence of any critical-moralism that could interfere with the final result of the image is cultivated and that seeks to position itself (architecturally) in a neutral plane, making use of itself. It is simultaneously a world where there are no better or worse architectures. The photographer, unlike the artist-photographer, is summoned and responds through his expert knowledge. If he manipulates the image, that is, if he removes any excess of “realism” from it, he makes him aware that he works in a domain of impartiality.
His works are regularly published in various publications both nationally and internationally, in magazines such as Casabella, Wallpaper *, Dwell, Icon, Domus, A + U, among many others.
FG+SG collaborates with several Portuguese architects such as Álvaro Siza, Carlos Castanheira, Manuel Mateus, Manuel Graça Dias, Gonçalo Byrne, ARX Portugal, João luís Carrilho da Graça, Promontório Arquitectos; as well as international architects such as Márcio Kogan, Isay Weifeld, Arthur Casas, Zaha Hadid, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, among others.
In 2012, he was named Canon Explorer, taking on the role of Canon Europe’s ambassador for architectural photography.
The ultimasreportagens.com website has become the starting point for consulting contemporary Portuguese architecture with more than six hundred online reports, as well as special articles and publications
Born in 1970, in Lisbon.
He graduated in architecture in 1993 from Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa, worked for five years in Macau as an architect (1994-1999).
He taught Project II in the Architecture course at Arca-Euac (University School of Arts in Coimbra), between 1999 and 2005.
Certified by Epson Digigraphie® in 2007; since 2008 managed by VIEW Pictures, London – United Kingdom; and also, since 2006, managed by FAB PICS – International Architecture Photography, Cologne – Germany.
His work is represented in several private and public collections. In 2015, the MoMa Museum in New York acquired six works by Fernando Guerra for its permanent collection.
“A arquitectura da fotografia”
Manuel Graça Dias
“Reconfigurar o mundo”
Ana Vaz Milheiro
The Maker Pedro Gadanho You may have already noticed that, within the universe of contemporary photography, architectural photography has become, in recent years, a field of its own. Gained autonomy. It has its history and its references. It has its authors and its subgenres. You are about to achieve perfection. Just as the use of photography by contemporary art holds a special territory –which sometimes intersects with the field I am describing here–, the professional look at the constructed worlds of architecture has also gained its own logic. As evidenced in a recent international seminar on architecture and image, this field now also has its historians, its stars and its internal debates. And the media of architectural photography naturally begin to mix with the media of the architectural production that this photograph portrays. While international blogs are beginning to pay particular attention to authors in this field – interviewing them, discovering their themes, analyzing the specificity of their individual production– one of these days, which is not far off, we will ask ourselves if the media of architecture have not, however, become the media of this specific photograph. It might seem perverse that this should happen, but the truth is that, in a world built on the logic of the image, photography helps build architecture – and, therefore, it is fair that one day it will partially take its place. The architectural fictions of contemporary photography, which I have already referred to in other contexts, are nothing more than surreptitious evidence of this metamorphosis. Fernando Guerra is an architectural photographer. His training, however, is that of an architect. His gaze is divided between two different ways of building the world. Due to this circumstance, he finds himself in a privileged position to lead the metamorphosis of the photographic field that will make this practice of image creation come to be identified, in part, with the architectural field itself. I can offer a personal proof: being ironic that a tiny house like Casa Baltasar had such prominent media projection, the image that had the gift of projecting this smaller architecture for such enormous visibility was discovered by Fernando Guerra. The potential was there, that’s for sure, but it was Guerra’s look that, among other images already foreseen, definitively fixed the peculiar spatiality of a certain point of view. As with others, it is not the case here that Fernando Guerra aspires to transfer his desire to create architecture to the creation of images that replace architecture itself. But reading and interpretation also build worlds. And as in the history of the cartographers by Jorge Luís Borges, it can happen that these worlds are juxtaposed with reality in such a fair way that they become confused with it. When FG+SG entered the architectural photography arena, it offered architects an irresistible business model. Guerra not only photographed, and well, the works of architecture, but his strategic presence on the virtual network also functioned as an important visibility platform for the images produced. In this way, not only a “perfect world” was built, but also the perfect tools for the indispensable and desirable dissemination of the portrayed works. With this competitive edge and the pride of impeccable professionalism, FG+SG began, first inadvertently, then consciously, to build the widest archive of contemporary Portuguese architecture available today. His photographic work became expressive of a potential still unheard of in the short history of the autonomy of this new field: the cartography of his archive became indistinguishable from the reality of Portuguese architecture to which, naturally, all Portuguese architects aspire to belong. Regardless of his own will, Fernando Guerra became the empire’s maker. Pedro Gadanho divides his activity between architecture, curatorship, criticism and university teaching. He holds an MA in Art & Architecture and completed a PhD at F.A.UP.P., where he teaches. He is editor of the blog ShrapnelContemporary and the bookazine Beyond, Short-Stories on the Post-Contemporary in Amsterdam, contributing regularly to other publications internationally. He was curator of ‘Metaflux,’ Portuguese representation at the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale, and of shows such as ‘Space Invaders,’ ‘Post. Rotterdam,’ ‘Pancho Guedes,An alternative modernist,’ and ‘Habitar Portugal 2006-2008.’ He was on the board of ExperimentaDesign, between 2000 and 2003. His architectural projects include Casa Laranja, in Carreço, the Art Center of the Foundation Ellipse, and Casa Baltasar, in Porto. shrapnelcontemporary
THE ARCHITECTURE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Manuel Graça Dias
It took a long time, after 1839 and the first daguerreotypes that reproduced “pictures” placed in front of the photographer (to the joy and astonishment above all of those who had always, secretly and mythically, aspired to be able to one day be fixed on a canvas through the “genius ” of a painter artist), so that photography gained its own status, as is known. If that date was fundamental for painting — in order to begin to detach itself from the obligation of “reproducing” the real, in order to dedicate itself to what had always truly interested it (the outline, the contrasts, the light, the shadow, the awakening of color or its sudden fading, based on visualized sections of the real world, but also other images: invented, dreamed, derived or unrecognizable) –, for photography itself, the immediate departure from this initial universe of figuration seemed very unlikely and of composition in a mirror, to give back, symbolically, to whom one wished to see portrayed. However, the “objectivity” of the return of the image gains, there was still the subjective “look” open through the square where the light hit, on the back of the bellows of the photographic cameras. The sublime of art was discovered when the enchantment of re-looking at what we already knew was understood, leaving the “document” guaranteed “in the background” and bringing “forward”, the kind of rectangular renewal that, simultaneously, isolated it from the world and context. [“Cameras lie so much”, says Bill Watterson through the mouth of Calvin (“Calvin & Hobbes”, Public, October 15, 2002)]. “Documentary” photography came into existence (hence its charm) in this narrow temporal crush, between the happiness of the event, the environment or the action to be reproduced and the envisaged new way of “framing” them (with the assistance of the “technical” , which will allow the best aperture facing the light, the best “focus”, the best depth of field). “Architectural Photography”, being included in this category, will also require, in addition, an enormous rigor in any of the considered levels. It will be required, first, that he give us back the understanding of the portrayed space. An impossible task, as space and its multiple dimensions cannot be “trapped” in the two-dimensionality of the perspective convergence of photographic reproduction; but an “approximation”, an “approximation” that awakens in us the memories of other experiences and that suggests to us the type of space, the author’s concerns, what the photographer who inhabited it felt before trying to give it back to us and with the heavy lightness of what surrounds it. How long (days) will it wait for the sun? That sun — that day — the shadows it casts? Not to “falsify” his stay in the revelation, but because he felt that particular shadow of a summer day characterized (and therefore a good suggestion). Then the look, that square or frame that is the inside of the frame: how is the architectural photographer going to “frame”? What will you omit? What care and ethics will it surround itself with, with the open box scrutinizing what has been built? Looking for the real? Reviewing the real? Only then the “technique”, mediating both, requested by both. And representing Architecture will require the illusion of eliminating perspective distortion, finding the non troppo inherited from Renaissance composition, returning to masonry shaped in plan that our gaze, educated by centuries of images, has learned to admit. Fitted lenses and machine batteries come in here; sometimes even a little photoshop, to cancel out premature graffiti, an almost minimal stain or a shadow that only careful observation of the image later revealed. Show architecture. All architects consider themselves photographers. Vítor Figueiredo speculated on the subject. What makes architects feel so comfortable out there, knowing that only a few — few — will be interested in photographs? Architects are moved by architecture: with the architecture of the past, with the modern, with the quality and originality of the space, with the geometric fit of the space that the space will seem to contain. And they want to keep those emotions. They want (they imagine wanting), later on, to be able to look at the piece of reality, mentally recomposing that reality. They want to copy, transport that emotion, recast it, eventually, in other contexts, also real. Many will therefore stumble into the “objectivity” trap. Others will ramble on about the look, proposing other looks. Few will have the necessary patience to wait, excited, for the morning to wake up, the first ray of sunlight or the last, the long extended shadow, the glow on the ceramic tile, the passing of flocks of birds at the time of the din. In their solitary activity, they will favor the empty corridors so that they can better, and more at ease, experiment, test, invent the look. Only when they see a student passing in the distance, in a school on vacation, will they understand how much that figure
RECONFIGURE THE WORLD
I don’t believe in the objectivity of photography. As much as many try to erase the subjective contingencies of everyday life that contaminate the pure spaces that architects design, an image of any architectural object, or simply of an object, is always the imposition of a point of view. Who takes the picture, who chooses the framing, who chooses the light, the exposure time, the type of lens, the camera. It is a look that implies a choice, or infinite choices, and is by definition (definitely?) subjective. I don’t believe in the myth of the contemplative architectural photographer who thinks it’s possible to choose a priori a single synthetic look that combines everything that a work of architecture contains. Architecture is by definition multiple, dependent on countless variables, never fully apprehensible, infinitely interpretable. The perception of architecture depends on the combination of multiple points of view, on the mental reconstitution of countless spaces. Aldo Rossi, in his “Scientific Autobiography” recognizes that “the observation of things has probably remained my most important formal education and this is because observation is later transformed into memory”. Looking back, Rossi crosses his own culture, the memory of things, “which I can see arranged neatly, like in a herbarium, a catalog or a dictionary”, with his imagination. This process is not linear, with a crossing between both that produces different meanings, that is, the result of this hybridization is more than the simple sum of the parts. “This catalogue, situated somewhere between imagination and memory, is not neutral. It almost always reappears in some objects constituting their deformation and, to a certain extent, their evolution”. What we observed in the past reappears in the presence of the new, filtered by the strength of the memory of things, allowing a new look, with a critical sense. It is the memory that shapes the look, allowing the deformation of objects, that is, when we look at any object, architectural or not, it is transfigured when crossed with the memory of what we have already experienced. Fernando Guerra’s look is an architect’s look. In order to understand the space, the architects, possibly with a more conscious intention than the simple users, move around the buildings. They capture the spatiality of architecture wandering around, scrutinizing, making associations of ideas, shapes, dimensions. It is through this movement that they discover the infinite variables of architectural space, the singularities that distinguish a significant space from the myriad of insignificant constructions that invade our visual field. And they do so by crossing what they see with the memories of other buildings that they carry with them, often acquired through observation mediated by photography. Our architectural culture, given the impossibility of visiting all the buildings in the world, is mostly built through the eyes of others. Through the generosity of offering us multiple points of view of a building, Fernando Guerra’s photographic reports approach the real experience of space, allowing us to reconstitute a place through the sum of all images. In that sense, he is also close to the cinematographic language, not only because of the implicit idea of movement that his images transmit, but also because of the narrative sense that the photographer imprints on them. And hence the almost obsessive need to include characters in his framings. Sometimes anonymous characters, other times the architects, many times the photographer himself. Certainly not because of any desire for self-representation, but because of the need to give meaning and scale to a given space, which, in the absence of a human figure, would become incomprehensibly abstract. There is a desire for each image to contain a fragment of life, a personal story, but where the characters are sufficiently undefined, almost figures, to let the viewer imagine the picture he wants. As with Julius Schulman, Fernando Guerra’s images seek, in addition to representing architecture, to capture a sense of place, an atmosphere that defines the contemporary era. But what in Schulman was intentionally staged, with a sometimes too literal narrative sense, in Guerra is intentionally diffuse, allowing one to imagine all the stories that will take place there. The word perfection contains a certain radicality, since it implies a limit state, with no possible evolution. When perfection is reached, there is nothing left to do but contemplate beauty. But at the same time, the pursuit of perfection can be a generous act. When you aim to find the best images to represent the essence and concept of a building, you are responding to the wishes of those who designed it. Just as architects reconstruct a particular world in each project, seeking to give a sense of unity
«The recent evolution of what we can call “architectural photography” has been an eloquent mirror of the relationships that contemporary society establishes with architectural production. If we look at this mirror from the field of art, we realize that, never before, have so many creators portrayed architecture as an object of the contradictions of that society, exposing it in a critical and raw way. What to say, for example, about the vision of photographers like Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff or Axel Hütte? Looking at the other side of the mirror, and from the field of media culture, we find that, never before as today, have so many “media” portrayed architecture as a seductive product of that same society, exposing it in an ostensive and spectacular way. What about the recent profusion of articles and selected images of “author architectures” in cultural and tourist supplements of newspapers or lifestyle magazines? This double treatment is a sign of the times: in its effort to appropriate cultural and social everyday life, which began in the 1960s, architecture itself became a pawn in this extreme game between critical reflection, in art, and the uncritical consumption in the market. In the same sense, the commodification of the architectural work – that is, its conversion into a “consumable” – makes it difficult today to position an “architectural photographer” who presents himself, not as an artist, nor as a merchant of images, but as- only as a traveler between spaces. It is in this context that we must place the work of Fernando Guerra, architect and photographer who, since 1999, has been asserting himself on the national scene, documenting Portuguese architectural production, and above all the work of a new generation of creators. His photographic refinement was consolidated in successive travel “reports” which, from 1987 onwards, took as their central theme the urban landscape of the East, and especially of Macau, the city where he lived for some years. Compulsively shooting his 35 mm Reflex, always in his hand, Fernando Guerra defined an errant but diligent method of portraying environments, people and details that would end up distinguishing him from the more traditional posture of other Portuguese photographers already established in this area. This distinction was established not only in the size used – rarely opting for medium or large format cameras – but also in the way of appropriating the architectural work. Thus, while others studied the best angles at length, Fernando Guerra “let himself be lost” in space, empirically capturing this thoughtless and innocent discovery; while others patiently set up their cameras on tripods, waiting for the best light, Guerra restlessly seeks the uncertainty of the “instant” when a shadow changes or a figure passes by; while others coldly and analytically portray their subject in just two or three exhibitions, he collects hundreds of images that he later re-edits, as a synthesis of his “report”. An attitude that is too “commercial” or “artificial”, some would say; an uncomplicated posture, we say, that understands its time and that intelligently defines its place in that contemporary game between art and the market, which we referred to earlier. Fernando Guerra knows the rules of photographic composition, the importance of light, the power of framing; that is, he understands photography as an artistic “craft”. He knows, on the other hand, the mechanisms imposed today on architectural publishing, the importance of a “photo-synthesis”, the power of massification and the speed of media consumption; that is, he understands the image as an irreplaceable instrument of cultural diffusion, something that he has been testing, together with his brother Sérgio, from the digital “site” that both created about their work (today counting with more than 250 photographed works and more than 1000 daily visits). It may seem perverse that this diffusion in the “new media” – on websites, blogs or newsletters – has become a common way of discovering architects and their works, giving photographers and web designers the role that previously belonged to critics and editors traditional; but this is the global reality in which Fernando and Sérgio Guerra move and which they seek to qualify by making their “site” a platform for crossing and connecting so many other addresses and authors with different depths. It is not surprising, therefore, that at a time when, on an international level, the editorial interest in new Portuguese architecture is increasing – in recent publications, from Spain to Japan, from Italy to Russia, from France to Korea – the photographs of Fernando Guerra fill the covers and contents of magazines such as Arquitectura Viva, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, A+U or Casabella, or Wallpaper, Ícon, Blueprint, or Frame. Although distinct, they all constitute, as we said, faces of the same mirror.»
Excerpt from the text published in “Mundo Perfeito – Fotografia de Fernando Guerra”, Publicações FAUP, 1st edition, Porto 2008.
Born in Lisbon, in 1975. He graduated in Architecture in 1998 from Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa. He worked in several ateliers in Lisbon before founding the atelier and studio FG + SG-Fotografia de Arquitectura, in partnership with his brother Fernando Guerra. He is responsible for producing the reports and general management of the atelier.