I do not believe in the objectiveness of photography. Despite the attempt of many to erase life’s subjective contingencies that contaminate the pure spaces drawn by architects, the image of an architectural object - or of any object - is always the imposition of a point of view. Of the photographer, of the one who chooses the light, time of exposure, type of lens or the camera. Whatever the case, it will always imply a choice or infinite choices and it is by definition (definitely?) subjective.
I do not believe in the myth of the architectural photographer as a contemplative, who thinks it is possible to choose, beforehand, one single synthetic perspective that combines everything a work of architecture encompasses. Architecture depends on many variables, it is never fully apprehended; it is, on the contrary, endlessly interpretable. The perception of architecture stems from the combination of multiple points of view, from the mental reconstitution of numerous spaces.
Aldo Rossi, in his “Scientific Autobiography”, acknowledges that the “observation of things has probably prevailed as my most important formal education and this is so because observation later becomes memory”. Looking back, Rossi crosses his own culture, the memory of things, “which I can see laid out orderly, as in a herbarium, in a catalog or in a dictionary” with the imagination. This is not a plain process, there is a crossing between both, which produces different meanings, i.e., the result of that hybridization is more than the simple sum of its parts. “This catalog, placed somewhere between imagination and memory, is not neutral. It almost always reappears in some objects making for their disfigurement and, in a way, its evolution”. What we observed in the past reoccurs in the presence of the new, filtered by the strength of the memory of things making it possible to create a new and more critical way of looking at them. It is the memory that shapes perspective, this is, when we look at an object, architectural or not, it transforms when crossed with the memory of what we already lived.
Fernando Guerra’s point of view is an architect’s one. To understand the space, architects, eventually with a more conscious intention than others, walk around in buildings. They capture the spacial qualities of architecture, examining thoroughly, making associations of ideas, of shapes, of dimensions. It is through that movement that they discover the infinite variables of architectural space, the singularities that enable the distinction between a meaningful space and a myriad of meaningless constructions that invade our visual field. And they do it crossing what they see with the memories of other buildings they carry with them, often obtained by observation relayed through photography. As it is not possible for our architectural culture to visit all the buildings in the world, it is mostly built through the eyes of others.
Through the generosity of giving us multiple points of view of a building, Fernando Guerra’s photography come close to the real living in a space allowing us to restore a place through the sum of all images. In that sense, it also resembles the cinematographic language due not only to the implicit idea of movement its images convey but also to the narrative sense given by the photographer. We can, then, understand the almost obsessive need to include characters in his framings. Sometimes anonymous characters, other times the architects, and many times the photographer himself. It is certainly not a wish for self-representation as much as a need to grant meaning and scale to a given space, which, in the absence of a human figure, would become incomprehensibly abstract.
There is a desire for every image to represent a fragment of life, a personal story where the characters are undefined though, where they are almost figures aiming to let the observer imagine the picture he wishes. As in Julius Schulman, the objective of Fernando Guerra’s images is to represent architecture as well as to capture a sense of place, an atmosphere that defines modern times. But what in Schulman was intentionally staged with a sometimes literal narrative sense, in Guerra that is intentionally diffused allowing us to imagine all the stories that will take place there.
The word “perfection” is somewhat radical in the sense that it implies a limit state with no possible evolution. When you reach perfection, then you are left alone with the contemplation of beauty. But, at the same time, the search for perfection can be a generous act. When your goal is to find the best images to represent the essence and concept of a building, you are responding to the wishes of those who projected it.
In the same way architects reconstruct a particular world in each project, seeking to grant a sense of unity from the several variables with which they are confronted – from the client to the place, from geography to budget, from material contingencies to structural limitations – Fernando Guerra’s pictures take architecture back to that search for possible perfection, “intensifying the reality portrayed”, reshaping the world around it.
Perfect World, book and exhibition, also shows the will to combine types of architecture which, sharing a same identity, are the architecture made in Portugal today. If the connotations were not too politicized, “world” here might just mean “Portuguese world”, but a plural, democratic and cosmopolitan one which is now open to other worlds. The fact that this work is done in Portuguese territory or by Portuguese architects in other territories and, in spite of the volatility of what the idea of borders and national identities stands for nowadays, it is still a common denominator that explains its combination in an ensemble which is admittedly heterogeneous yet unified by Fernando Guerra’s perspective. His work - and a visit to ultimasreportagens.com is enough to understand it - is not just about a catalogue of extremely valuable architectural images due to possible coverage it allows both nationally and abroad. It is, instead, an autonomous and original speech on Portuguese contemporary architecture.