Landscape photography offers three verities: geography, autobiography and metaphor. What a landscape photographer traditionally tries to do is to show the past, present and future in one image.
Photographer and architect Yiorgis Yerolymbos spent a decade documenting with his camera Renzo Piano's Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC) in Athens, Greece. Of all the images that have been captured, one grouping stands out: the ground-plan photographs of the construction of the Cultural Center, images that were created during aerial orbits from the site’s tower cranes.
These photographs are records of an ever-changing environment, they document and interpret the evolving phases of the construction site, following the vocabulary of architecture, yet recorded in the language of.
Borrowing their name "Orthographs" from Leon Battista Alberti's description of the ground plan during Renaissance, this body of work attempts to record the ephemeral intermediate stages of the construction of architecture and the human effort behind it before they slowly fade from memory.
With each “flight,” - said Yiorgis - I realized that the vision of the construction site from above was for me both a revelation and a relief. A revelation because the spectacle captivated the gaze of the photographer in me; and a relief because the ordering of space through the ground plan organized everything in the mind of the architect in me. Suddenly everything fell into place, and the central approach of my own project became crystal clear: it would be a documentation and interpretation of the evolving landscapes of the construction site, following the vocabulary of architecture, but recorded in the language of photography.
What was my objective? That the photographs of the Cultural Center’s ground plans render the intermediate, formative moments of architecture as visual events, maintaining their autonomy, each with its own significance and dynamic, preserving these moments from oblivion. For this to be possible, the images must strike a balance between the two disciplines they engage: they must be true both to the reality before them, architecture under construction, and at the same time to the art of photography.
During the construction of the SNFCC, I had the privilege of observing a landscape in transition. Now that the project is complete, its users—lovers of music, readers, strollers in the park, families, and other visitors—will perhaps be under the impression that the place was always there in the form in which they see it.
My hope is that the photographs of the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center will serve as a compelling record of the major changes that took place in this landscape before the dynamics of the final result made them self-evident—before they were taken for granted. Photographs, after all, have the power to transmit not only the news of the present day, but also the memory of the past and the anticipation of that which is to come.
Note: The words of photographer Robert Adams are from California: Views by Robert Adams of the Los Angeles Basin, 1978–1983 (San Francisco and New York: Fraenkel Gallery–Matthew Marks Gallery, 2000).
Images courtesy of Yiorgis Yerolymbos