Jan Svenungsson

Illustrated text on architectural photography,
in: MAMA (Magazine for Modern Architecture), # 12, 1995

(MAMA's introduction:)
Early this summer, we asked Jan Svenungsson, Swedish artist, presently living in Berlin, to take a closer look at the image of architecture. It is a matter he has already given considerable attention, since architecture as sign, representation and symbol has been a recurrent motive for the chimneys (real or depicted) that appear in his art. We are therefore pleased to present five new images by Jan Svenungsson, created especially for this issue of MAMA, along with introductory comments by the artist.

The task of an architectural photographer is difficult to misunderstand. The object is to picture a building as attractively as possible. If the assignment comes from a magazine, it is implied that the building is architecturally interesting, which should be evident enough from the photograph to allow for a discussion. Since many of the participants of such a discussion never actually see the building in real life, the power of the photographer is great. Within the framework of a strongly formalised image, which is expected to deny itself, it is up to him (for it is rarely a she) to find a way to fill the two-dimensional representation of the building with an ambience and a purpose.

The making of an architectural photograph is a very slow and controlled process. All parts of the picture must be considered carefully; because all parts can be affected, and hence there is no possibility of seeing the picture as a random trace of reality. What is in the picture is there because it is meant to be. Nothing is supposed to take place in an architectural image, a fact that gives a certain emphasis to the occurrences that do happen: There is drama in the way the rays of the sun fall across a wall; a cloud in the sky becomes an event; a shadow hides a secret.

Architectural photography is perhaps the most overlooked and the most reticent category of photography. It gives, however, at its best, unique possibilities to ponder upon one of the mysteries of being: the experience of presence.

When I was invited to do a project for MAMA, my assignment was different from the situation described above. I wasn't given a building to photograph. Instead, it was discussed what type of a picture I should work with. The conversation concerned the image of a building as a symbolic emblem. A picture where the building is depicted as a whole; closed, contained, and representative. This is a type of image more connected with the popular representation of picture postcards, rather than the highly specialised argumentation of an architectural magazine.

Following this conversation, I decided to work with five types of buildings, chosen by myself, and for each produce a photograph representing a recently constructed building in the Stockholm area. I knew from the start how I wanted the placement of the building in relation to my camera. The hard part was to find them and to make the pictures come out as they were meant to.

I defer the discussion of any architectural qualities or faults to others I have been entirely concerned with the intrinsic conditions of the picture.

The school is situated at Skanstull. At the time of photography (summer 1995) it was not yet taken into use. The factory is in Älvsjö. I started my work with the apartment building by Tranebergs Strand. The office building was found in the centre of Stockholm. The church was built as early as 1987 and is situated in Skogås.

Jan Svenungsson
(Translation: Cilla Gabrielsson)