Architectural landscape photography has captured the interest of artists since the mid-19th century. While portrait photographers were practicing their art as a business, architectural landscape photographers were more often amateurs. They may have been business travelers who captured the architectural scenes that awed them as they passed through the various regions of countries near and far. Oftentimes, the photographer would perform the shot from the window of a hotel or office, instead of placing himself in the street itself.
Another contrast with portraiture was that the landscape photographer did not need to take the photograph quickly. The buildings that were the subjects of the pieces were immobile and patient, so the artist could take his time composing and taking the photograph. This required different lenses than those used by commercial portrait photographers. Sharp contrast and definition, however, were crucial to the outcome of the piece.
Among these early architecture photographers leaning out their hotel windows was WHF Talbot. Another was Roger Fenton, a British photographer who was famous for his war photographs. As his work often took him abroad, he came across the process of the waxed paper calotype, invented by Gustave Le Grey in Paris. Using this calotype process, Fenton took detailed architectural pieces in Britain and Russia.
The art form was by no means limited to Europe. Francis Frith did his share to introduce Europeans to the beautiful architecture of the Middle East. He used the collodion process as he traveled extensively throughout the hot, dusty region. The Brit Samuel Bourne was responsible for many detailed landscape scenes done in India.
By the end of the 19th century, the art of architectural landscape photography was old enough to have evolved. Cities swelled both in population and height, and photographers adapted to these changes. The window shots became few and far between, and more landscape photography was performed in the street from the eye level, with the camera held upright. This had the effect of making the grand buildings appear even taller. In addition, more than one side of a building would be shown. These characteristics added to the sense of grandeur and importance, which was a main objective of the artists.
As is true in many forms of visual art, churches were important subjects for architectural landscape photographers. Medieval cathedrals in England and France were captured on print by the famous photographer Frederick H. Evans. He made both the inside and outside of the churches his subjects, and developed the platinotype. One of the reasons Evans became so highly regarded was his sense of perfection in architectural landscapes. His ideal photograph would so precise when it was taken that no adjustments after the fact would be necessary at all!
Around this time, the bustle of the city and the development of the art form made architectural landscape photography a viable business. Companies began to be formed offering services in photography of buildings and cityscapes. Both the Byron Company and the Wurts business were important companies that offered their services in the busy commercial city of New York.
Classical ideals eventually began to be replaced by modern aesthetics. This changed the look of the subjects of architectural landscapes (the buildings) as well as the techniques and ideas of those who captured the images. Companies such as the Chicago firm Hedrich-Blessing, founded in 1929, adopted this form and were quite popular. This company is still in existence, currently run by the son of one of the original founders. Their modernist philosophy is contained in a quote from a founder: “Don’t make photographs, think them.”
Other modernists were Bernice Abbott and Ilse Bing. Margaret Bourke-White was a photojournalist who advanced the architectural landscape art form. Photographers were not always professional ones; Ezra Stoller was famous for his architectural landscapes, such as his image of Le Corbusieris Chapel Notre-Dame-du-Haut. The fact that he was an architect by trade, not a photographer, gave him a new perspective on the art and inspired him to use physical space and light in different ways. He went on the found the firm Esto, which is still in business today.
As the 20th century progressed, ideas about modernism and architectural landscapes continued to change. Julius Shulman challenged the pristine abstractness of the art by utilizing people in the landscapes he created. This resulted in a more approachable, human feeling in the buildings built by Neutra, Koenig, and Schindler. One famous example of Shulman’s work is his Case Study House #22, an L.A. image of one of Koenig’s creations. His sense of modernism did not sit well with all involved, however, as some considered it too drastic for its time.
If you’d like to know more about the history of photography and other similar information, you can see them here along with many other photography resources (some free) at this page – Photography Equipment & Resources.