THE PHOTOGRAPHER WHO MADE MODERNISM SING
We all are aware that architects shape buildings, but have you ever wondered who shapes the way we perceive them? The answer is architectural photographers. And during the middle of the 20th century, one photographer stood out from the rest: Ezra Stoller. A new book titled Ezra Stoller: A Photographic History of Modern American Architecture, offers lovers of American modern architecture an unprecedented exploration of his archive, unveiling what made his images so captivating.
Stoller is the person who leading architects of the past, such as I.M. Pei, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, along with other big names in the industry trusted to communicate their work. Today, his photographs have become known as one of the primary records of modern architecture. And never before have so many examples of it been published in a single book.
“This book is the story of Ezra Stoller’s epic and groundbreaking architectural adventure,” author Pierluigi Serraino writes in the introduction. “Stoller was a de facto architect with a camera, rather than a photographer looking at architecture,” Serraino goes on to explain. “He thought that through his photography he was advancing architecture, explaining it, and furthering its advancement; his desire was to win the favor of modern design’s skeptics and the general public.”
What is Mid-Century?
A sort of sub-set of American Modern architecture has become known as Mid-century Modern design. Examples of the style began springing up in the mid-1940s, right after World War II, and continued to spread throughout the 1980s. While there is some disagreement about when the period started, many experts and others consider it roughly lasted from the mid-1930s to mid-1960s. The enduring popularity of the Mid-century Modern style is based on many factors, with distinguishing features that consist of a classic, understated look, and clean lines with minimal fuss.
With the belief that form follows function, the functionality of a mid-century building is of utmost importance. Think uncluttered, sleek lines with minimal ornamentation in the shape of both organic and geometric forms. The style is known as an exploration combining different traditional materials with non-traditional ones. The timeless quality of the style, however, continues to appeal to today’s homeowners.
The Self-Proclaimed “Archaeologist of the Contemporary”
Born in 1915, Stoller originally worked as a draftsman and industrial designer. From there, he decided to use his talent for a different form of art and became a professional photographer. And his dedication paid off. During the post-war years, he became known as the most in-demand architectural photographer of his generation. He received the American Institute of Architects’ Architectural Photography Medal in 1961. That honor catapulted Stoller’s career and he became known as “the chief enabler of our experiences in Modern architecture.”
Architects loved to work with the celebrated photographer because he made Modern architecture sing by taking a methodical approach to his work. He had a way of capturing the look and feel of his subjects in a unique, authentic way. He preferred working in stark black and white, saying it was more predictable and easier to control than color film. But the real secret to his success was the fact that before he even got his camera out, Stoller thoroughly studied his assignments. And not only the buildings. He also studied the weather, selecting the best light in which to capture his subjects. That way, he was able to depict architecture as it was and photograph buildings from the perspective of a person who was physically there. The bottom line: he planned everything out and communicated his ideas to the architects who commissioned him in a way only a fellow architect could.
“With photography, we can twist, distort, cheat, lie, and perform a number of tricks to make a mediocre work of architecture appear to be a great one,” Stoller once said. “A truly great work, however, needs no distortion.”
The talented photographer thought of himself as an objective documentarian, downplaying the beauty of his work. The irony is his photographs are still among some of the most romantic images of architecture there are in the world.
I can’t help but wonder what the self-proclaimed “archaeologist of the contemporary” would think about the many amazing examples of American Modern architecture we have here in Montecito. Take this Notable Architect’s Mid-century Modern residence which recently sold. Sitting on early three-acres, this amazing example of mid-century architecture was originally designed by renowned architect John S. Van Bergen and built as his family’s home. The structure incorporates an abundance of floor-to-ceiling glass in order to take advantage of the breathtaking panoramic ocean and island views.
Or how would Stoller capture this Montecito Mid-Century Ranch I recently sold. Located in a coveted neighborhood of grand and timeless homes, this rare Sycamore Canyon Road Mid-century ranch received lots of attention from buyers looking to create a world-class manor. Set on approximately 1.3-acres, the updated home also featured a separate artist studio tucked against a wooded hillside.
Don’t worry that you missed the opportunity to own these stunning examples of mid-century architecture. There are often others for sale in Montecito and the surrounding Santa Barbara communities that I believe Ezra Stoller would appreciate. If you’re looking to move within Montecito, Hope Ranch or any of Santa Barbara’s upscale communities, please call at 805.886.9378 or email me at Cristal@montecito-estate.com. I’ll happily add your listing to my portfolio of fine homes in the area and find you the perfect example of American Modern architecture where you can live happily ever after. And if you’re a fan of Modern architecture, do yourself a favor and pick up your own copy of Ezra Stoller: A Photographic History of Modern American Architecture.