MARKUS BRUNETTI: The Perfectionist
Interview by Scarlett Davis
SCARLETT DAVIS: During the 19th century, photography was used as a means to record architecture with reference to Édouard Baldus and his treatment of railways and landscapes. Your collection has also been compared to fellow German conceptual artists and photographers, Bernd and Hilla Becher, for their ty- pologies of industrial buildings. Can you describe your relationship to architectural photography, how it might fall into this tradition, and how it might be a divergence?
MARKUS BRUNETTI: In its basic idea, our series relates to Édouard Baldus and his contemporary colleagues who were documenting historical buildings with the eye of an architectural photographer. Baldus mainly worked on behalf of the government for the 1851 French Commission to photograph monuments (Mission Héliographique). He was one of the first to use the orthogonal image to depict architecture. An important difference on this point is that our series started as completely free work in 2005 and continues until today.In our conceptual approach of documenting and comparing a single subject in its many forms, we are connected with the Bechers, and in our strong collective desire. The Bechers used black and white to reduce the objects more to a graphic form. This is reinforced by the uniform diffused light during recording. However, in terms of content, this only compares the form and appearance of the captured objects, less its real surfaces. Also, the size of the presentation does not allow exploring the smallest details. The thought of the Bechers was not a single image but always the presented tableau. To show the surface of the buildings with all its details and different colors is a very important factor in our work. Our intention is both the presentation as a single work as well as the group presentation. Baldus and the Bechers would never have been able to implement the FACADES in the way we can do today with the latest technology. At first glance, the FACADES appear similar to classic architectural photography - as portraits of a moment - the split second of its capture in a single shot - but they are completely different. Our work begins where classic photography stops, with its optical laws and the possibilities of the exposure time.We aim to create a new form of an ideal perspective filled with deeper information than you can get at the original site.
Using a highly digital working process, the final result is mainly handcraft. When capturing, I deconstruct the facades to the smallest unit and when mounting the large images on our computer screens we put these small details back into the big picture. All of this follows an order that is dependent on the individual shape of each building. It is a slow process, it is not a single shot, just like the craftsmen, builders, architects who built up the original. The process is in constant development in order to improve the impression and quality.
SCARLETT: It is befitting that you have titled or christened, if you will, since we are discussing religious structures, this collection with the word “façade,” meaning loosely “frontage” or “face.” The word itself is an architectural term, but it also implies an outward appearance that is maintained in-order to conceal another reality. Did you have this in mind and could you further elaborate on your choice of title?
MARKUS: A façade should underpin an external effect. There are facades that hide something (bourgeois façade etc.). But most of the time, the façade is meant to illustrate how to elevate, curiosity awaken, demonstrating power and strength. Why the best figures, the finest ornaments, the most daring arches, pictorial mosaics were incorporated. To illustrate and to wet the appetite for the interior.
The short term Façade was deliberately chosen in order to take a maximum reduction to the essentials. Clarity as well as in the photographic works themselves, reduced to a neutral title.
SCARLETT: Why photograph only churches as opposed to other culturally significant buildings? What is your personal spiritual background or relationship with religion, and how has your work affected and been affected by this relationship?
MARKUS: Worldwide we find in the urban centers houses of different spirit. If we think about visible signs in our cultural development we should think about our holy houses. The facades Westworks of the churches, mosques, synagogues, temples influenced our power of imagination about style, proportion and beauty over hundreds-thousands of years. In the time the sacral buildings were built, they were influenced by their political, stylistic, cultural, artistic and social surrounding. All of this is conserved in the facades. That’s why our churches, temples, mosques, synagogues etc. are wonderful examples to describe our world we live in.
SCARLETT: Given that this issue is about power, what do you find powerful about your subjects in this collection?
MARKUS: Structures that do not count as a direct requirement for life, but show that humans have learned to think beyond the limits of their life. Holy houses were built large and significant to amaze “the masses.” That works in the Middle Ages, where the masses could neither read nor write and did not have a TV. This also works today in our information-flooded time. If there are people, for example, in front of the Kölner Dom, every second person’s mouth remains open with awe. No matter if he grew up religiously or not. This kind of astonishment you will not be able to observe at a high-rise or a television tower. One feels more awe in front of a holy house façade than in front of a secular building. Humanity is somehow spiritual in almost all of our different cultures.
SCARLETT: Flying buttress, swirling Gothic arches, onion domes, gilded mosaics, your collection offers a kind of masterclass into architecture incorporating multiple architectural schools of thought-- Moorish, early Romanesque, both Gothic and Baroque periods. What was your relationship to architecture prior to this project?
MARKUS: I grew up in a family of architects and builders. With my grandfather (master builder and architect), I moved from construction site to construction site as a young boy and he explained, narrated and described everything to me. Through my father (architect) I have been trained playfully in deal- ing with perspective and the capture of architecture on every trip and on holiday travels in sketching, drawing and photography. At about 10 years old, I got my first photo lab set up. In the school times, I was always in my father‘s office drawing and creating architecture. I deal with the FACADES now, so to speak, in the 4th Generation with buildings, if different than my ancestors. Betty is a fourth generation photographer. She practically grew up alternately in the darkrooms of her grandmother and her father. Her father mainly works in architectural photography and construction documentation.
To read the full interview of Markus Brunetti click here.