With the book LC FOTO : Le Corbusier Secret Photographer, Professor Tim Benton reveals a new facet of the famous architect. The first part entitled “Jeanneret’s First Photographic Campaign 1907-17” gathers the young man’s photographs, before he took his nom de plume Le Corbusier. The second part, “Cinematographic Photography 1936-38”, is dedicated to filming and individual pictures with the stop-frame device taken with his 16mm movie camera. The analysis of this vast visual material reveals how Le Corbusier’s interest for architecture emerged and how he managed to articulate his own plastic language. Following this line of thought, I observed a subtle link between the way he framed a subject when photographing or filming and the materialisation of his architectural explorations.
A. Documents of the journey
Equipped with a new camera, the young Jeanneret prepared his renowned Journey to the East together with his friend August Klipstein, a German student in art history. Between May and November 1911, the two young men went across Central Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, an experience recorded in Voyage d’Orient, Carnets. When clarifying who took which picture, Tim Benton observes Jeanneret’s interest in architecture, although at the beginning of the journey he appeared uncertain about his vocation.
In Bucharest, Jeanneret took pictures in the most significant places, like the Patriarchate Hill and Lipscani commercial
street. I managed to identify these locations by taking a similar frame from the same angle. Looking from the front of the Chamber of Deputies Palace towards the entrance gate of the Patriarchate site we can see that, since 1911, the
ensemble at the gate has been restored, opening the logia at the first level, while the church lost a glazed corridor obstructing the altar’s window.
Lipscani Street suffered many changes during the last century, which we can observe by comparing the photograph taken by Jeanneret in 1911 with the situation I recorded in 1985 (showing the relatively unchanged atmosphere of this commercial area) and with the series of digital images that I have recently taken from the same angle. In Jeanneret’s picture we can see in
the distance right the shop façade of the Al Assan, Au Bon Marché that is now held in place by a metal safety structure; my recent picture of the details of the façade demonstrates it is the same building.
Many photographs taken by the young Jeanneret during his Journey to the East are observations of and reflections on: vernacular architecture and ordinary life in the streets, monuments and their place in the city, dynamic architectural elements – steps, stairs and passages –, or the ephemeral condition of the most solid constructions as shown by the shots of cemeteries and ruins. More than documenting an exotic journey, these series of photographs record his interest for certain built elements that later will be part of his architectural vocabulary.
B. Architectural stop-frame
The second part of the book starts in the summer of 1936, when Jeanneret has already become the architect Le Corbusier, author of several projects representative of the Modern Movement. Then he obtained a Siemens B 16 mm movie camera equipped with a stop frame feature that enabled him to take during two years nearly 6,000 individual (still) photographs and around 120 sequences of film5. Tim Benton observes that most of this material was perhaps never seen by Le Corbusier but that “despite the simple viewfinder of a small cine camera, many of the photographs are very carefully composed”6. This quality proves that during this time he had used the camera as a framing and composition device, which might not be without consequences for his architectural concept.
Observing the natural landscape and the vernacular architecture, first through his camera and later through the simple viewfinder of his cine-camera, Le Corbusier’s eye shifts also in a metaphorical sense – from celebrating the progress of a machine based society to a deep understanding of nature which gives a new sense to his post-war projects.
Leafing through LC FOTO: Le Corbusier Secret Photographer, we go through sections of white pages with text and black pages entirely dedicated to photographs, mostly unknown. This rhythm recalls the experience of natural light interrupted by the shadows in the passages called pans de verre ondulatoire in the Convent of Sainte-Marie de La Tourette. Through his book dedicated to Le Corbusier’s photography, Tim Benton adds a new dimension to the exegesis on the architect’s means of observation and expression: writing and rhetoric, drawing and painting, sculpture and tapestry, or book illustration and design. The attentive reading of the texts and the understanding of the photo albums can transform the thickness of the book, regulated by the rhythm of its black and white sections, into an experience of incommensurable depth.
…for the full article and Le Corbusier’s pictures see Arhitectura No. 3, 2015, pp. 124-133.