"The book of stone, so solid and so enduring architecture is the great book of the human race, man's chief means of expressing the various stages of his development, whether physical or mental. They enclosed each tradition in a monumentFrom the most immemorial temple of Hindustan to the Cathedral at Cologne-architecture has been the great manuscript of the human race... every human thought, has its page and its memorial in that vast book."
(Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris, Book V II, This Will Destroy That, 1831)
To coincide with this year's Paris Photo, James Hyman Gallery has curated a photography exhibition for Galerie Gimpel et Muller, off rue de Seine. The Book of Stone. Photography, Architecture, Typology features works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
Inspired by the exhibition The Encyclopaedic Palace at the Venice Biennale (2013) and The Walther Collection. Typology, Taxonomy and Seriality (2014), The Book of Stone takes its title from the writing of Victor Hugo. It presents three moments in the history of architectural photography to explore the changing ways in which photographers have sought to catalogue, record and order the built environment: one body of work from the mid-nineteenth century, one from the mid-twentieth century and one more recent example.
Works by Henri le Secq from the early 1850s were commissioned for the French government agency the Mission Heliographique to record the country's patrimony. The results, by Le Secq and comrades such as Edouard Baldus, represent the earliest systematic use of photography to record, classify and detail. Le Secq's meticulous cataloguing of the sculptures of the facades of France's great Gothic cathedrals record, romanticise and anticipate Claude Monet's repeated paintings of the facade of Rouen cathedral.
A century later in America, the state again made use of photography, this time to document the devastation of the Great Depression. Whilst le Secq isolates his architecture and removes all social context in order to focus on its design, Walker Evans' concerns are above all social. Sponsored by the America Governments Farm Security Administration (FSA), Walker Evans sought to encapsulate the changing face of America at a time of acute poverty, industrialisation and urbanisation. A leitmotif of Evans' depiction of rural America is the simple wooden buildings that he saw around him. But whereas Le Secq isolates the architecture, Evans embeds it in its surrounding to suggest its social, communal importance.
More recently the Dusseldorf School in Germany has focused on classification and typology. In the work of Josef Schulz, a student of Bernd Becher and Thomas Ruff, observation combines with fantasy, veracity with fiction: analogue, camera-based photography combines with digital manipulation: real buildings rendered unreal.
The exhibition contextualises these three moments with works by other photographers that include Charles Negre, Charles Marville, Edouard Baldus, Eugene Atget, Andre Kertesz and Andy Warhol.