Composing Space

Architectural Photographer Hélène Binet Illuminates Leading Contemporary Design

Harsh concrete lines and shards of light dissect Swiss French photographer Hélène Binet’s serene architectural images. Since befriending accomplished architects including Daniel Libeskind and her now-husband Raoul Bunschoten in the 1980s, the Rome-raised, London-based lenswoman has portrayed some of the world’s most innovatively designed buildings. “It was not about entering a profession, but an investigation,” recalls Binet. “Becoming an architectural photographer was about using the camera to understand what these architects were doing.” Working with a large-format camera, Binet has shot buildings by celebrated contemporary architects such as Zaha Hadid, Peter Zumthor and Caruso St John, as well as those of modern masters from Alvar Aalto and Andrea Palladio to Le Corbusier. The resulting works have been showcased at exhibitions across the globe and in 2007 Binet was celebrated with an appointment to Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Here she sits down with NOWNESS to talk images and edifices, ahead of the release of her upcoming monograph Composing Space: The Photographs of Hélène Binet, to be published by Phaidon this month. 

How much of your work with living architects is collaborative?
There’s no one methodology. The more I know about the architect and his dream, his concern, his early work where he was really investigating, the better my access to the building to get something very sensual. 

How do you choose what to photograph?
I have to really look at the architect and then I make some kind of program. With Zaha, I will not look so much at the materiality, the light or the texture but at the overall energy, the sense of being endless, the force that comes from nature—how the ice has been created, how the world has been created with magma. 

Whose work do you find especially satisfying to shoot?
Peter Zumthor has such an amazing attention to detail, that if you bring the camera very close you’re always discovering something new. The energy he puts into something you don’t even see is unbelievable. 

What’s it like travelling the world with a large format camera?
There’s always the feeling that people are taking you seriously and that you’re not stealing an image. You have a blanket and the tripod is big. I feel more at peace with what’s happening around me, because I’m definitely there—I’m not trying to hide.

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