Architecture has been highly subjected to the photographic gaze since the inception of photography and has only intensified with the ubiquity of digital platforms. As both disciplines are deeply embedded in the business of image production, conversations about representational ambiguity and digital mediation continue to complicate the relationship between architecture and photography. The photographic image’s ongoing struggle with objectivity calls for a re-examination of these disciplines which operate behind a camera that doesn’t exist.
Julius Shulman’s iconic photograph of Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House (Case Study House No. 22 ) is one of the most celebrated architectural photographs of the 20th century. Photographed on the evening of May 9, 1960, the scene of Cynthia Murfee and Ann Lightbody conversing over the Los Angeles cityscape would become the defining image of the Case Study House program. It’s widely agreed upon that the photograph has achieved greater fame than the physical house – unlike most architectural projects, Shulman’s photographs prevail as the primary exhibiting documents for the Stahl House in lieu of conventional architectural drawings.
With exception to a few rarely seen ‘Case Study House Program Style’ constructed perspectives, a prescribed furniture layout is absent in Koenig’s drawings of the Stahl House. The house was also incomplete and unoccupied on the day it was to be photographed, leaving the house’s spatial organization in the hands of the photographer. Shulman’s overall placement of rental furniture has remained to this day.
Déjà View problematizes the relationship between architecture and photography and destabilizes the idealized reference of architectural photographic documents. Using the tectonics of Julius Shulman's photographs, the living room of the Stahl House is reconstructed twice in Knowlton’s Banvard Gallery. The exhibition corrupts Koenig's design both photographically and spatially, re-positioning the Stahl house between its sensationalized image and built configuration.
The combination of photography, entourage, and orthography uncovers the discrepancies between architectural and photographic subjects, highlighting the multiple lives a project can have in photographic documents. Different configurations of the Stahl House living room based on their photographic orientations are merged, where fragments of the photographic frame intersect with physical objects and full-scale orthographic drawings. The scaleless characteristics of photographs and lens-based distortions lead to hybrid two and three-dimensional conditions, creating new formal, visual, and spatial relationships. The photographic image itself becomes the subject, where scenes are staged with the photographs themselves.
Déjà View aims to recapture the agency of the spectator. Patrons are encouraged to create, stage, and share their photographic compositions of the exhibition with #DEJAVIEW or The Stahl House location tag. Through corrupting the Stahl House’s digital feed, visitor photos of this exhibit further highlight the continual digital mediation of a physical presence of both the exhibit and the actual Stahl House.
About the Team
2021–22 Howard E. LeFevre ’29 Emerging Practitioner Fellow
- Ryan Carlton
- Jyae McWilson
- Noel Michel
- Kendra Mosley
- Noah Nicolette
- Allison Summers
- Alonzo Waugh
- Crate & Barrel
- Hopkins Printing
- The Ohio State University Architecture Library
The Banvard Gallery is open and exhibiting works during the 2021–22 academic year. Hours for the gallery are 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Monday–Friday.
The Banvard Gallery is located on the first floor of Knowlton Hall.