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Architectural photography in Black and White : the discovery of Helene Binet

Chances are you are well aware of Black and White photography or BW in short term.

Even if not as an artistic opinion , at least in the form of filters in Instagram or your own smartphone camera – BW is known to one and all

Black and white or the monochrome has both been the beginning of photography as well as videography. If you remember the photos of our grandparents or even your parents ( if you are well above 30 years of age ) do have BW photos in their collection

So were the movies of their era , MGR and Sivaji Ganesan movies in Tamil , all profoundly remembered, subconsciously with their monochrome or BW tone

The world then went from BW to “colour“ where the real-world colours were able to be replicated in print and video and today also on our digital screens.

But if you are an artist, a photographer or even just a fan of the arts – the romanticism associated with BW is ethereal

But it would be unfair to call it just romanticism.

There is much more to BW photography than just the allure to be “vintage”.

Going back to BW is beautiful. But I was never interested in BW photos. I thought it was stupid not to enjoy the colours of this wonderful world.

I enjoyed making the odd photograph BW in post processing - simply because I could.

I never understood the need to make something BW when u had colours – the life of the visual medium in my humble opinion.

A fellow photographer once mentioned how shooting a photo in black and white distracts us from all the colour and focuses on the emotion of the subject.

Interesting don’t you think?

Honestly I dint care, until I came across Helene Binet – a Swiss-French architectural photographer, who is one of the leading architectural photographers in the world, shoots in film cameras and most importantly shoots BW images to a large extent

( this blog post is simply an excuse to introduce you to the marvellous photographer that is Helene Binet )

During the first wave of the pandemic that had most of us indoors for the better part of a year , I had decided I would read up a lot on architecture as it became evident that I had to be extremely proficient and well-versed in architecture in order to be an exceptional architectural photographer. I borrowed quite a number of books from my friends which i still haven't returned ( I keep warning people not to lend me books).

That’s when Helene Binet happened, and I have been wondering how I’ve not happened to see any of her works or read about it ever. Never too late anyway I thought.

Listening to Helene Binet talk about architecture was very transformative - the way you look at architecture changes , photographer or otherwise. Please do listen to it at-least once in your life , its soothing to the soul of an architect.

I'd let you read about Helene Binet and her biography here. For me its important that you know what she made me feel and how she could make you feel with respect to architecture.

“I'm interested in making you dream about the place“ she says gleefully.

When you step into architectural photography , initially you are trying too hard to impress clients and others, to give them something stunning, a recreation of their work in the form of photos, so much so you tend to forget that architecture and space have emotion or in the very least, lead you towards emotions.

Imagine the stunning place of worship that was built centuries ago in your town , or go sit at your favourite space in your home – you will eventually realise architecture and space cannot be separated from emotion in its experience.

Helene Binet's work especially in BW does exactly that, it tries and succeeds in every level to make sure you are able to experience a space.

So there I was , fresh from admiring Helene Binet’s works, reading her articles and listening to her interviews.

On site of my next shoot I switched my camera mode from colour to monochrome and what I saw was moving. Suddenly all the colours i relied on were sucked out and what remained was the soul in the photograph.

I photographed two projects during the pandemic, just after discovering Helene Binet.

One was a residence in Madurai , and another a farmhouse in a small town in district of Pudukottai called Aavanam

I wouldn’t say they were a grand success in the BW experiment or the value of BW was noticed tremendously and loved by my clients. But for me, someone who loves the bare soul of architecture, it was a revelation.

By God, the time I spent in classrooms in architecture school suddenly made sense.

Light , shadow , space and the quality of it all in a single photograph.

My mentor from college , Professor Asaithambi warned me 8 years ago , about creating “postcard” images in the name of architectural photography that are lacking both in human life and spatial emotion and discovering Helene Binet has been my first step towards slowly coming out of the “postcard” type of photography where an image only portrayed what was widely construed as beautiful.

The next time you bring in someone to shoot your work or when you yourself photograph a space you enjoy or have designed, take a second to look at it in BW and you will notice what I am raving about.

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