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A Photographer Goes to Design School

In the profession of architecture, my former profession of law, and many others, practitioners need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain licensure. For better or worse, there are no such things in professional photography, but the conscientious photographer looks for ways to learn more of the things that will improve one's work.

Like many architectural photographers, I don’t have a formal background in architecture. I don’t think that is necessarily a handicap; if nothing else, it may help me to look at things naively, which can lead to useful discoveries. Nonetheless, I generally think that one can take better photographs the more one understands what he is looking at. And so I read books, attend lectures, study buildings, and keep up with the periodicals as ways to deepen my understanding of architecture.

I have just found another good source: a free online course offered by the Harvard Graduate School of Design, called “The Architectural Imagination: Introduction to the History & Theory of Architecture.” You can access the course home page here.

The title pretty well describes the content. As in any survey course, the coverage is necessarily broad rather than deep. But it promises to teach students how to “read” architecture, both in its material forms and in its historical and cultural contexts.

I’m now in the middle of the first unit, which posits architecture as the embodiment of “ways of thinking about the world that are otherwise unavailable,” in the words of the professor, K. Michael Hays. I attended Harvard for college, and I am glad to see that, as in any good Harvard course, we open with Kant and waste no time getting to Foucault. Will the academy never tire of Discipline and Punish? But I digress. . .

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not one who finds theory irrelevant to practice. Everything in its place. I consider this a welcome opportunity, and I hope that a good dose of theory will further inform the more tangible work of taking good photographs of good design.

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Architectural Photographer

Charlotte, NC


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