De zwaarte van de stenen: Over architectuurfotograaf Jens Lindhe / The heavy presence of the stones: The architectural photographer Jens Lindhe

The slide showed one of the portals of C.F. Hansen’s Courthouse in Copenhagen, one of the major works of Danish neo-classicism. The technical quality of the slide was perfect and we came to the conclusion that its quality as a photograph was pretty good too.
Some time later we needed a photograph for an article about one of the absolute pinnacles of Danish architecture, the Thorvaldsen Museum, designed by the architect M.G. Bindesboll. We decided to give the Swede a chance to prove his capabilities.

The picture he delivered presented the house exactly as the article asserted that it ought to be seen – as an autonomous object in the city. The cars which normally fill up the square in front of the museum were gone, and the monumentality of the house and its relation to the square and the surroundings in general, were delineated with convincing strength. It was technically perfect and displayed a workmanship which was consummate from start to finish. The sky was as it should be, the shadows accentuated the depth of the niches and the deep-lying windows reflected the light of the sky. The shadow from the buildings to the right was lightened (maybe a little bit too much) to emphasize the fine cobblestone paving of the square.
To avoid the cars Lindhe had to take the photograph early in the morning. For days he had got up early to check the weather and finally when the day arrived, when the sky was scattered with clouds in the right manner, he had to wait for hours to get the shadows where he wanted them.
We published the picture in SKALA no. 10 and we arrived at the conclusion that here was a man we would like to collaborate with. Since then, no issue of SKALA has been published without at least one photograph by Jens Lindhe.
`… there is only one kind of architectural photograph, and that is the one which conveys the architect’s idea’1) the great modern architectural photographer, the American Ezra Stoller, once said. To a certain degree that was exactly what Lindhe attempted with the picture of the Thorvaldsen Museum. Since then a lot has happened. Not only has he become one of the most highly respected architectural photographers in Denmark, but also his pictures have become more subjective. This does not mean to say he has his sights set only on taking a good picture.
The fact that he is an architect and still insists on working as such is not without importance. The architecture is still what is most important. But now, to a greater degree, Lindhe allows himself to take the position of the interpreter, to define his own point of view in relation to the work.
Jens Lindhe’s colour photographs are good, but his black and whites are even better. Not because he has no sense of colour (actually it is very refined, and he makes watercolours too), but because nicety and good taste lurk in the seductive force of the colours. The reduction to greys tightens the pictures and the possibility of manipulation in the darkroom creates space for further tightening, accentuates the interpretation and to a greater extent, withdraws the picture from the reproduction as such – it creates more space for the subjective.
And exactly because his interpretation is grounded in the subjective identification with the work, he is not equally good at photographing every kind of architecture. His strength is classical architecture. This is in fine accordance with the fact that as an architect he is employed in an office which specializes in making restorations. His heart beats for the classical, for the architecture of gravity. For the stones.
As a consequence of this the whole influence of Pop Art on photography has left no traces in his work. As a photographer he is simply not interested in the banal as such, in mass culture, in mass media, in meta-pictures, in the superficial. On the other hand, he is very interested in, or even devoted to, the surfaces of mass – the tactilities of materiality. Where the material meets space and light. To a high degree it is this surface he is focusing upon and transforming to the photographic surface on the materiality of the paper, in an ambitious attempt to capture the heaviness of the mass on the lightness of the paper.
To a certain extent he is living in the previous century – but only partly. Still, he can probably identify with the statement by one of the fathers of architectural photography, Frederick H. Evans, from the year 1900: `My chief aim has always been to try for such effects of light and shade as will give the irresistible feeling that one is in an interior, and that it is full of light and space. Realism in the sense of true atmosphere, a feeling of space, truth of lighting, solidity and perfection of perspective (in the eye’s habit of seeing it), has been my ambitious aim’.2) Dissenting somewhat from the latter tenet, however, Lindhe does not avoid making manipulations with light or with perspective (lately he has even made pictures with a tilted horizon), but it is always done in ways that are subordinate to the same general aim: to convey the subjective experience of being there.
As it was for Evans, the most important thing for Lindhe is the atmosphere, the vibration of the architecture, its radiation. In his best pictures, the architecture glows with meaning, with presence. The stones talk and the architecture becomes real.
Especially when it comes to well-known buildings the reconciliation of this presence demands a penetration of that membrane between our eyes and reality, formed by the information society’s continuous bombardment of images. The sober, objective representation does not fulfil the task. Tricks and manipulations are needed.
The great Danish artist Per Kirkeby once told how he experimented with photographing the Courthouse by C.F. Hansen at night, in an attempt to `display the original and “forgotten’ mass of building’. In that way he succeeded in seeing `the familiar house emerge as the architecture of the revolution’.3)
It is not so much about avoiding cars, people and other trivial, everyday exterior phenomena, but maybe to a greater degree about accentuating and emphasizing – about interpretation in other words. About cropping and about manipulating and playing on the whole keyboard of grey tones in the darkroom.
It is Lindhe’s understanding of this and his creative and striking control of the tricks, which really draws him forth into this moment in the century, to the present. It makes the architecture in his pictures present – now.
Jens Lindhe, as suggested here, is a phenomenologically oriented photographer, which does not mean that the formal aspects of either architecture or photography are beyond his interest. It is more along the lines of what Roland Barthes had in mind when he wrote: `From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation’.4)
That is exactly what this selection of photographs ought to prove.

Bouwen voor het oor / Building for the ear