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|Hold That Pose!
by Stanley Abercrombie
|Of all American cities, Chicago is blessed with the finest architecture, both old and new. It seems natural, therefore, that it should be blessed as well with the finest of architectural photography -- the firm of Hedrich Blessing.
Now a stable of many photographers, Hedrich Blessing was founded in 1929 by Ken Hedrich. In the past seven decades, the company has produced more than 500,000 images and its client list has included many of the great names in architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Albert Kahn, Holabird and Root, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Eliel Saarinen, Marcel Breuer and more.
The art of photographing buildings is a distinct one. Volumes and masses are inconveniently large. Outside, vagaries of weather can interfere. Inside, a great deal of well-placed artificial lighting is needed in order to produce effects that don't look artificial. With hours needed to properly set up a single shot, finding the most telling view is essential. Thus the Hedrich Blessing mantra, "Don't make photographs, think them."
Today the Hedrich Blessing studio is matched in quality and prestige only by Esto, the East Coast studio established by Ezra Stoller, who began photographing buildings in the 1930s. But Hedrich Blessing, if one can characterize such a varied enterprise, seems to possess a crisp, clear-eyed, uncompromising directness that is exactly apt for Chicago's bold steel and glass towers, particularly those of Mies van der Rohe. And some of the firm's shots -- such as the fish-eye view looking up at the cantilevered balconies of Wright's Fallingwater - have become familiar icons. That one was by Bill Hedrich, Ken's brother, now retired at 86.
The archives of Hedrich-Blessing, valuable as both history and art, have been given to the Chicago Historical Society for preservation, and an exhibition of selections from those archives will be on display there, Dec. 9-June 30, 2001. The exhibition design is by Chicago architect and educator Stanley Tigerman, whose past exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Merchandise Mart have shown him to be an adventurous and devilishly clever master of display.
Accompanying the show is a catalogue published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, titled Building Images: Seventy Years of Photography at Hedrich Blessing. It includes 160 photographs, a history of the firm and of the whole field of architectural (and other) photography by Tony Hiss, and brief reminiscences by many of the photographers.
STANLEY ABERCROMBIE is editorial director of Interior Design magazine.