Excerpts of Reviews for “Of People and Houses”
“With her photographs Livia Corona makes visible an essential condition of architecture: that buildings never exist in a vacuum, but always in relation with their context, be it in conflict or in harmony. Ultimately this extraordinary book lets everyday life move into architecture again.” Sueddeutsche Zeitung
“Livia Corona’s Pictures do not only illustrate what could and does indeed happen, but also give us a glimpse of how the many complexities, the juxapositions of the old and new, the local and the global, prostitution and other passers-by, in short the complexity of our dialy glocal life, through the intervention of the 12 architecture projects honoured in this book, allow us to travel beyond the cliché without disqualifying the familiar until it becomes uncomfortable.”
Roemer van Toorn
“’Of People and Houses’ is one of the most extraordinary books dedicated the subject of living. Instead of apathetic architectural photographs, it features Livia Corona’s inspiring photographs, full of humour and a well balanced ambiguity between staging and observation. Another asset are the texts: instead of apologetic criticism, we read statements of the building’s users who certainly don’t mince matters.”
Excerpt from the editors foreword from "Of People and Houses"
“Photography is the most important medium in contemporary mediation of architecture. It is no different in most architecture yearbooks. The buildings are generally depicted with photos taken by specialized architecture photographers whom the architects commission. To a certain degree, the photographic depiction of the buildings is thus subject to the architects’ control, because the photographer works here as a service provider, not as an independent artist. The photographer accordingly inscribes the architects’ aesthetic intentions into the photographs. One can hardly blame the architects that their primary interest is in having their product look as good as possible. But if this particular form of product photography is used almost exclusively for the visual mediation of architecture, the consequences for the public perception of architecture are quite severe. First, in this perception, architecture appears almost always as a singular object, isolated from its immediate physical context (ugly buildings nearby could “soil” the beauty of one’s own building, while beautiful ones could eclipse it). Second, architects often push their photographers to take the building’s picture before the users move in. Their interest is in presenting the building “in itself” – in the ideal case: empty, without any furnishings (unless designed by the architect himself) and, as a matter of course, without people. This purist staging suggests an architecture that exists in a vacuum, unrelated to the life around and inside it. We wonder whether that might be a reason why many people can’t seem to develop a relationship to architecture.
At the very beginning of the project, the HDA suggested that, instead of working with photo material commissioned by the architects, as up till now, this time we should specifically commission an independent photographer to take pictures of all the projects chosen for the yearbook. We are very thankful to the HDA to be able to work this way – which is much more expensive than the customary reuse of existing photo material – as this made it possible for once to liberate the usual photographic depiction of architecture from its usual function as marketing. At the same time, it also enabled us to develop a consistent exploration of the question of the photographic depiction of architecture, we decided not to collaborate with an architecture photographer, but to look for a photo artist.
Actually, we didn’t even have to look. Shortly before, an architect friend from Los Angeles, Mark Lee of Johnstonmarklee Architects, had shown us photos of the “Sale House” he had realized; they enthralled us immediately. It was a series of pictures that, in a certain way, told a story. Each picture showed one or more people in various domestic activities – reading, sitting at a table, putting a bench outside, climbing the stairs, etc. The picture triggered an unaccustomed effect in the viewer: they directed our attention initially to the depicted persons because one wanted to know what’s going on with them. By contrast, the architecture moved into the background, but only temporarily. But since the actions depicted always created a concrete relationship to the space, the photographs also staged very specific aspects of the architecture. With this double staging, the photographs radically altered one’s way of looking at the building. We learned that the photos were by Livia Corona, a Mexican artist who lives and works in New York and Mexico City. With the aid of extras and props, she created the fiction of daily use of the building while it was still un-tenanted. And the viewer immediately elaborated this fiction in his own imagination; this is precisely the effect we often miss in “normal” architecture photos.
With her photo series for the yearbook, Livia Corona further developed her conceptual approach to staged photography in a fascinating way: fictitious, staged aspects are seamlessly combined with observations of real scenes that happened coincidentally and that Corona captured with the presence of mind of a photo reporter. At some point, the categories are totally interwoven: the staging seems real and reality seems staged. Both are equally authentic. For each built project, Livia Corona developed a scenario that takes up and transforms thematic and formal aspects of the respective architectonic concept. Her “stories” tell us something about the life of the project, the peculiarities of its protagonists, the special characteristics of the site, and the atmosphere of its spaces. Unlike architecture photographs, Livia Corona’s pictures never claim to document architecture. They direct our gaze more to selected aspects; they have what Roland Barthes describes in “Camera Lucida” as the point of a photograph: that minimal anomaly that falls outside of a picture’s general tone, gives it a particular twist, and thereby tears our attention away from the study of the overall sign-landscape of the picture. These singular aspects are what enable us to develop an immediate emotional relationship to a picture. We cease being a distanced observer and become part of the picture’s reality.
Ilka & Andreas Ruby