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‘The Future of Yesterday can only become Present as Past’: a research into the architecture of World Fairs and an architectural form of photography.

Project: PhD-project

  • Maes, Ives (PhD student)
  • Deleu, Luc (Promotor HoGent)
  • Chatel, Guy, Universiteit Gent, Vakgroep: Architectuur & Stedenbouw , Belgium (Promotor University)

The discursive part of this PhD is titled “The Architecture of Photography” and researches the physical, sculptural and architectural aspects of photography. The general thesis of this PhD is that the invention of photography presupposed architecture in order to function and that since its invention there have been numerous hybrid experiments between photography and architecture that exemplify a continuous influence of architecture on photography and vice versa.

In the earliest known representation of the camera obscura principle, an engraving in Gemma Frisius’s ‘De radio astronomico et geometrico liber’ from 1558, an intersection of a pavilion is depicted, that projects through an aperture a reversed image of the disc of the sun. The drawing shows a heavily ornamented garden pavilion that, due to the presence of the pinhole, seems to be purpose built, precisely for the phenomenon of the camera obscura. Although the ‘Camera Obscura Portabilis’ was a far more interesting object for the development of the history of photography, the camera obscura pavilion of the 18th century proved that architecture was inherent to the birth of photography.

This PhD focuses on architectural influences in the history of photography such as the camera obscura pavilion, Daguerre’s Diorama, Philip Henry Delamotte and the Crystal Palace, the Cinéorama, the Agricultural Pavilion by Charlotte Perriand, Edward Steichen and Paul Rudolph’s Family of Man and the American National Exhibit. Many of the case studies in this PhD were part of World Exhibitions. The exhibition grounds of World Fairs proved to be fertile environments for experimental architecture and photography. But many of these World Fair experiment have been forgotten, classified as popular ‘low-art’ or described unilateral.

Nonetheless, these exhibitions design strategies have carried on to a contemporary generation of artists such as Robert Heinecken, Dennis Adams, Thomas Ruff and Wolfgang Tillmans. This only becomes clear when the history of photography, art, technology, architecture and World Fairs are treated as a unity. An interdisciplinary reinterpretation of certain details in these separate histories is necessary to understand how new forms of photography can develop.

These influences persist in the practical part of this PhD in the Arts, in the production of a new series of photo-sculptures and photo-architectures. In “The Future of Yesterday” the architectural remnants of World Fairs are traced and photographed. These photographs are presented as photographic installations. In the series “Sunville” the village of Zonhoven in Belgium becomes the focus of a ‘national world fair pavilion’ presenting a personal ‘heimat’. These works are photo-sculptures, photographic installations and a study for a photographic pavilion, using a range of technologies from the basic chemical principles of photography to 3D printing.

Together these two parts form the PhD in the Arts entitled “The Future of Yesterday can only become Present as Past” where the discursive part is an extensive historical research that feeds the production of a new body of works of art. This exchange between theory and practice creates a new synthesis that is essential to this PhD.

StatusIn execution