Listening to Buildings An Olaf Willoughby interview with Paul Struijk

This month’s Olaf Willoughby interview is with Paul Struijk, a photographer based in the Netherlands, with an intriguing way of thinking about architectural photography. Paul dispenses with the usual tripod and tilt shift lenses and instead uses his Leica M to sense the soul of the building.

To start can you give me an overview of your project, its title & what is its main theme?

Buildings talk, some whisper. Other buildings are so introvert that it takes days to get in touch with their soul. I like buildings built from bricks, rocks, mud, concrete. For me, they represent the earthly character of a building. An important aspect of getting to know a building is to touch it. I don’t like glass buildings, they are cold and seem to me the same as people who talk with you whilst wearing their sunglasses. You don’t see the eyes. If I don’t feel that contact, there will never be a photographic encounter.

Meeting a building means taking your time, walking around it, sitting in it’s shadow, waiting as long as possible to go inside. The Aya Sofia in Istanbul is THE example of a building that is too big (in many ways) to comprehend and put into a frame in one day. The history of this church, the construction, the size, the influence of light took me 3 years of visiting to know the building a little and to come to love it.

About the architectural project

Over recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot, visiting cities with interesting buildings and locations. I wish the list was longer but here some of those I used in my portfolio: Paris, Barcelona, Valencia, Naples, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Sicily, Liège (Belgium), Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

I focused mainly on buildings constructed from concrete. For me the most interesting architects are Santiago Calatrava, Oscar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier and Antoni Gaudi. They all created many great buildings which show not only fantastic constructions but also their vision. They all shape their materials in a way which also shapes the light. In my opinion photography is the best way to show all these qualities. Especially B&W as it naturally calls attention to the shapes and textures.

The other interesting question for me is the relation between architecture and nature. And of course the relationship with the humans who live and work inside the architecture. This is my next step and I am at the beginning of visualizing that concept.

Each building small or large has a setting and when the architect does his job well there is a relation between the architecture and the location on several levels. A building in Rio should look different from a building in New York. It may be abstract to down-to-earth but it needs to take account of the neighbourhood, the trees, water, materials and people, Sometimes there is harmony, sometimes confrontation and exclusion. I like to walk around and look from every angle to understand why the building is built like it is and how it connects with its surroundings. The history, the informal use by people in the present and the influence of climate, all give a building a patina that is wonderful for storytelling through photography.

Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause related end in mind?

I am a creator, I need to create every day, whether it makes money or not. But yes I believe my projects should provide me at least enough money to fund the work. My aim is for the end result to be communicated through an exhibition or a book.

What photographic choices have you made; colour palette, composition, use of flash….etc.

I like wide angle shots with the 24mm, very often black & white with warm or desaturated color, never flash, always in a slow documentary style to work in a respectful and connected way with myself and the people involved.

On my Leica M I have two 24mm lenses: the Elmar and the Summilux and they have totally different characters. And a 15mm Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar III.

Why do I choose Leica? Fantastic lenses plus the camera is small and light. I often walk for days and days and the big camera kits used by most architectural photographers are five times heavier. Additionally a Leica does not attract attention. Wth my Canon in no time an official magically appears and denies me access. The Leica is far more informal.

I see that your images break into distinctive processing styles; some are high key, others a more gritty warm tone. Can you tell us how these two styles fit with your theme of Listening?

Buildings awaken something within me. Some buildings are filled with light and have a very delicate structure. Typically those by Calatrava. He sculpts and cut away anything unnecessary. My images interpret this as more high key to show the lines, almost as if constructed in a drawing. Other buildings feel to me ‘heavy’. Their weight and bulk comes from concrete which erodes through time and shows the weather conditions like rain, ground water or sunlight that burns and ultimately fractures the stone. Those buildings are for me like ugly monsters with their claws in the earth. For a creative photographer both types of architecture are a dream to meet. I return time and again to see these buildings. To observe how their character changes. The ’heavy’ buildings are represented by a heavier style of processing, yet they are warm tone because I see in them strong hints of ‘Mother Earth’ formations like rocks and cliffs.

Did any particular person or body of work influence or inspire you?

Pasolini (critic, broadcaster,writer and film maker), Tarkovski (film maker), Wim Wenders (film maker)

Many readers may want to know the locations of these images, so I’m including a list here:

  1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  2. Paris, France
  3. Rotterdam, Netherlands
  4. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  5. Sevilla, Spain
  6. Valencia, Spain
  7. Liege, Belgium
  8. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  9. Sao Paulo, Brazil
  10. Liege, Belgium
  11. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  12. Sevilla, Spain

About Paul Struijk:

I am from the Netherlands. I studied Biology, Geology, Archeology and Physiology at several Universities in Amsterdam in Groningen. I also did Modern and Classical Dance and studied Photography at the Photo Academy in Amsterdam.

Roughly a year ago I bought my Leica M and already in the first week I discovered the Leica Meet. An energised group which gives me the chance to connect with talented Leica Photographers.

To know more about Paul’s work, please visit his website, YouPic, and follow him on Facebook.

About Olaf Willoughby:

Olaf Willoughby is a photographer, writer and researcher. He is co-founder of The Leica Meet, a Facebook page and website growing at warp speed to almost 10,000 members. Olaf co-teaches workshops with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College, Leica New York and London plus Brooklyn.

If you have an intriguing project or body of work that we might feature, completed or in progress, contact Olaf at: olaffwilloughby@gmail.com or www.olafwilloughby.com

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7 comments

  • Very beautiful and interesting work, Paul.
    Architecture vs human being. You must come to Lisbon and photograph one of Calatrava’s work, Gare do Oriente.
    Congrats.

    • Thank you Rui and yes I really like to come to Lisboa for many reasons. First of all a beautiful city with buildings and people, the landscape of Portugal and of course to meet you. Thanks for your comment, wish you all the best and I hope to meet you and walk through your fantastic city, Paul

  • I truly believe like HCB you should go to .Paris and tKe photos from Notre Dame upper areas, I think you , like HCB, would give us another great perspective, this time with digital b/w.

    • Thank you John, that is very great of you to adk me this and Yes I was already looking at the Notre Dame but with HCB you give it a new perspective. I will look at both his work and the church to discover my vision on it. Thank you so much! Paul

  • Paul: Fantastic photographs!
    I would like to read from you, your thoughts about the 24mm focal length for architecture, over focal lengths of 21mm or 28mm for example!
    Thank you very much!

  • great way to look at things, Paul. Let us know if you come to Lisbon – there is a great wealth of architecture for you to meet

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