Telling a story with one’s work

Although this isn’t a class assignment, felt it could be on interest here:

I have been shooting as a fine art project the construction of a friend’s house utilizing parts of a Boeing 747.  My archive is at     The architect, known for his environmental/repurposing work, was asked to exhibit the 747 WING HOUSE project in the upcoming California Design Biennial at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, opening July 17th.  He plans to construct a model of the house, create a 24×36 board to show the design sketches and some process shots, primarily the cutting up and transportation of the plane (flying in the wings) to Malibu, the home site.  Knowing my work, he asked that I create a second board.  The caveat: that I be more attuned to the story of his work and less about the “abstract” that so often pervades mine (up till now with this class!).

The concern: how to make it serve the story of his work while at the same time make it my art.  I spoke to Doug about this during the design process so I thought I might post here some of the drafts and notes.

Idea no. 1: not really a design but compiled for discussion after the architect and I spoke about what he wanted: definitely the long stitched studio/guest house view  for it’s been hard to shoot the structures all together unless from the air or a very large, tall crane which I haven’t had the courage yet to tackle.

He liked the images but suggested I lose much of the sky in the stitch, the better to have room for more views of his design.  This is one of the next draft ideas:

What interests me are the wings.  They are the roof of the house and define its character.  Since it is still in construction, while showing more specific “story/documentary” photos than I am used to but what I am learning in Doug’s class, I decided the wings warranted the full, central treatment.

That said, in trying first to “match” the flavor of the architect’s board, I also created another layout (below), one which I like very much but wasn’t sure it really made an aesthetic statement for me.  The architect’s studio manager loved this one (the architect was away until today), but I still had doubts.  I sent the one below and the one above to Doug.

Doug’s comments: Hi Sara:
As I think we’ve discussed, architectural photography is definitely a discipline that closely treads that line between art and commerce.  This opportunity to show some of your work in a museum setting tests that duality more than most situations.  Did you ever see the Frank Isreal show at MOCA featuring Grant Mudford’s photographs of his projects?  Grant definitely managed to maintain his artistic integrity while still doing a good job of documenting Frank’s architecture.       My personal preference is for the … [first] version .  I like seeing a bit more negative space in the layout and the abstractly wing-like shape of the middle strip of images.  While it compliments the architect’s board it also stands apart from it a bit more than the first of your layouts.  One thought: float the images on white instead of black.  Too different from the architect’s board?  Just my $0.02 worth.”

So I thought about this, researched Grant Mudford, and went back to white.  In so doing something wonderful happened as the almost white background in the central tail stabilizers photo dropped out, creative a design I loved.  Thus I sent the architect the next board along with the two above, with this explanation:  “This intrigues me …for it is a dramatic representation of your design and really highlights the lines of the architecture.  The [drama of the] stabilizer center wings [make this a] forceful design composition that explains, represents and truly tells the story and energy of design inherent in Wing Ranch and dramatically complements your board, rather than just “matching” it …. The fascination is about the wings, about the perception of space and how you have so wonderfully created a forward look at architecture and today’s environmental concerns, using the 747 components, an intriguing part of the project for many. If one were to do an academic presentation, I can see the second board idea I propose.  It was designed to “match” your own board, but in reflection, for this presentation  in a museum AND all about design, I find this [other] board proposal so much more in keeping with the concept.  It recognizes what this is about: the wings and by doing so, thematically complements what you are doing about the process: about the environment, about the structural imagination and the creative challenges in realizing this amazing project, all the while showing that realization. … I know you want emphasis on detail and not the “fine art”/abstract approach I want to shoot, however I wanted to combine emphasis on the structure/design which is your architectural triumph with the romance and absolute beauty of the wings, repurposed not just prosaically (i.e., as a new construction material for the roof) but also poetically and by their very nature, framing and wrapping themselves into the very environment and views.  That is what photographers do: find those key elements and rachet them up, while exploring such great design.   And then, of course, showing the realization of your design which your own board shows prospectively so well.”

To which he replied: “I like the composition …but, do not think the white negative space is as compelling as the images.for instance it really is missing the lower right hand image from board 2. What if you keep [the composition] and add missing images into white areas?

So, below is the close to the end board where I moved images around and added a few more and gave the center stabilizers a chevron feel.  The architect likes it and I am comfortable with it but it will need a little tweaking as I go through the images (these were quick jpegs) and also the design.  I may try to return to more “wing like,” the addition of the two more images getting a little in the way of that.  We’ll see.

Hope this is helpful!  The process has taught me a lot.  Any comments soon would be wonderful.