Dutch photographer Iwan Baan (b. 1975) started out as a documentary photographer, but fell into architecture photography almost by accident, following a meeting with architect Rem Koolhaas in 2005. Building on his documentarian's background, Baan found that buildings were defined not only by their architecture, but also by their surroundings and their inhabitants. This contextual approach to his photography, an almost anthropological discovery of buildings on the part of the photographer, has made him popular among architects who seek him out to photograph their buildings. In Baan's new photobook 52 Weeks, 52 Cities, developed to accompany an exhibition by the same name, the photographer takes the viewer on a one-year journey around the world, during which he photographed buildings and cities across countries.
Rather than isolating the buildings, Baan seeks to capture them as connected to their environment. In order to do this, Baan's approach is two-fold: He takes aerial shots from a helicopter as well as close-ups of buildings and portraits of their inhabitants.
Jörg Häntzschel, arts and culture editor for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, explains in the foreword that “Iwan shows the whole intricate relationship between the building, its environment and its users, an issue that concerns contemporary architects more than ever". For example, an aerial shot of New York City by night, featured at the beginning of the book, shows the city as a whole, with the tip of Manhattan in the foreground. The image is not about one building in particular. Rather, the night-time lights show us the veins of 'the city that never sleeps'.
Every photo is accompanied by a short personal comment from the photographer explaining where he took the photograph and why it is significant to him. One close-up image of a New York City street is accompanied by a text description in which Baan explains the context of the photograph, which was taken just before hurricane Sandy hit the city. The photo shows a lone street vendor who has remained on an otherwise abandoned street. Baan explains that he was both intimidated and intrigued by the storm, pushing him to go out into the streets and capture the power outage in Lower Manhattan.
Baan has explained that what is important to him is to capture the life of the places he visits, varying from the “very well-planned cities to what people build themselves out of necessity". He travelled to China, for example, to the Henan Province where until recently almost 40 million people lived underground, building their houses by removing material rather than adding it. Baan captures what such a 'yadong' looks like from the inside. The house's resident appears on the left side of the photograph, seemingly showing Baan around. Next to the photo, Baan explains that this form of architecture “reminds me that humans have the ability to invent and adapt in order to survive in any circumstance".
Another striking image was taken in Japan, where Baan shot a house designed by architect Sou Fujimoto. In the house everything is white, save for two blue chairs and everything seems perfectly in place. However, the eye is drawn immediately toward the top of the image. Within the house where everything is in the right place, a little girl is laughing at the camera with her head turned upside down treating the house as her personal playground. Once again it is clear that Baan looks beyond the mere architectural qualities of a building, considering its inhabitants equally important.
In 52 Weeks, 52 Cities, Baan has documented buildings that were designed by famous architects, as well as cities or constructions that came to interest him for different reasons, such as the 'yadongs' in China. By capturing people from all over the world living in such different circumstances, buildings and surroundings, his book probes into the questions of how we live and how we organise ourselves. Buildings are not isolated. As manmade constructions, they are always a part of something bigger, a society that surrounds them and forms them. The buildings in his images are always shown as a single element in a larger context, as influenced by their surroundings and their inhabitants. 52 Weeks, 52 Cities shows how architecture is influenced by society, and vice versa, creating a story that goes beyond architecture and buildings alone.
52 Weeks, 52 Cities is available for sale via MARTa Herford.