by Salvatore Peluso

Photographer Hélène Binet will be one of the protagonists of the upcoming Salone del Mobile. Milano (inside Euroluce, to be precise, for one of its special events), with a solo show curated by Massimo Curzi on the relationship between natural light and architecture.

“I often photograph details. Because it is im-possible to tell a complete story of the works of architecture and the places I visit, it would be madness.

What do I do with an image? I try to suggest something, leaving the observer the possibility of adding something else with the imagination, as happens with books. The image does not have to be too finished; it should give you a chance to incorporate your own experience,” says Hélène Binet, an internationally renowned photographer who across 40 years of her career has immortalized contemporary and historical architecture, following the progress of some of the most important architects on the global scene. First of all: Zaha Hadid.

Together with her, we have chosen and talked about ten fragments of her career: ten details, ten shots that represent her approach, and the salient moments of her experience.

  • Looking at these walls of gardens in China, we can imagine the stratification of events, stories and legends. Dampness, moss and vegetation create new landscapes that leave lots of space for the imagination.
  • The bridge by the engineer Sergio Musmeci in Potenza is a revolutionary project that has inspired many contemporary architects, including Zaha Hadid. This infrastructure has an animal-like appearance, a brute force that suggests the force of nature. Yet at the same time it is a very delicate work, in which the human touch can be seen. Obviously, in the 1970s today’s technologies did not exist, and to make the curved formwork Musmeci relied on Neapolitan shipbuilders. The brutality of the bridge, combined with this aspect of craftsmanship, makes the bridge over the Basento a unique project.
  • In 2002 the DAM museum in Frankfurt commissioned me to make a photo essay on shadow and light in architecture. I immediately thought about Le Corbusier, who was a master of control of light, and of the monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette. I found a microcosm of people who live here, who come to terms with its sacred character, and have private moments and community life. I wanted to study how the shadows accompany the fathers in their everyday life, and how Le Corbusier orchestrated their everyday dimension. Here I understood how hard it is to photograph shadow, which cannot be seen without light. Usually we have the instinct of framing the light. We are attracted to it more than anything else. Photographing shadow, on the other hand, is like depicting the void, nothingness. For me, this was a very important moment of contemplation and reflection. In short, I was faced with a masterpiece.

  • This is a house in Mallorca, where Jørn Utzon went to live late in his life. It is not a comfortable, attractive vacation home, but a harsh location, intentionally exposed to weather, where the architect retreated from the world. My photographs show the relationship between architecture, wind and the sea. The place seems to have been designed precisely to receive these elements.
  • The Intimacy of Making is a book on traditional Korean architecture, on which I have worked for over four years. There is a lot of talk about historical architecture in China and Japan, but Korean architecture is still little known in the western world, though it is a way of thinking very close to my own: it does not seek perfection, but uses natural movements in relation to simple elements. Emptiness and the unfinished are fundamental factors for Korean architecture, because they constitute an invitation to take part in it.
  • I have also chosen one of my pictures of the quarries in Carrara. Here I am reflecting on the violence inflicted on nature, which unfortunately often creates the basis for the construction of architecture and the creation of beauty. With my images I wanted to show the human side of the work there, inserting certain details that reflect the labor and effort that take place in these spaces.
  • Sigurd Lewerentz is a Swedish architect who is simultaneously rational and emotional. For this church many decisions were made during the design phase, but then there were also options taken on the worksite. He told the workers where to position the bricks, and how to define the various details of the construction, at the site, in relation to light and the surrounding nature. This factor of improvisation, of following the sensations of the moment and reacting to what can be seen, is also a part of my own practice. When I have to photograph a building I always try to let myself be surprised, though I do arrive after preparation, with a precise idea of what I am going to do.

  • Zaha Hadid was an architect who revolutionized our way of thinking about space. I met her when I was very young, and she was a major influence on me. The thing that has always fascinated me about her practice is this sensation that one can always be push further ahead. She truly engaged in battle with gravity throughout her career, and in my photos you can perceive this energy. Thanks to Zaha Hadid I am never satisfied with my work, and I constantly ask myself if I have been able to reach the es-sence of a work of architecture through images.
  • The collaboration with Peter Zumthor has been very important for my career. I also began working with him when I was very young. He is a person with great disci-pline, and his work is very much in relation to the natural elements. While photographing Zaha Hadid is extreme-ly difficult, with Zumthor one always has the sensation of being anchored in a moment, of managing to represent everything through abstraction. Zumthor’s architecture gives you peace. Furthermore, he loves and understands photography, so he is an ideal figure with whom to estab-lish a dialogue.

  • I visited Alto Patache, a zone in Chile, in the Acatama Desert. It is an immense fog oasis, a unique place where the vegetation gets water only from the fog, since the annual rainfall is less than 1 mm on average. The peo-ple there have invented a water collection system called Cloud Catcher, through which to provide water for the inhabitants of Chungungo, a local finishing village.

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