Hélène Binet – Masters of Architectural Photography

Salerno Maritime Terminal Zaha Hadid 03

Salerno Maritime Terminal, Salerno Italy – Zaha Hadid Architects, 2016; © Hélène Binet courtesy ZHA.

Hélène Binet – Masters of Architectural Photography 

Born in Sorengo, Canton Ticino, Switzerland in 1959, French-Swiss artist Hélène Binet is one of the most acclaimed contemporary photographers of architecture.
Binets’ work is characterized by an approach to architectural photography remarkably different from those of most of today’s photographers. In fact, her main inspiration comes directly from the masters of 20th-century photography – especially Hungarian-born French photographer Lucien Hervè, renowned for his long-time collaboration with Le Corbusier.
Like them, her focus is primarily on architecture; although this doesn’t mean that she is interested in a purely objective depiction of buildings. On the contrary, Binet’s works are always “expressionist”, so to say, as her pictures do not depict architecture simply “as it is” but also convey the deep impression it makes on her and, through her, on us. This way, her photographs somewhat transcend their subjects to become “architectural” artworks in themselves.
Echoing Le Corbusier’s famous motto: “Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light”; another distinctive element of Hélène Binet’s work is the extreme attention to the contrasts of shadows and lights, a trait that possibly originates from her experience as a stage photographer at the Grand Théâtre opera house in Geneve she made in the 1980s just after completing the photography studies at the IED-Istituto Europeo di Design in Rome and before turning full-time to architectural photography. 

Arca Swiss 4x5 large-format camera Hélène Binet

One of Binet’s favorite cameras is a large-format Arca-Swiss F-line 4×5; image courtesy Arca-Swiss.

Binet is an advocate of analog photography and openly disregards digital cameras; her film cameras include a large-format Arca Swiss 4×5, and a 1970s medium format Hasselblad.

“Digital has made architectural photography very slick – sometimes you don’t know if it’s a photo, or if it’s a rendering, and that I find very disturbing.”  Hélène Binet.

Using mostly lenses with a medium focal length, Binet focuses the viewer’s attention on architectural elements, details, surfaces, textures, and the interplay between shadows and light.
Unconventionally, her pictures frequently frame just a little part of a building, and that fragment is often capable to represent the whole better than the “see-all” perspective photographs we have been accustomed to since the advent of digital cameras and ultra-wide-angle rectilinear lenses. Furthermore, focusing on small architectural parts, carefully chosen and pictured through a demanding and time-consuming creative process, she turns architectural photography into an intimate experience in which viewers can find fragments of memories and engage empathically with what they are seeing.
Unlike those of other well-reputed colleagues, Iwan Baan for example, her empathetic approach to the depiction of architecture doesn’t require the presence of people; possibly because in Hélène Binet’s vision we (and she) are those people.

“I believe photography is about celebrating an instant. You say yes to it and commit yourself to that moment.”

Hélène Binet official website: http://www.helenebinet.com/

museum word culture gothemburg 01

Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden – Brisac Gonzalez Architects, 2005; © Hélène Binet courtesy Brisac Gonzalez Architects.

Helene Binet, Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku Azerbaijan, Zaha Hadid

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan – Zaha Hadid Architects, 2012; © Hélène Binet courtesy ZHA.

Phaeno science center Wolfsburg Zaha Hadid 4

Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany – Zaha Hadid Architects, 2005; © Hélène Binet  courtesy ZHA.


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