Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: Ezra Stoller, Photographer

Ezra Stoller, Photographer by Nina Rappaport and Erica Stoller
Yale University Press, 2012
Hardcover, 288 pages

Starting on January 24 the Yossi Milo Gallery is exhibiting a number of Ezra Stoller's photographs under the name Beyond Architecture. It is their second show on a now common name (the first happened in early 2011). At a time when architectural photographers can reach the same celebrity status as their clients (well, at least one), it's no surprise that photos of buildings and interiors are being shown in a New York gallery. But flash back to the 1940s, when Stoller began his three-decade career photographing modern architecture, and that sort of appreciation was non-existent. This partly stems from the fact Stoller was a commercial photographer working on assignment, not an artist pursuing an independent vision. But mainly it is because Stoller, along with Julius Shulman on the West Coast and Hedrich Blessing in Chicago, pioneered architectural photography as an art form, something we now take for granted.

This book by architectural historian Nina Rappaport and Erica Stoller (Ezra's daughter and the head of his namesake agency) extends the photographer's appreciation, following gallery shows (Yossi Milo's shows are hardly the first, following a 1980 exhibition at Max Protetch Gallery and 8 shows from 1998-2007), group exhibitions, and numerous books with his photographs. What is most valuable about this coffee table book is the way it gives equal weight to three realms of Stoller's output—architecture, domestic exteriors and interiors, and industry. The book's photos are arranged into the same three sections, respectively accompanied by essays by John Morris Dixon, Akiko Busch, and Rappaport. In a book talk at the Center for Architecture last month, Rappaport discussed the relationship between people and machines in Stoller's photos of industry for general interest magazines and corporate reports. While an extension of her own explorations of factories in cities in one regard, the photos are really like time capsules from the decades when industry was celebrated as the key to America's success.

Erica Stoller's words at the book talk were more personal, recalling trips with her father for photo shoots (one involved borrowing a hearse to lug gear around) and lots of waiting for the right shot. She eloquently defined his photography as an invitation to slow down and look around. This architectural equivalent of smelling the roses results from Stoller's desire to capture the right view in the right light, be it getting up before dawn or standing in one spot for hours. This is common practice with the numerous photographers working all over the world today, but it actually stems from Stoller's pioneering work, his setting of the bar high. Ezra Stoller, Photographer makes it clear that the same patience and care extend to his photos of the domestic and industrial. These images may not have defined Ezra Stoller as we think of him, but they are an integral part of his extensive portfolio and a treat to behold in these pages.

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