Welcome to Future Talks by RTF, a distinguished series of conversations that delve deep into the minds of visionary pioneers who breathe life into the world of design. In this installment, we have the honor of introducing Iñaki Bergera, a luminary whose contributions to the realms of architecture, academia, and photography have left an indelible mark on the creative landscape.
Iñaki Bergera holds a PhD (2002) and a professional degree in Architecture (1997) from the University of Navarra and teaches architectural design as a Full Professor at the University of Zaragoza. Supported by Fundación “la Caixa’, he obtained a Master’s in Design Studies with Distinction from Harvard University in 2002. He has been the principal researcher of the national project “Photography and Modern Architecture in Spain” and curator of two major exhibitions on the same topic held at the ICO museum in Madrid (PHotoEspaña 2014 y PHotoEspaña 2016). His expertise in the relationship between Architecture and Photography has led him to publish as an author and editor of over 30 books and chapters (for publishers such as Abada, Turner, La Fábrica or Routledge) and write many articles in academic journals. He has been a Visiting Scholar at world-celebrated institutions like the CCA in Montreal, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the Center of Creative Photography in Arizona or Columbia University, and the International Center of Photography in New York. In 2001, he studied photography at the Harvard School of Visual Arts with the British photographer Chris Killip. Since then he has carried out personal photographic work around the same research topics embodied in various individual exhibitions such as America, Urban Landscape (2006), A Tale of Two Cities (2008), In the Landscape (2010), Twentysix (Abandoned ) Gasoline Stations (Scan Tarragona 2014; PHotoEspaña 2015; MUN 2018 and Guggenheim Bilbao 2023) and Empty Parking Spaces (Madrid-Zaragoza 2020); as well as in collective shows such as The Creation of the Contemporary Landscape (DKV-Alcobendas, 2016) or Unfinished (Venice Biennial, 2016).
RTF: Hi Iñaki, we are so glad to have you as a guest on Future Talks. Thanks for joining us. So, tell us a little about your journey so far. What has your background been?
Iñaki: I consider myself lucky since all my work (artistic and professional), my academic research work, and even in part my teaching as a university professor revolves around the topic that I am passionate about, which is the image of architecture, urban space, and the territory. I studied architecture and practised as a licensed architect for a decade after obtaining my Ph.D. Having taught myself photography, my stay at Harvard encouraged me to begin my artistic work on architecture, territory, and abandonment while consolidating my academic research towards architectural photography. This topic in Spain had not yet been explored from a historical or theoretical point of view. Above all, based on a series of international research sojourns, I focused on the relationships between photography and architecture in those three coincident legs: the artistic perspective, the professional undertaking, and the academic research.
RTF: How did you delve into architectural photography? Were you always interested in the field of photography?
Iñaki: When I was young, I used to hike and climb in the Pyrenees, my home mountains in Spain. I quickly engaged with landscape photography: nature taught me to see the light, frame the space, and play with textures and forms. I used to shoot slides and work with the tripod, a slow process that helped me to focus on learning to see. When I began to take architectural photographs, initially of my own projects, the subject change was very easygoing: It is not so much what you photograph (a mountain or a building) but how you photograph it so that the image not only documents but also transmits the essence of the space. That is why this task is so fascinating. As an architect, I know what a colleague can expect from the report of his accomplished work. That is why each commission is a challenge for me. My theoretical and artistic approach to the discipline drives me to seek a personal perspective beyond the foreseeable.
RTF: What is your process like? How do you document projects?
Iñaki: The first step is the documentary phase, the analysis: exploring the plans and location of the project before moving in. This helps me to understand the scope of the assignment. Once on site, I approach the process as choreography, like a visual dance. It is a courtship between my gaze (which I lend to the camera’s viewfinder) and the object or space to photograph. I try not to get carried away by the photogenic, and I pursue an imagination that is not predictable but much more evocative. I also like to describe the project’s essence through its fragments. The sequential and fragmentary view sometimes talks much more about the whole than an explicit overall view. Selective work is also essential at the end of the process. I always wonder about the minimum number of images needed to document a project. The renunciation of looking, the erasure, is essential in my methodology. The eraser is an instrument as valuable as the pencil.
RTF: How important is architectural photography in today’s times? Are we shifting towards videography and storytelling formats in design and architecture?
Iñaki: After the heroic years of the modern movement, in which the relationship between the stylistic codes of architecture and those of the new vision was so concordant, architectural photography has been somewhat under suspicion. The prominence of authorship moved the interpretive axis of architecture towards the subjective gaze of the photographer, which sometimes ended up distorting the essence of architecture, ignoring the context or the relationship with people, in short, the relationship with the truth or the real. This suspicion increased with the anticipation of architectural representation through rendering, which increased the possibility of getting lost in the discourse of appearance and architectural simulacrum. Recently, the emergence of AI tools has further uprooted the disciplinary discourse of architectural photography. Exploring other audiovisual narratives can help focus once again on the essential aspects of architectural representation, which must always be a means and not an end. In any case, in my opinion, the key is the education of the gaze: those of us who work in this field must promote implicit training in visual culture with our work. If photography is a language, that language must be taught.
RTF: How do you find work? Are you approached by both architects & PR companies to document projects? What challenges do you face in dealing with each of them?
Iñaki: Fortunately, I do not carry out explicit professional marketing work. My commissions come from regular clients or others who have been attracted by my gaze when exploring my work on blogs and social media. In this sense, the relationship with architects is always very direct. Thankfully, I can easily understand what the scope of each project is. I empathize with the architect, and therefore, I have significant autonomy when it comes to focusing my photographic work.
RTF: The media landscape has evolved significantly over the years. What are your thoughts on these changes, and how do they impact your work? And what has your biggest learning been in all these years of content creation?
Iñaki: Personally, these changes have not had any significant impact on my work. Fashion is what goes out of style; therefore, I have never let myself be carried away by specific trends or narrative styles. My gaze is always syncretic and contained, determined in some way by the same formal rigour that the architecture it portrays has. I don’t like varnishes or sweeteners; I like the sober and timeless look; I like silence more than noise. That is why trends and technical advances in hardware (cameras and equipment) and software do not affect me more than necessary. Maybe I missed something along the way, but reflection behind closed doors is more attractive than obsession with what may be happening out there. It is a fact that architectural photography has mostly abandoned the pages of magazines and books to end up democratized on architecture blogs or on Instagram. The quantitative and exponential increase of architectural images on the Internet has not run parallel to creating a critical discourse on the use and role of images in the representation and dissemination of architecture. Without the antidote of sensitivity and critical judgment, the proliferation of architectural images can produce amnesia and the loss of the capacity for discernment. This has been, I dare say, my biggest learning after decades of work.
RTF: What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a photographer for you personally?
Iñaki: As I have said, I consider myself lucky to be able to face my passion, architectural photography, from theoretical reflection and practice (artistic and professional) at the same time. This fact in itself is something tremendously gratifying. On the other hand, I am thrilled and happy to see that my research and academic work have generated a legacy highly valued and referenced by those attracted to this interdisciplinary discourse. Finally, the satisfaction with which an architect receives the image that I have obtained of his work or that with which a collector acquires one of the photographs of my personal projects is something extremely rewarding.
RTF: Can you share some tips or advice for aspiring architectural photographers?
Iñaki: I think I have pointed out a series of tips throughout this interview. On the other hand, I consider that the best advice is that which one deduces from mistakes. It seems to me that the most important thing is authenticity, and that is only granted by experience and the passage of time. We live in moments of immediacy and speed, and I believe that what bears fruit is what is harvested without haste or urgency. Instead of wandering or scrolling through hundreds of images a day, we should do work of intensification and concentration. Only in this way will we build a stable and firm visual sensitivity.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us. It has been a pleasure getting to know about you and your work. We’re sure your insights would be precious to our audience, including architects and design students.
We look forward to publishing this interview on our website soon.