On Set With the Photographer of Our New Book Infinite Space
James Silverman is one of the foremost photographers of architecture and interiors in the world today. Our latest book, Infinite Space, is a dazzling compilation of dream houses with a view, photographed by the Briton who resides in Sweden. Whether of a remote mountain cabin in Norway, a sensuous desert oasis in Morocco, or a monolithic concrete home in Switzerland, Silverman’s photographs capture the seemingly uninterrupted flow between interiors and exteriors.
In the following, he’s sharing three behind the scenes stories with us, giving a unique insight of the challenges and joys that come with being an architectural photographer.
BEHIND THE SCENES IN BRASIL
At the start of my first trip to Brazil, my assistant was deported upon entry; he was American and hadn’t checked if he needed a visa. I panicked because an editor had advised me to be inconspicuous and not to show anything flashy. And there I was, left with 2 trolleys full of camera gear, struggling to get out the airport. They were the stop and start type of trolley. You ever tried to push two of those?! São Paulo airport is also huge! My assistant somehow managed to lose his wallet whilst being arrested and deported to Amsterdam. Luckily, I had a brilliant flight agent in Sweden! He reserved 16 flights to Rio for my assistant in preparation for when he made contact with me. We also convinced the Swedish embassy at The Hague to stay open two hours later on a Friday to accommodate my assistant, Kurt. This allowed Kurt to get him a temporary Swedish passport and to avoid the whole visa ordeal. He managed to get the passport and place a phone call to me. We got him on the flight to Rio. I was already in the middle of a six hour taxi ride across Brazil to the first location. Kurt managed to hire a taxi driver by explaining through sign gestures in lieu of Portugese, that he would be paid upon arrival. The taxi driver was jumping for joy and taking snaps when he reached the exclusive condominium.
When putting together a selection of images for a cinematic slide show, I try to reverse the roles and think about the viewer and how they would experience the places through the lens: the graphic straight-on compositions I prefer, the light, the long exposures between dusk and dawn, balancing artificial light with daylight, visualizing compositions and postproduction with photoshop. However, I realized when I looked at my pictures that I didn’t see the architecture, the landscaping, or the interior design. Instead, I relived the journey and the lengths I took to capture that image. It was next to impossible to think about technicalities or the beauty of the images. I just end up getting lost in time.
BEHIND THE SCENES IN MOROCCO
I remember communicating with a Norwegian architect about shooting his projects in Norway. He mentioned he had an insane project being completed in Marrakech: Habibi Forever. Before I knew it, I was on a 10m high scaffolding tower that I requested to be built to shoot the entrance. For it was not your average entrance. The owner felt he didn’t live close enough to the Medina so he decided he’d build a fortress to surround the house and, instead, bring the medina to him. It was a rather unusual photoshoot. I stayed at the house for 7 days. I will never forget being at the dinner table and hearing that the duck that had been hunted earlier in the day was burnt.
We had camels brought in the first day for the background. The second day traditionally dressed Moroccan gunmen on horses paraded around the fortress whilst I was at the top of the scaffolding tower. On the third day, I made a joke to have synchronized swimmers in the secondary pool. I had to stop myself since they would have come and their presence really wasn’t necessary. I had the best Hammam there. A Hammam is a steam room, similar to a Turkish bath, where Moroccans habitually go each week to cleanse themselves. On my first day of shooting, the owner said that when the sun was at its highest point, I should “take a break have a Hammam.” Next thing I knew, a guy who looked like Fonzie from Happy Days came over to my assistant and me; he started massaging and soaping us with a giant bubble blower. Flying from a snowy Sweden to over 30 Celsius and then to an even hotter hammam was taxing. I drank 2 litres of water and had to forget the photoshoot for the rest of the day, as I was dehydrated and practically passed out.
BEHIND THE SCENES IN JAPAN
I was driving long distances in Japan. The navigator in my car spoke Japanese and was written in Japanese. My assistant with me spoke Japanese but had no driver’s license. I had to keep nudging her to stay awake; otherwise, we’d never have made it across Japan. I choose architecture based on its design merits. When I am communicating with architects, I usually don’t know who inhabits the spaces. Until the interview of N House, which took place long after the photoshoot, I hadn’t known it was owned by Ryoji Noyori, Japan’s 2001 Nobel laureate in Chemistry. When an interview happens after a photoshoot sometimes beautiful stories explode. This suits me, as I feel it is just me and the architecture and I’m not influenced in any way prior. In this instance, I had found a book and placed it on a table in the house; it turned out that Ryoji had written it.
While shooting another project in Japan, I was amazed that, in honor of my arrival, the architect had not just arranged for all of his staff to come and meet me, but the owner of this fabulous house had also invited his entire family. Whilst showing me around the project, they mentioned there was a dinner being made in honor of my presence. Only one problem: the project was tiny and the whole thing was centralized around a sunken hearth where they were to grill all the food. The daylight hours weren’t many and I had from noon. I was only scheduled to shoot that one day and had to somehow work around the dinner party in my honor. I snuck out and told my assistant to distract them in shifts, since there was so many of them. Furthermore, it started raining heavily and I was shooting on a ladder atop of unstable terrain complete with an umbrella held in my mouth. To top it all off, I had a dark cloth draped over my head. I really don’t know how I managed to shoot, since my assistant was otherwise occupied with distracting our hosts.
Read more here:: Behind the Scenes With James Silverman