Shadows and light put architecture in focus

Mostly in black and white, French-Swiss photographer Helene Binet's works offer a new standpoint for viewers to approach architecture through the art of light and shadows.
Courtesy Power Station of Art

French-Swiss photographer Helene Binet in Shanghai 

Mostly in black and white, French-Swiss photographer Helene Binet’s works on display at the Power Station of Art offer a new standpoint for viewers to approach architecture through the art of light and shadows.

More than 100 works have been selected for the three-month show in Shanghai, including some of the most iconic photos taken throughout Binet’s 30-year professional career and her newly commissioned series featuring the walls of Suzhou gardens.

Courtesy Power Station of Art

Helene Binet’s newly commissioned series features the walls of Suzhou gardens. 

In her speech at the opening of the exhibition, Binet said: “Over the years, I have often found myself comparing my career as a photographer with the path taken by the traveler who, along the way, seeks to identify the horizon, which, as in the famous image, moves further away the closer one gets to it. This tension toward the horizon reminds us that it is actually the path itself that reveals, and that allows photography to acquire its own autonomy.”

Rather than let the images find her, she finds them by focusing the lens on the energy flowing from her surroundings and the shadows upon the absence of light.

Born in Sorengo in Switzerland in 1959, Binet grew up in Rome, Italy. She studied photography at the Istituto Europeo di Design and worked briefly at the Grand Theatre de Genève after graduation. After moving to London in the mid-1980s with her husband, architect Raoul Bunschoten who was teaching at the Architectural Association, Binet gradually turned her attention to architectural photography, and soon acquainted herself with a list of emerging architects in the British capital, including Zaha Hadid.

Encouraged and recommended by Alvin Boyarsky, then chairman of the Architectural Association, and others, she headed to Berlin for her first project and rose to become one of today’s foremost architectural photographers with depictions of iconic works by acclaimed architects including John Hejduk, Daniel Libeskind, Sigurd Lewerentz, Dimitris Pikionis, Ludwig Leo, Le Corbusier, Peter Zumthor and Hadid.

She divides her works from different series into groups of two or three to form “dialogues” featuring varying themes, each of which offers its own particular atmosphere and experience.

“I see architecture full of emotions. It is made to protect us, to feel warm and safe, and to have dreams inside it,” said the 60-year-old.

For example, when documenting the Jantar Mantar Observatory in Jaipur in India and the Convent of Sainte-Marie de La Tourette designed by Le Corbusier, she focused the lens on the sharp contrast between light and shadows formed on building facades to examine the line of difference between divinity and scientific limits.

This can be seen, too, in her photographs that capture the ever-extending curves of Hadid’s signature works, delivering an echoing effect against the boundless Atacama Desert and Swiss mountain views.

Most of Binet’s photographs focus on European modern and post-modern architecture, while recently she has started to develop an interest in natural landscapes and classic Asian architecture. In the PSA showroom, her series of works on the walls of Suzhou gardens is paralleled with Dimitris Pikionis’ Acropolis pathways in Athens.

Courtesy of the Power Station of Art

Through Binet's viewfinder, the extending curves of Hadid’s signature works (left) echoes against the boundless Atacama Desert.

Courtesy of the Power Station of Art

In the PSA showroom, Dimitris Pikionis’ Acropolis pathways in Athens (left) forms a poetic dialogues with the walls of Suzhou gardens on the right.

“I decided to create a dialogue between these works because both of them are reflections of the unseen. The Suzhou gardens are a micro-world with clear boundaries: the walls. They create a series of infinite images and reflections of landscapes of how people looked at the nature thousand years ago,” she said.

By standing in front of the walls during the day and studying the history of the gardens at night, Binet draws the viewers’ attention to a time and place of leaves shimmering among windowsills, water glittering in the pond, while moss grows on the walls.

“Those were the intensive days when I felt like a peasant working in the field from the first ray of morning till evening twilight,” Binet recalled. “It is a delicate nature, and I feel a sense of freedom.”

Exhibition Info

Date: Through July 21 (closed on Mondays), 11am-7pm
Venue:  3/F, Power Station of Art
Address: 678 Miaojiang Rd

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