White Modern


Greg Neville, The Barcelona Pavillion, (2011)

One of my other sites is modernismus.wordpress.com where I’ve created an archive of my photographs of modernist architecture. The images have been taken during my travels and research trips both in Australia and overseas. The images on this post, more of which can be seen on the Europe page at modernismus.wordpress.com/europe, show the durability of the modernist ideal in architecture.

The Barcelona Pavillion above was designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1920s, but the actual structure you see is a 1980s copy of the destroyed original. It is accurate in every detail.


Greg Neville, Bosnian Historical Museum (2011)

The Bosnian Historical Museum in Sarajevo dates from the period 1959-63. It is an immaculate cantilevered white box seeming to floating above the smaller volume it rests on. It was designed in high modernist style by three Zagreb architects, Boris Magaš, Edo Šmidihen and Radovan Horvat. The Serbs tried to blow it up in the Balkan war of the 1990s – when I saw it in 2011 it wore many bullet hole – but it survives.


Greg Neville, Museu D'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2011)

This final image, shows the continuing development and relevance of high modernism. It is the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona, the work of U.S. architect Richard Meiers, who also built L.A.s Getty museum, amongst many others. It was built in the 1990s, and shows the influence of Le Corbusier.

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My Life in Cameras no.17

17. HOLGA

The Holga was created in 1981 by a Mr.T.M.Lee as a cheap family camera for the Chinese market, a sort of modern Box Brownie. It wasn’t exactly a “toy” camera as it’s sometimes labelled now. When 35mm caught on there and the market dried up, it started to catch on among experimental users in the West. Like its soulmate the Diana, it is now a phenomenon with competitions, flickr groups and elaborate new models aggressively marketed by its current owner Lomo.

The Holga is a hardy camera but it has its handicaps: a slightly soft focus lens which doesn’t quite cover the 6×6 negative causing dark corners or vignetting. It leaks light sometimes and the back constantly falls off. It has the bare minimum of adjustments, two apertures and one shutter speed, which means that if your subject is outside of 1/100 of a second at f8 or f11 you’ll be in trouble. It does focus, but only using symbols. Wikipedia calls this a “low fidelity aesthetic.”

Part of the secret is the 60mm focal length lens, a moderate wide-angle which particularly suits the architectural subjects I shoot. The camera changes from square format to 6×4.5 rectangular format with the insertion of the plastic plate, but this loses the vignetting which is part of the camera’s inherent look.

I bought my Holga at the International Centre of Photography in New York and took photographs of skyscrapers, see the first image below. These were shown in an exhibition called Vertigo, with Greg Wayn in 2004. This led to a much larger Holga project called The Modern Idea, about modernist architecture around the world  (other images below). You can see Vertigo and The Modern Idea on my website Modernismus.

When photographing in New York, an African man came up to me and asked what camera I was using. “It’s called a Holga.” “Why, that is that name of my sister!”

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Greg Neville, Flatiron Building, New York, 2003

Greg Neville, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, 2010

Greg Neville, Seagram Building New York, 2009

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