“Photography is just a medium. It’s like a typewriter,” said Ezra Stoller in an interview in 1991. “Photography as an art doesn’t interest me an awful lot.” Even so, he raised architectural photography to an art form, capturing the smooth lines of American modernism in its heyday, as well as lesser known industrial images.
Born in Chicago in 1915, Stoller grew up in New York and studied architecture at NYU, getting into photography while still a student. Launching his career in the late 1930s, he worked with Paul Strand in the Office of Emergency Management from 1940-41 and, post-war, was perfectly poised to take advantage of the American economic boom. Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Eero Saarinen and Marcel Breuer – he shot work by them all, including iconic buildings such as The Guggenheim Museum, Kennedy International Airport, and the Fallingwater house.
But if he made it look easy, it didn’t happen by accident. Shooting with large or medium format cameras, Stoller often spent days at locations before taking any photographs, taking account of the sun, the shadows, and the architectural lines he saw – while always keeping an eye out for the serendipitous.
“With 8×10, what you do is, you go on a job and you may wander around and look at the job for two days — certainly for a day; you never shoot the first day,” he said in the same interview, available via the American Society of Media Photographers. “I know what the sun does at different times of the year. I studied descriptive geometry, shades and shadows and rendering at architectural school, and I know what the sun will do, what the shadows will be like.
“So I go around with a plan of the job that I’ve made, and I’ll put arrows and times on those,” added Stoller, who died in 2004. “Then, when I get back, I’ll make a schedule with times and what shot gets done at that time. Then I just go and shoot — always keeping an antenna up for the unusual shot; it’s not as cut and dried as all that. Very often, the very best pictures are the ones that you suddenly see out of the corner of your eye.”
Now The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography is presenting a large exhibition of his work, the first time it’s gone on show in Russia. Spanning from the late 1930s to the 70s, the retrospective is open from 20 September-02 December at the Center’s Red October space in central Moscow.
Pioneers of American Modernism is on show from 20 September-02 December at Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography, Moscow www.lumiere.ru