Hélène Binet: “Limitations are stimulation for creativity”

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“More and more when I work, it’s not about glorifying the product of the architect. I’m more concerned about how space reflects our concerns, our dreams, and our way of life,” says Hélène Binet, the Swiss-French photographer who, despite being known as a leading “architectural photographer”, does not consider this title as an accurate representation of her work. “I see my photographs more as a way to understand our place in the world. It is not about celebrating a product. Architectural photography is a genre that needs to be lifted somehow in photography.”

Hélène Binet: Time After Time, currently on display at Large Glass gallery in Islington, London, is a testament to these beliefs. The 18 photographs on show range from early works such as a 1988 image made in a John Hejduk structure, to work shot in the last year, in the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, China. Rather than capturing the beauty of a building, the images, all analogue and mostly black-and-white, employ light and shadow to render abstract shapes.

John Hejduk, 1988. © Hélène Binet.
Ludwig Leo, 2014. © Hélène Binet.
Lingering Garden, Suzhou Gardens, 2018. © Hélène Binet.

“I want to give you one segment of the space, or an idea, or a feeling that was present, where you can enter and project your own dreams,” says Binet, explaining the importance of studying the light before photographing a space. “You have to understand the beast you are going to shoot,” she says. “It is beautiful to be in one place for a day, looking at the light. It’s meditative but it gives you a physical sense of how much we are moving, and how we are part of a bigger complex of the universe.”

The photographer references the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who, in his 1958 book The Poetics of Space, proposes that memories are anchored to space. “It’s a beautiful way of thinking about memory as if it is a boat trying to float away from the dock,” says Binet. “When you see a photograph of a staircase or a stone, you see it, but you also see the one that belongs to your memories. You create those connections, and that is a very important part of what I try to do in my photographs.”

Hadrian’s Villa, Rome, 2019. © Hélène Binet.

Binet always shoots in analogue and with a large format camera. “The process of printing and making has always been important, to have a physical relationship with what I make,” says Binet. Shooting on large format makes it more difficult to move around, but this has never stopped the photographer from climbing onto a crane, a fire engine, or asking to access the roof of a building nearby to achieve the perfect frame. Although the process also limits the number of shots she can afford to make in one day — around 12 — “I believe that limitations are a bigger stimulation for creativity than too many possibilities,” she says.

Hélène Binet: Time After Time is on show at Large Glass gallery,London, until 23 November 2019.

Jantar Mantar Observatory 03, 2002. © Hélène Binet.
Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.