Hélène Binet’s latest exhibition captures the emotions of space

View Gallery 7 Photos
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The new show charts the photographer’s 30-year career

Hélène Binet does not call herself an “architectural photographer”. Instead, she views her work as “a way to understand our place in the world”. Her images do not celebrate the buildings she captures, but invite the viewer to “project their own dreams, to give an idea or feeling that is present in the space”.

Hélène Binet, John Hejduk, Object/Subject Riga, Philadelphia, United States, 1987. Hand-printed black-and-white silver-gelatin print, 29 x 29 cm. © Hélène Binet.

Binet’s latest show, Light Lines: The Architectural Photographs of Hélène Binet, at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, showcases work produced over the past three decades. Buildings designed by architects such as Le Corbusier, Zaha Hadid RA, Nicholas Hawksmoor, and Daniel Libeskind all feature. Binet does not focus on buildings in their entirety, but instead hones in on specific spaces and the lights, emotions, and feelings they hold. “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 exhibition comprises over 90 images from 20 projects by 12 architects, demonstrating the range of subjects Binet has photographed during her career. She works with an analogue large-format camera and hand printed many of the photographs in her north London studio. “The process of printing and making has always been important, to have a physical relationship with what I make,” she explains.

Hélène Binet, Atelier Peter Zumthor, Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, Wachendorf, Germany, 2009. Digital black-and-white silver-gelatin print, 102 x 80 cm. Courtesy ammann // projects. © Hélène Binet.

One section of the exhibition is devoted to the long-standing professional relationship between the photographer and the architect Zaha Hadid RA. The duo collaborated multiple times, with images of Hadid’s MAXXI Museum of Art, Glasgow Riverside Museum of Transport, and Vitra Fire Station. Thermal Baths at Vals by Peter Zumthor Hon RA and Le Corbusier’s La Tourette and the Jantar Mantar Observatory also appear in the show, demonstrating Binet’s recurring relationship with Brutalist interiors. 

Binet’s images constantly teeter between a minimalist simplicity and an architectural complexity, as the artist balances the ambience of her environment with the harsh light, shape, and angles of the interior. In another section, the photographer reflects on architectural photography’s ability to denote the natural world. “I hope that visitors will come out of the exhibition feeling closer to the architects’ art of making, and might also see the spaces that belong to their own life and experience in a new way,” Binet explains. “Working on this show has been like meeting old relatives and friends, and I have realised how relevant they are to me still, and to the ideas that I continue to develop in my work.”

Hélène Binet, Sergio Musmeci, Ponte sul Basento, Potenza, Italy, 2015. Digital black-and-white silver-gelatin print, 153 x 120 cm. © Hélène Binet.

Light Lines: The Architectural Photographs of Helene Binet, is on show at the Royal Academy, London, from 23 October 2021 — 23 January 2022. More information can be found here.

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.