Above: Manufacturers Trust , New York City, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Photo: Ezra Stoller
Born in Chicago in 1915 Ezra Stoller initially entered university to become an architect. During his studies at New York University in the 1930’s Stoller bought his first camera and it was a purchase that marked a dramatic shift in the trajectory of his career. And while he studied how to design buildings, over the following several decades, he would become best known for photographing them. His photographs of architectural masterpieces by such luminaries as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the tremendous output of the Chicago firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Stoller helped their works attain iconic status.
A meticulous photographer, Stoller explored every angle and sometimes would spend a day on site without taking a single photo while he studied the passage of the sun and how the light affected the building. Working in what is considered the ‘Golden Age’ of Modernist architecture, there are many who would say that he was fortunate to have plenty of good subject matter to shoot. But that would be dismissive of his skill as a photographer. He would never consider himself as such, but Stoller was an artist who had a gift for bringing out the formal and structural qualities of his subjects. “I’m not interested in art photography,” Ezra Stoller once said, “I’m interested in architecture as it is, to look at and enjoy. But what I do is a job, that is what it is.”
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Architectural photography is capturing the intention behind someone else’s design — to distill the philosophy of a building into a single, digestible image that needs no words. It’s not easy, but when it’s done well it looks effortless. So much so that you’re left admiring the building alone, and likely never think twice about the person who helped you see it. Stoller’s photographs helped architects attained a kind of celebrity status and it has been said that he was the photographer who made their buildings famous.
With an approach formed by the functionalist tenets of Modern architecture, Stoller’s work transcends the need for words, and explanation is rendered redundant. Stoller did not set out to capture images that would hang on a wall like art, and perhaps it is in that we find the honesty in his images. He may not be as recognized as Shulman or even Korab but every Stoller photograph captures not a moment, but a time — Stoller’s photos are a glancing brush with a living past.
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Some of Stoller’s ‘Non-Architecural’ photographs