Two Minutes With // Iwan Baan

Hi there! Today we’re pleased to release our interview with architectural photographer, Iwan Baan. Iwan has traveled the world capturing the essence of buildings, spaces, and culture through his photography. We’ve found inspiration through his images often seen on design media sites and in countless publications; he’s worked with many of the world’s elite architects and designers, so we thought we’d approach him for some insight. Be sure to visit his website to browse an impressive documentary of architecture and interiors, and to see what else he’s been up to. Happy First Friday, and enjoy!

Images courtesy of Iwan Baan.

VT: What lead you into specializing in architectural photography?

IB: It happened a little bit by accident, actually. I don’t really consider myself an architectural photographer; I went to art school and studied photography, and after that I worked for a number of years doing different things. I worked with a publisher for a while making art and children’s books, and I did more documentary photography for magazines and journals; I was all over the place. About six years ago a friend of mine was working on a project with Rem Koolhaas and made a small proposal to him to document this exhibition. Through this he learned about my work and one thing led to another. I never before really looked at architecture or architectural photography. OMA were just starting the construction of CCTV in China; I was very fascinated by this building because of its sheer scale. The tens of thousands of workers who were building this project, and how it was being built under the circumstances in China, was also very impressive. So I proposed to document it over the next couple of years, which started my working relationship with OMA. This was also around the time that some of the big projects were happening. Herzog & de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest had started in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, and Steven Holl was also doing a big project there. These were all Chinese projects … so one thing led to another, and that’s how it happened. These three firms, OMA, Herzog & de Meuron, and Steven Holl Architects, were the first that I started working with documenting their projects.

VT: When considering the important influence that Julius Schulman had on architectural photography, what do you think your legacy will be for the 21st century? What are your likes and differences to your approach?

IB: I don’t know yet what my legacy will be, it’s a little early to tell. For me, what is important is the type of projects I am interested in. Most of the time the projects that I have a very strong connection with are the projects that relate intimately with their place, where it is being built, and how it is being built. I try to tell these stories in my pictures. It is not just about a building which could be anywhere. It is about trying to pick the place and the building’s relevance in the city, in the landscape, and in the environment. These aspects are voices of the work.

VT: What are the commonalities, or something specific that you look for within each project? And what are the details that make you excited, the ones that lead you to your provocative imagery?

IB: Place is always very important for me, and it’s also a little bit about my state of mind. Every two or three days I am somewhere else in the world … I sometimes have trouble remembering where I am when I wake up. So again, the most important thing for me is place. Common things that I look for and excite me are building location, method of construction, people who construct the building, people who occupy the building, and if the building successful or not. I sometimes look for how the building connects to the place, or how it’s in juxtaposition with the place. I try to tell these stories in my photographs.

VT: In terms of the future of your career, do you foresee any evolution with your work and the influence of technology?

IB: I think I’m moving more back to my documentary photography. My book, Brasilia – Chandigarh, which I did two years ago with Lars Müller shows how people live in these two cities, 50-60 years after they were built by Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. This is the type of project I am working on more and more. Last year I made a book with Michael Maltzan about Los Angeles on the city: No More Play. It’s a collection of conversations he has with people about Los Angeles. For me, the project was an interesting way to rediscover LA, based on his research with USC I traveled and documented the city. At the moment, I am working on another book on Tokyo with Atelier Bow Wow and another book with Harvard university on Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on how the oil booms over the last century formed the city. These types of projects are still about the built environment, but less focused on architecture, and are very much my interest at the moment.