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Reality Check

Posted on: Dec 13, 2016


340 Fremont Apartments, from Equity Residential.

Since its invention in France in 1848, verisimilitude has been one of the key values of photography.  Photographs are compelling because they convey a sense of reality, no matter how ephemeral.  It is the magical first light of dawn or the “blue hour” that always captures our imagination.  We are keenly aware of this when shooting architecture, no matter what the environment.  The introduction of both Photoshop and sophisticated rendering software has thoroughly blurred the edges of Truth.  There are many times when my assistant and I visually dissect a well done digital rendering looking for signs of its fabricated reality.  The other side of this visual enigma is creating a hyper-reality with a photographic image in Photoshop.


340 Fremont, before and after retouching. View from Rincon Hill.

Last month we were hired by Equity Residential to photograph 340 Fremont, their newest high-rise on Rincon Hill in San Francisco.  The building, although strategically placed near the top of one of San Francisco’s legendary hills, was visually crowded by its urban competitors. Getting a clean, unobstructed shot of this shiny tower was almost impossible.  The planning commission probably got carried away permitting almost ten 40+ story residential towers to be built in very close proximity on that hill.  Our only solution was to use some P.S. tools to gently ease away a few competing structures and re-foliate a row of newly planted street trees.  The question, of course, is where is the ethical line drawn between truth and mendacity?


340 Fremont, before and after retouching. View from Lansing St.

I am hired to make my client’s work look great. I take that role seriously. I also try not to fake reality. Removing an ugly power pole or painting in a bluer sky is not an ethical breach.  Changing the form of the actual structure, is.  Here, we tried to free the building from its impinging neighbors.  Note that we did not add an extra ten stories onto the building or change its color to pink.  We just gave it some breathing room.  Just to help things along, in Tannhäuser like fashion, we made leaves sprout on dormant tree limbs.  And you thought only Wilhelm Richard Wagner, the great German operatic composer could do that. Hah!

Reconnecting Over a Plate of Pasta

Il Fornaio, Santa Clara Square

Il Fornaio, Santa Clara, CA.

I have always been fascinated with hospitality spaces.  They seem to exude creativity and warmth that other building types lacked.  As a designer or architect, you could let your imagination run in a restaurant or hotel lobby in a way that would be prohibitive in any other scenario.  Early on in my career, I started shooting restaurants in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles that would become the backbone of my nascent photo career.  We always worked late at night with intense tungsten lighting, long exposures and pristine, people-free spaces.  Today, digital photography has allowed us to shoot during daylight hours using both strobe and daylight and introduce people once again.  What a change!

Il Fornaio, Santa Clara Square

Il Forniao, Santa Clara, CA.

Recently, we were hired by the Irvine Company to shoot the opening of Il Fornaio, at Santa Clara Square, their massive hundred acre development in Santa Clara.  Ironically, the owners of Il Fornaio have been in the restaurant business for many years and were some of my first hospitality clients in San Francisco in the early 1980s.  Still the same family ownership and a wonderful, if unexpected reunion with the pioneering owners, Larry Mindel and his son, Michael.

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