The WUHO Gallery in Hollywood was abuzz on the opening night of “Hélène Binet: Fragments of Light” this past Saturday, in celebration of Binet as the 2015 recipient of the Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography Award. Co-curated by JSI Managing Director Emily Bills and Binet, “Fragments of Light” is the photographer’s first U.S. exhibition featuring around 20 photos out of her vast body of work from 25 years of working in the field. Treating light as if it were a building material, Binet’s signature style renders the buildings of architects like Peter Zumthor, Zaha Hadid, and Le Corbusier into black and white atmospheric compositions of light, shadow, and sharp details that Binet masterfully captures all through a film camera.
The crowd slowly trickled into the narrow but long gallery space, which was soon full of friends, associates, Woodbury architecture students and alumni, and photography and arts enthusiasts chattering away over light refreshments.
Notable attendees included Emily Bills, architecture writer Mimi Zeiger, 2014 JSI Photography Award recipient Grant Mudford, principal of Bestor Architecture and JSI Executive Director Barbara Bestor, Woodbury University School of Architecture Dean Norman Millar, and of course, Hélène Binet, who was visiting Los Angeles for the first time.
“Fragments of Light” goes beyond to focus on key “moments of illumination” that visually portray Binet’s personal relationship with each of the buildings, whether they’re in the middle of construction or are accents in her recent explorations in landscape architecture. With more contemporary architects, she sometimes photographs the buildings throughout the construction process, forming a connection with not just the building but also with the architects themselves.
Since Binet only works with film, there’s no room for do-overs or edits — which she prefers. “I like to shoot on film because I like to work with something physical,” Binet pondered. “I think to shoot is like a performance. You have to give the best of yourself.” Evidently, her all-or-nothing process has culminated into a rewarding career with a growing oeuvre that continues to attract architects and photographers alike.
“What I like about the way [Binet] works with light is that, it’s not that the light makes the building, but the building helps you to understand the light,” Emily Bills said. Instead of attempting to photograph the entire building, Binet only frames sections and extreme close-ups of the building. Her fairly consistent style presents a personal interpretation — like a visual diary — to the existing dialogue of architecture and its relationship to light.
“She’s not interested in representing the entire structure so that you can understand it,” Bills continued. “...What she does instead is she has a personal engagement with it, and she shares with you what that abstract engagement is...It’s a matter of [Binet] spending time with the building and watching how the light travels through the building.”
Before accepting her award and following remarks from Barbara Bestor and Norman Millar, Binet closed the night with a short yet thoughtful speech reflecting on Julius Shulman’s approach to architectural photography that she first encountered as a budding photographer.
Now with years of experience, she advised the crowd in front of her about the importance of retaining a clear sense of direction when figuring out how to work with the complex nature of a building, referring to it like it was a living being. “I think what [Julius Shulman] was doing, like many architectural photographers, is about trying to show the soul of the building. We use different ways and we are all different, but I think this is the task we have.”
"Hélène Binet: Fragments of Light" will be at the WUHO Gallery until March 29, 2015.
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