A new way of seeing the architecture of Paul R. Williams, through the lens of artist Janna Ireland
In the age of Instagram, architectural photography has become obsessed with the dramatic roof line, the spiral staircase, the silhouette of an austere geometric form that appears to hover over some rugged mountaintop. This is photography that is carefully illuminated and relentlessly filtered, designed to show a building at only its best angles.
Artist Janna Ireland’s approach is quite the opposite. For four years, she has been photographing buildings designed by Paul Revere Williams, the prolific architect, who for more than half a century helped define the landscape of Los Angeles.
Ireland’s images are quiet and often feature mundane details — a dimly lit corner or the point in a home at which three rooms meet. More than 200 of her images are now collected in the book “Regarding Paul R. Williams: A Photographer’s View” (Angel City Press; $60), published in September.
Ireland is not an architectural photographer. She is a conceptual artist whose other works include tableaux in which she might insert herself and her family. Her images of Williams’ buildings are less inspired by the brash photography of hot starchitecture than the intense studies of space, objects and environment undertaken by conceptualists such as Moyra Davey and Uta Barth.
Among the details featured in her black-and-white images of buildings that Williams designed are the balustrades supporting a stairway banister, the origami folds of a Googie roof and the texture of rough stone alongside a gleaming staircase. Some images are striking; others dwell in the quotidian. Ireland doesn’t light these settings, instead choosing to use available light, be it the dim light of dusk or the glare of an L.A. afternoon.
The lack of color has the effect of draining some of the ebullience from Williams’ work; though always an elegant designer, he also knew how to create the sorts of spaces that encouraged a buoyant gathering. But “Regarding Paul R. Williams” isn’t about creating a literal catalog of Williams’ work.
Instead, it’s more about meditating on the forms that materialize in his buildings. Ireland doesn’t label her images in the book, nor does she place them in a systematic order. Instead, the viewer is guided from one image to the next by the curve of a line, the tone of a wall, the juxtaposition of a Classical column against a Spanish-style beamed ceiling.
Williams was adept at drawing from a variety of architectural styles and remixing them in new ways. Ireland takes that remix and mixes it again.
“I searched for clues about Paul Williams in his buildings,” she writes in her introductory essay. In those, she found great care and a mind singularly focused on the magic of good design.
Artist Janna Ireland is on a hunt across Southern California for Paul R. Williams.
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