Stone Poems: Architecture and the Land, a photography exhibit exploring the relationships between land and architecture, will open on March 14 at the Temple Buell Hall Architecture Gallery. Created by architect and University professor James Warfield, who was named 2002 ACSA Distinguished Professor of Architecture, the exhibit opened last spring at Ispace in Chicago.
Warfield sought out the pictures he used in a personal quest: “I consider myself a collector of experiences and visual images. This means going to where the images are,” he states. And he hasn’t stopped: currently he is in the middle of California’s Baja Desert, no phone lines nearby until March 2 when he’ll travel to Mexico.
Stone Poems displays 40 black and white images from a field research collection of 150,000. Warfield took the pictures from around the world starting in 1963.
“I enjoy the visual!” Warfield proclaims simply and foremost in an explanation of his photography.
As this statement and the numbers suggest, the result-the exhibit-is a striking tour of architecture celebrating art that forms when culture and nature are thrown together by necessity (houses on an Italian hillside)-or vanity and religion (the pyramids of Giza, Egypt). And from a man who has documented living environments of indigenous peoples from Bolivia to Africa to Tibet and beyond, trust these pictures to offer the extreme in cultural, historical, and natural significance.
The exhibit’s noblest goal seems to be creating connectivity between the distinctive images. Boasting pictures of “Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu, Peru” and still “Prairie Farmstead, Illinois, USA,” Stone Poems relies on a belief that “from the inevitable act of destroying nature, nearly every culture develops artists and poets and architects who seek to build on the land and re-establish a harmony with nature.”
The exhibit has a theoretical point and seeks to challenge “process and product” from today’s design professionals, but Warfield’s sheer enthusiasm and joy in the “visual” ultimately seem to steer the project.
“I cannot deny the passion that I have for the specific images I select to share,” he says. These must be chosen carefully because just finding out about architectural feats takes some searching. While Warfield relies on books like Paul Oliver’s Dwellings, he doesn’t scoff at the helpfulness of an ordinary Frommer’s travel guide book or an issue of National Geographic. The most surprising source this University professor uses?
“I stay late in the theaters for credits to see where glorious movies are filmed,” Warfield writes.
Stone Poems, inspired by a passion for studying forms of architecture and its reciprocal relationship with nature, still cannot escape the practical aspects of its particular art-that of photography, of specific film and cameras, lighting and most importantly for the exhibit, the process of developing.
Warfield doesn’t pretend that he can escape from or ignore the issue of money either. The cost of film, in younger years, kept Warfield from shooting the full potential of a site. But grown wiser, he writes with the conviction of his experience and a hint of advice: “I shoot with abandon… A shot not taken can never be recouped.”
Warfield writes that he has trusted a Canon EOS 35mm since 1988, and “it has been my delight to ignore lighting conditions and shoot regardless of rain or clouds or fog,” which must present more problems shooting the “Stone House Ruins, Kilkenny, Ireland” than the “Mayan Temple of the Sun, Palenque,Chiapas, Mexico.”
“In Stone Poems, my intentions in the printed exhibit have been best served by converting the color originals to black and white. My goal has been to explore the integral relationship achieved between architecture and nature, where I have found that texture is important, color a distraction,” Warfield writes.