PROLONGED EXPOSURE: A PHOTOGRAPHY SPOTLIGHT

Okay, if you haven’t noticed my obsession with architecture photography just yet, then you must be new here. But before we dive into the latest and greatest of architecture photography finds, let me explain what it is, exactly, that I think makes this kind of photography extra special. I think that photography in general is pretty spectacular – I mean it’s like taking a memory and capturing in such a way that anyone who happens upon that particular picture can appreciate the memory right alongside you. Could anything be cooler? And while I have an unsurprising fascination with photography in general, I think architecture photography requires extra care and talent. Architecture photographers have to evoke emotion and draw interest without the help of characters or human emotions taking the spotlight. They work with nothing but lines and light to make something that forces passersby to take a second look. Hell, I can’t even do that with the help of makeup and a cute outfit. So, touché, architecture photographers…this post is for you.

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Taewon Jang came screeching into my realm of recognition without warning during an aimless Internet browsing session – you know the kind – when you start the search with “how to increase internet speed” and 47 links later you wind up listening to the latest Britney Spears song while simultaneously reading about something that is cool, though admittedly unrelated to your initial task. Regardless of my path, I was immediately thankful for the exposure. Pun intended.

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Jang is a Korean photographer who first began industrial inspired photography in 2007, taking photographs of power plants, steel mills, nuclear reactors and cooling towers. While exploring intricate industrial structures, Jang was struck by an interesting abandoned factory that he claims “looked seductive but ominous”.

At that moment, Jang had an epiphany, which he went on to describe to Wired magazine, saying,

“I started thinking that this strange landscape, which was neither for human use or for nature itself, would sooner or later blanket this planet. This was the moment when I became interested in how humans transform nature and how nature conditions humans.”

Since his original spark of inspiration, Jang has managed to photograph over 400 factories in locations throughout Korea, Japan and the United States. His work captures both living, breathing factories as well as factories that have long since seen their prime. Jang fondly calls the collection of strange places he seeks out “20th century follies”. He has explored industrial mainstays such as Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, home of the infamous Bethlehem Steel factory and a key player during the industrial revolution.

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Like many architecturally focused photographers, Jang brings his own artistic spin and unique perspective to his collection of pictures. The artist captures many of his photos at night through ridiculously long (8-9 hour) exposures. Why does Jang choose to capture the places under the cloak of darkness? According to the artist’s talk with FastCo Design, he is interested in using darkness to draw out the unique features of each individual place. Specifically, Jang says,

“Daylight illuminates everything evenly – under sunlight, a long-abandoned mining factory in Blair, Nevada, or an oil refinery in full operation in Texas don’t look that different. But at night, only the things we want to boast about emit light, whereas darkness covers that which we don’t.”

The cover of darkness give the artist’s work a feel of otherworldliness, making industrial buildings look as though they don’t belong among the earthly factors like bodies of water, trees and more. In an essay about the artist titled “After Night Falls” by Lyle Rexer, the public gained some insight as to how Jang goes about creating his body of work. According to the research paper, Jang does his due diligence to find places where the landscape (whether natural or urban) is in the process of transformation. He has especially focused on places where industry and energy production were (or are) involved. Speaking again to why the artist photographs at night, the essay quotes Jang saying,

“The nights that are captured in my photographs are the images that cannot be experienced by the human eye. That is due to the nature of the camera, which collects light. Therefore, even if it is a familiar sight, the camera will reproduce it in a completely new way.”

Stained Ground is currently available as a collection of Taewon Jang’s work in book form, published in 2014. He is another example of the art world’s draw towards “ruin porn” (yes that’s a real term). Beyond exposing us to incredible photography, he also offers some small justification for all of those Internet clicking frenzies that seem pointless, but are oh so worth it. I can seemingly justify a wasted morning if the deep, dark black hole of the Internet lead me somewhere interesting, right? The only problem that persists is that something interesting means one more thing to distract me from what I should really be doing. What dirty dishes? What overdue taxes? What workout regimen?

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