People & Place Part Three : 2 – Interiors as Stage and Subject, Looking at some Photographers

People & Place Part 3

Interiors as Stage and Subject : Looking at some Photographers

Andre Kertesz

The book On Reading (2008), contains photographs taken between 1915 and 1970, all on the subject of reading and taken in many places.

It’s a lovely little book to look through, with a delight on every monochrome page, including some images where a room itself is the subject. Bibliotheque de l’Institut, Paris in 1929 (p. 8) a cavernous space with books layered in and  on top of cabinets, spreading upwards onto  a mezzanine gallery. The portrait format image is composed to show the layers – the books, shelving,  the lights and also the aged/braced roof timbers above. Looking at these aged timbers reminded me,  that paper is made from wood and I wondered if that’s why Kertesz framed the shot in this way.

Another portrait format image (p.45)  is taken in the Academie Francaise, Paris, 1929. A man standing, reading, on a library ladder  sets the scale of the towering bookshelves and the image  is composed in such a way that a mirror over a mantelpiece, reflects other parts of the room.

In another image (p. 56) it appears that both a room and a person are subjects as the title is Andre Jammes, Paris, Paris, November 4, 1963. However, the landscape format allows more space to the room itself than Mr Jammes. Mr Jammes and his wife were French antiquarian book dealers so, presumably,  books played a very important part in their life, which is why this image is more than just a portrait , or  even an environmental portrait as such (where the human subject still has prominence). Books spill around the room- large in the foreground on a table, in piles on the floor and neatly on shelves.

Rene Burri 

Magnum Photographer, Rene Burri worked in South America over many years. One of his contact sheets  (Magnum Contact Sheets, 2011) includes the Ministry of Health, Rio Janeiro, 1960. This modernist building was designed by  a team that included Oscar Niemeyer, and was notable for its system of movable sun-shade louvres. The interior shots look as if taken from above a very large, pillared,  entrance hall and one of them (p. 111) shows two women walking across this space. There is a quote in the book (p. 109) by Arthur Ruegg:-

The room with its criss-crossing shafts of light, becomes a stage.  Two women are walking across it with a clear sense of destination their path marked by sunlight. Standing together in the shadows, three men have turned around and are gazing after them.  It is a woven metaphor for the opposite poles of man and woman, light and shadow, soft and hard, horizontal and vertical.

Other images show the men watching as the women approach and then following on. Some of them can be seen here where the room itself becomes a stage for the interplay of light between its inhabitants.

Candida Hofer

My student colleague Keith Greenhough mentioned several photographers in one of his comments to my previous post and I looked at Candida Hofer  who is a former student of the Bechers. She specializes in large format observational photographs of  rooms which often have no human presence yet which have evidence of activity as described here .  I have downloaded  a wonderful one of a library for my paper log. Keith also mentioned the architectural studies of Robert Polidori. I couldn’t find a personal website although I have seen reference to work he did in Versailles. Again I have downloaded an image for my paper log.

Sarah Malakoff :

I discovered her photography through Le Journal de la Photographie  and her website is here .  There’s a post about her in Lenscratch where she is quoted as stating that her photographs are, “examinations of the home as both a refuge from and at times a re-creation of the outside world.”. I contacted Sarah and she gave me permission to download some of her images for this post:-



There’s a formal framing about them which resembles staged interiors and yet, still a sense that people live there.

Tanya Ahmed

Tanya is studying photograph with OCA at the advanced level.  I’ll be saying more about her work on East 100th Street, NY when I move onto Part 4 but here I wanted to refer to the work she has been doing on ‘built environments’ .

In her ‘Advanced’ Module Tanya devised a collaborative project, initially with creative writers, where she posted her own photographs of interiors and exteriors (no people), without captions,  and asked for responses to them. Tanya gave her permission for me to show a couple of them here:-


(c) T. Ahmed


(c) T. Ahmed

Comments were posted on the project site and/or on the OCA student site (the latter is password protected but the link for those who have the password  is here ) . I contributed and was fascinated by the many different responses and the moods, memories etc which were evoked by the same image and the influences of colour, texture, angle and line. Tanya has evaluated the project and referenced the photographers and artists who influenced her (including Candida Hofer) and she was happy to allow me quote from this.  In describing her images she contrasts them with those of Hofer, writing:-

I am not celebrating grand architecture or design …I am isolating quiet moments of communal life in the city and not abstracting them or making them impersonal”. ……Whereas Hofer’s libraries and theatres offer recreation and specific higher purpose, my spaces offer only personal purpose as determined by the individual not by the space. They are in effect spaces where the human mind is free….. (2012)

Richard Rowland : The Regency Project

The Regency House, 29-32 Oriental Place, Hove has been through several incarnations in its lengthy history – originally four houses, then combined into one in the 1930s, it had been an hotel; YWCA and then a hostel for the homeless before being acquired by the Brighton Housing Trust (BHT). BHT made the decision to re-furbish the building , in fact virtually dismantle the interior, in two stages whilst residents still lived there and Richard Rowland was commissioned to  document this three year process through photographs.

The images below are reproduced with Richard’s kind permission.


The Regency Project Image 2               © Richard Rowland


The Regency Project Image 12                   © Richard Rowland

I can do no better than quote from an essay in the book, by David Chandler, Photoworks, that sets the context of this project.

‘Rowland’s photographs do not attempt a comprehensive record of the building work. He steps back from the process of structural transformation in search of what the building might reveal or suggest as it is systematically taken apart and then remade. And, importantly, he has chosen to place the experiences of the residents at the centre of his work. For him the building process was as much an excavation as it was a renovation, both in the uncovering of a material past in bricks and mortar and in the releasing of long forgotten atmospheres, as though the house itself had in some way absorbed the memories and experiences of people who had stayed and lived in its rooms over generations.’ (p.37)

The essay itself can also be read here .  The book is very interesting with its combination of photographs – old and new, with the shots taken of the interior before it was gradually re-structured and brought to new life. There’s a strong presence of the people who live there even though there are very few photographs of them.


I can go on looking at, referencing, and writing about photographs who have interested and influenced my thinking about interiors but will stop here.  What I’ve learned is that there don’t need to be actual people in images of interiors to evoke particular moods or the presence of people.  it can be small details, seen as the eye searches an image, that can achieve this. The distance of subjects/focal length also has an effect – e.g. in Hofer’s photograph the image is taken from above so that the lofty height of the room can be seen and this evokes grandeur and majesty. In Tanya Ahmed’s image of the corner of the room this is much closer; a space within a room; showing the soft colours which suggest intimacy and comfort.

I’ve already acknowledged (confessed!) that I looked at other photographers mainly after I had taken images for the assignment itself so hope I have built upon my learning for the future.  I was aware though, from the start,  of, somehow, beginning to enter into the atmosphere of a particular environment, to imagine I spent considerable time there and to look around to see what was catching my eye the most, what attracted me either positively or negatively. I think it was looking at Tanya Ahmed’s project photographs and thinking/writing how I responded to them that influenced me here from the beginning and now I also have Richard Rowland’s work to think about.

Having to cope with various types of lighting indoors was challenging for me and I realised that I still haven’t fully absorbed the relevant skills/techniques that are needed for interiors. This led to more searching on the internet and looking at books which will be the subject for my next post.


Ahmed, T (2012) Assignment 5-Advanced, Unpublished Paper

Lubben. K (ed), 2011,  Magnum Contact Sheets, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Rowland, R (2007) The Regency Project, anotherpublication 2007,