When looking for an architectural photography studio in Thailand, Spaceshift Studio would be the first name people would think of. The photos were taken by professional photographer & former editor of Art4D magazine, "Pirak Anurakyawachon". The reason why his architectural photography is so interesting is that they are taken with a large-format camera. With the flexible movements, large-format photography allows him to achieve the ideal perspective to best photograph architectural works.
Hello, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, I am Pirak Anurakyawachon, 46 years old, and I have been practicing as an architectural photographer in SPACESHIFT STUDIO since 2005. I graduated in Architecture from Silpakorn University in Bangkok before working a little bit in a small architect firm. Then, I worked as the editor of Art4d magazine for a long while just because I can write and shoot. I had educated and practiced myself about architectural photography for ten years during my tenure in the design magazine business. I shot something design-oriented almost every single day, during that period.
How long have you been photographing with a Large Format Camera?
I was an absolute beginner in Large Format Photography around the year 2004-2005 when I was working in the editorial team of Art4D magazine. Actually, my parents taught me how to capture things since I was in primary school. They enjoyed photography as our family hobby, so they encouraged me to do so. I got an old Nikon FM body with a 36-72 zoom lens from my dad to shoot around with. I was in the darkroom for B&W in my highschool’s photography club. I remember that I began collecting architectural photographs in my albums when I was in university, followed by being a trainee with an architect firm in Groningen in the Netherlands. It really picked up when I was in Orlando, Florida where I went for work and travel. I practiced photography a lot during that time because I found the big movements in architecture during the years 1997-2000 over there, there were so many new upcoming buildings, and projects by star-architects were completed weekly.
What do you like most about the shooting experience with a Large Format Camera? How is it different from shooting with 135 or Medium Format?
Actually, I needed to use and invest in a set of Large Format Camera because the high requirement of printing quality of our magazine. We could not use 135 or 120 films for the double-page spread lay out, which is almost A2 in size, but the 4x5 films could. Anyhow, the more important thing about the 4x5 camera is the mechanical camera movements which helps a lot with perspective correction in architectural photography to be more precisely. Frankly, I still prefer it to the digital tilt-shift lenses nowadays. Sometimes, with my Sinar F2, I also used some film backs such as 6x7 6x9 6x12 instead of the 4x5 to make something different in the same shot but still keeping the precision in the frames.
What are the challenges in shooting with a Large Format Camera?
For me, the biggest challenge, especially while standing behind the ground-glass of a large-format camera, is being awake and aware of what I am doing at that moment, consciousness you may call it. Since all the systems in the LF are so manual, you have to follow every step clearly – setting up the camera’s tripod, adjusting the camera to zero position before setting the movements to the right angle, polaroid testing, shooting, etc. make one mistake, then you need to start all over again. Another challenge is the patience it takes to wait for the right time to take a picture such as the position of light and shadow overlaid on the building or to wait for something we don’t want to be in the frame to move or taken away by something that we cannot control, like a big cloud that relies on the wind to carry it or people rushing out of the building for lunch. You have to be patient and wait for everything to fall into place before clicking the shutter. Indeed, we cannot simply “Don’t think, Just Shoot”.
Your architectural photography, could you please tell us about the process of your work?
My working process in architectural photography is not that complicated. First, if we can, we would visit the location before the shooting date and then we make a list what we have to do in the session. Sometimes we have to talk with the architect who designed the building but sometimes the clients just let us do what we want, because they trust our intuition. We have a limited time to work with a Large Format camera so we follow the sun's direction during the day – morning east façade, late morning interior shots, lunch, afternoon interior shots, evening west façade, and night shot if they have some lighting design spots. Nowadays, we work more with the digital system, the way we work is almost the same as with the large-format camera system but more flexible.
How do you practice to look at architecture for taking photos? Or how do you practice your perspective in photography?
I have a small stereogram in my head that the building in front of me is a huge object under the climate that we cannot control, come rain, come shine, so I have to run and follow them all day long. In the meantime, we have to be observant. In our everyday life, we walk past a building without paying attention to it and we miss some beauty in there. Somebody said, often, my photography looked prettier than the real thing. I said no, and the reason is simple. He was not there with me when I took the picture. He didn't wake up at 5:00 am to watch the sunrise and shine through the bedroom window we had to photograph. For me, the art of photography requires the knowledge of beauty and also the perception of aesthetics in architecture. Spending time to see good works and trying to understand why those works are recognised or why so many people appreciate them. Personally, me and some of my friends who are working in this field may have an advantage because we used to be architects. We know the way architects think. But, this doesn’t mean one who never learned about architecture will not be able to take a good job in this field at all, not really.
Could you please share your most favorite architecture photo from Large-Format Camera?
My favourite architectural photo from my large-format camera is this picture, I took this picture in 2006, it’s the façade of TEN HOUSE’s located in Minburi and designed by CASE STUDIO. I like it because its stories behind which are reflected on the variation of its façade. This is a kind of housing project where ten architects, middle-class, invested in a land together and built the houses up to their functions and requirements. I had followed this project since it was a paper model until the construction was completed. This project is widely recognised in terms of the brave idea with the final physical design and construction issues. But it’s evaluated to fail when we talk about the great expectation of usage according to the original idea. Well, it’s all about the people, not the place. Today, TEN HOUSE is just old and my picture is the only evidence of its blossom.
What are the differences between Thai and foreign architecture?
I always appreciate any relationship between nature the man-made, which mostly means architecture, and the Genius Loci or Sense of Place of the location, the specific character in each project, domestically or internationally, I adore everything done the right way at the right time, and in the right place in terms of its creativity, functionality, or even innovation, and technology.
What advice would you give photographers who would want to try the Large Format for the first time?
For friends who would like to try large-format photography today, I have only one advice “You have to first learn how to be slower, it will be worth your every second.”
Lastly, are there any upcoming projects that you would like to share? Please invite our readers.
Before COVID-19, I was preparing to co-organise an exhibition in Thai Pavilion at the Architecture Venice Biennale 2020 with Asst.Prof. Boonserm Premthada, I took care of all photo essays. But now the project was postponed to May 2021. And also, actually, two months after the Biennale, I had a project to create our own magazine, Spaceshift Journal, an architectural photography magazine that was also postponed. At this time, I am preparing to curate an exhibition called Architects' Houses at the exhibition room of MINOBURI, a small art venue in Bangkok. This is an exhibition about the private houses of more than a dozen architects recently completed their works. So, If it did not have any wrong, this project will be launched at the end of this year.