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Ready for Their Close-Ups

January 2013

Ezra Stoller, Photographer, by Nina Rappaport and Erica Stoller. Introduction by Andy Grundberg; contributions by Akiko Busch and John Morris Dixon. Yale University Press, 2012, 288 pages, $65.

Balthazar Korab, Architect of Photography, by John Comazzi. Princeton Architectural Press, 2012, 192 pages, $40.

January 2013

Reviewed by William Morgan

Ezra Stoller Photographer
Click the image above to see more photographs from the book.
Balthazar Korab Architect of Photography
Click the image above to see more photographs from the book.
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Photography not only helped to define Modern architecture, it also created its celebrities. It is difficult to imagine mid-20th-century American design without recollecting Ezra Stoller's iconic image of SOM's Lever House or Balthazar Korab's shots of Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal. These two photographers documented all the greats—Wright, Mies, Aalto, Kahn, Johnson, and more. Once regarded as commercial adjuncts to the profession, they are now subjects of monographs that argue for their acceptance as artists in their own right.

Ezra Stoller, Photographer is a handsome volume on the onetime industrial-design student who studied architecture with Edward Durell Stone, photographed homes for Ladies' Home Journal, and carved out a niche for himself as “the photographer of choice for architects of curtain-walled corporate landmarks,” as critic John Morris Dixon notes in one essay. “Modernism's bold unadorned forms lent themselves to the strong compositions Stoller strove for in his photos.” For most of us of a certain age, Stoller's photos of the Guggenheim, Manufacturers Trust, or the Glass House are indivisible from the buildings themselves.

Balthazar Korab, Architect of Photography covers much the same ground. Sadly, the small format of this volume doesn't do Korab's work justice, but his is the more interesting story. Born in Hungary, he survived the Nazis, fled the Soviets, attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, worked for Le Corbusier and Saarinen, and finished fourth in the Sydney Opera House competition. While Stoller also photographed industry, Korab branched out more, documenting the 1966 floods in Italy, shooting the vernacular buildings of Michigan, and creating a portfolio of cultural artifacts, such as a White Castle restaurant and a one-room schoolhouse that President Bill Clinton gave to his Hungarian counterpart.

Korab seems to have had more fun too: He was willing to take risks, and was less concerned with proper perspective (his first camera was a journalist's Leica, not an 8x10 view camera). A comparison of the two photographers' takes on Richard Meier's Douglas house overlooking Lake Michigan is revealing. Stoller's picture is a Mondrian-like composition, about lines and transparency; Korab chooses a vertiginous shot straight down to the water that is pure Alfred Hitchcock.

William Morgan is an architectural historian, author and critic based in Providence, Rhode Island.

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