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No Words Needed: Architectural Photography With Julien Lanoo

by Academy Contributor

World-renowned photographer of architecture, Julien Lanoo, talks about how he came to be in this industry and how he developed his vision and artistic style. He also discusses some of his most notable works.

Beginnings at the Border

Julien was born in Belgium, in a small village located along the French border. Although there are no border controls in place today, Lanoo says that people on either side of the border do not interact much with one another, primarily because of language barriers. Ironically, however, he learned that prior to the opening of the border, both sides had much more interaction with one another. This fascinated him, so he began studying a photo series from that time period to learn more. This particular incident then sparked his interest and passion in photography.

No Words Needed

As a visual medium, Julien believes photography is a strong way to express and communicate. For him, photography as an art form is “a medium to write with, like you would use a computer or a pen, to communicate something.” In photography, there are “no words needed.”

It is a method of communication that can be understood by anyone, whether or not they have any formal education. To understand the message photography is sending, one only needs their cultural background, experiences, and cognitive mind. More pointedly, you don’t need an architecture degree to appreciate architectural photography.

Finding the Beautiful in the Ugly

Julien Lanoo’s first job as a photographer was with the Financial Times in Belgium. He began his career as a portraitist and eventually moved into performing arts portraitism. After losing a job over re-touching disputes, Julien started exploring architectural photography, even though he had never attended a school of architecture.

He was intrigued by architecture, but he did not want to create boring, washed out photos of buildings. Instead, he was more interested in looking for new angles and telling each structure’s story. He wanted to show the “dirty side” of architecture to shed light on the hidden aspects of it. He also wanted to connect his subjects to the space around them and the human lives they impact.

Julien Lanoo says that in the early days of his career, he often looked for “ugly” buildings. He would get to know the people behind-the-scenes, including janitorial staff and security personnel. He asserts that these people are the ones who hold the most information and insight about any structure or architectural project.

A Career Built Upon Reality

Some of his most notable works include individual photo projects and books. Over his career, he has photographed everything from vandalized buildings to construction projects in poor communities. In each project, he always looks for the real story. This approach to architectural photography has caused him to lose clients at times or refuse lucrative jobs, but he is more interested in being authentic.

With his photography, Julien has shown how architecture can change the lives of the people that interact with it, both in negative and positive ways. He has also uncovered and shared raw, painful, and poignant human stories in countless locations around the world, through his photography.

Ultimately, his goal is to show the truth behind the interactions among the architecture, the people and the space.

Watch the full video above to hear more from Julien Lanoo himself.

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