I photographed the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regenerative Medicine Building on assignment for The New Yorker. Most architectural photographers would not have considered photographing this great building in the fog, instead, they would have waited until the first clear day and photographed it at what is commonly referred to as the “magic hour.” I knew the fog coming in would refract the light coming from the building and lend it an ethereal look and feel, as though it were a ship hovering above the city. You can do these sort of things for the The New Yorker but not always for the architect.
The image is a portrait of the architect. It transforms the architecture into a dreamlike space.
I had booked a helicopter to shoot the new section of the High Line, which had just opened. At 5:30 a.m. on the morning of the shoot, I received a phone call from my studio in Amsterdam letting me know that burglars had broken in and stolen everything—computers, cameras, etc. So I decided to fly back to Amsterdam that day. When I called the pilot of the helicopter company to tell him I would like to postpone my flight, he said not to worry, that I should take my luggage, and he would pick me up and drop me at JFK—and the landing fee would only be $25. I prepared everything for the day and went to the heliport. Unfortunately, the weather was gray and rainy, but I decided it would still be good to capture some aerial shots of the High Line. We went up and I was sure I had made a mistake, a waste of money. We circled around a bit to get some shots, and then, literally two minutes before sunset, the sun suddenly came out from under the cloud cover and placed Manhattan in a magical evening light. I did all I could in those two minutes to shoot the High Line. Then as we made a last swing around lower Manhattan, before heading to JFK, the city was surrounded by the last sunset light, reflecting on the buildings and at the same time the streetlights, cars, and shops started lighting the already dark streets of the city.
The project was perfect for dawn and dusk photography because of the transparency of the atrium. I've always loved showing mixed lighting—daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, etc.—in a single shot. I find the exterior lighting of the complex particularly interesting because it's so stark and flat. It has a cool, floodlit quality, which contrasts with the warmth of the interior lighting.
The Rolex Tower is a beautiful, minimalist work. By day, the abstract, restrained curtainwall would interact with the sky and clouds. At night, pulsing LED lighting in the tower windows, with a lantern-like top and base of the building, combined to dematerialize the structure. The light became the architecture.
Standing on the dock, I realized that all the action was behind the camera. It took less than three minutes to race back to the house and set up a reverse angle that showed the glory of being in that spot at that time. Sometimes the best lighting is none at all. While the room has inviting light, most of the drama is supplied by nature. Digital photography takes advantage of existing light much more than what was possible with film. What the eye sees can be communicated as never before. Architectural photographers can now show the lighting designer's intentions without alteration. Minimal or no additional light need be used. What used to be adverse conditions for good photography are now fair game, provided the shooter knows what elements to capture and combine to make the final picture.