Metropolis Magazine
May 1996

Harmonious Fragments
By Akiko Busch


You may have heard the expression that architecture is frozen music, but the Decca Record Company in London has taken the metaphor a step further, using images of buildings to market CD’s from its classical music division. It’s a sound strategy, and not just for selling CD’s: the concept invariably invites us to reassess these buildings we thought we knew. Is I. M. Pei’s east wing of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., in fact, solidified Prokofiev? Is it a comment on the work of Michael graves that his library at San Juan Capistrano accompanies Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals? And what about the appearance of the jutting pyramid from Arata Isozaki’s Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles on the cover of a Beethoven violin concerto? Is the subtle visual message that this is not easy-listening music?

But the real irony here lies in the fact that the images used are all the work of architectural photographer Jenny Okun, whose own sensibilities may lie closer to the music of Philip Glass than the classics. Elements of the works of both Okun and the existential, electronic music composer are strikingly similar — there’s a kind of stacato-like rhythm, a meditative reiteration of theme, studies of continuity and discontinuity, and most of all, grace through repetition.

Okun records architectural structures through multiple exposures. Using a large-format Hasselblad camera, she takes a picture, then advances the film only slightly to achieve a layering effect. A single image may comprise six such overlays, which might then become part of a triptych. Okun’s background is in film, so it follows that the spatial information unfolds sequentially; the images are fragmented and superimposed, causing unexpectedly lyrical interpretations of buildings and space to emerge.

Yet for all their abstraction, what is also compelling about these images is their essentially traditional and time-honored approach to the documentation of architecture. These days, architectural photography tends to consider circumstances beyond the built form- climate, use, landscape, and human accessibility — to position the building in its social and environmental context. Okun, however, sticks to the structural facts; her images read as formal records and revelations of space, form, color, and light.

Not surprisingly, architects, developers, and corporate clients — including recording companies — have found value in Okun’s elegant images. Her photographs and triptychs have been exhibited widely in the United States and England and are included in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. Jenny Okun divides her time between Los Angeles and London and can be contacted through the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, California