Baan is redefining architectural photography through his unique reportage-style images of the world’s most celebrated buildings, creating a following of magazine editors and architects.
Most people experience famous buildings only through photographs. Do you think your work is important to people’s perception of these projects?
Yes, it probably is, but my images are less like those iconic images by other architectural photographers where everything is perfect. I like to produce more of a story or a feel for a project. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the perfect sunlight or the perfect weather – I like to create different situations.
Describe the way you work.
I like to be as blank as possible, and step into a project fresh and look at what happens there. It’s slightly different from conventional architectural photography. I’m more about documenting a project, describing what takes place, instead of just taking pictures of specific corners, although in the end I do that too.
What made you choose this approach?
I studied photography at an art school but always had an interest in architecture so I started working as a photographer for some architects. But they always wanted the same photo: clear, blue skies and no people, and that wasn’t really my cup of tea. I stopped doing it altogether and started taking documentary images for a couple of years. Then I met Rem Koolhaas by accident and started working with him, and found this combination of documentary and architectural photography that I really like.
How many of your projects are commissioned?
About half. The other half are projects that I’m interested in, start working on and for which I then find suitable outlets. A lot of work starts out of my own interest.
Are there any differences between what architects and magazines want from a shoot?
For me there isn’t much of a difference between the two, actually. I’m quite free either way. I usually make the selection myself, based on the story that’s being told by the magazine or architect. There’s always a vast amount of pictures for each project and I can get several stories out of them.
So you don’t feel you have to compromise your style?
No, not at all. But that also depends on the commissions that I take and don’t take.
What camera do you use?
It is a reportage-style digital camera. I need to be flexible for most of the work I do, so I use a smaller hand-held camera – not the large format cameras that require a tripod. Over the years this has been very necessary. I documented projects in China for Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & De Meuron, and during their construction official photographers weren’t allowed, so I was walking around as one of the architects.
Do you still get the quality you want?
Of course, but I use everything to the fullest extent, so I push it [the camera] to its limits.
Do you ever feel there are any artistic limitations to photographing buildings?
Not really. When you get to a project you quickly try to understand how it works and its context, and you dig further and further into it. I don’t have many problems with limitations in that way.
Do you have any favourite buildings?
Public projects – museums and libraries – are great places to document because there are always many things happening. Of course, also projects where the context and the transformation of the place around them are important. The CCTV headquarters [in Beijing], for example, is great in that sense.