Patrick Reynolds unmasks architects at We Can Create

“Photography, like architecture, desires the ideal but confronts the mundane,” revealed architectural photographer Patrick Reynolds to the audience at We Can Create over the weekend. There was no trickery, just his process laid bare, says  Emma Parnell, who offers this review.

“The camera always lies,” was Patrick Reynolds’ message to the audience when he spoke over the weekend at We Can Create. This may be Reynolds’ usual goal, however for an hour on Friday, he took the opposite approach. The audience was presented with an honest and revealing look into the world of an architectural photographer. No trickery, just his process laid bare, intermingled with interesting quotes and amusing anecdotes.

Reynolds spoke around a subject that probably sat down the quieter end of the creative radar for a large portion of the audience; this was certainly the case for me. Yet he managed to consolidate all his thinking down into one simple message, a message that was not only easily digested but offered insight into a lesser known creative area from an interesting angle. His decision to intermingle his own thoughts with those of others by offering provoking quotes, strengthened his message and increased its sense of meaning.

Reynolds opened with an amusing anecdote around a pilgrimage he made many years ago to the Bauhaus inspired Schroder house in Holland. He spoke of his idealisation for this building and how he had poured over imagery of its form for years, only to make the trip and discover the reality did not quite match the dream. The house, depicted in beautiful architectural photography as a stand-alone building, was in fact attached to a dirty great line of brown brick terraces. However, once this disappointment had faded, the realisation dawned and a career was born.
“The camera transforms at least as much as it records, otherwise I wouldn’t have a job,” was Reynolds’ overarching message. Using his own stunning imagery intermingled with amusing examples of everything from lunar photography to Bontany Downs marketing imagery, Reynolds spun an engaging web of insight around his process as an architectural photographer. With simple examples he talked the audience through the purest form of visual trickery. With no Photoshop or special effects needed it is a simple case of getting to the core of a place, highlighting it’s strength’s and rendering it’s weakness’ invisible.

Reynolds continued into the details of how to achieve his very own form of creative deception, describing how “photography, like architecture, desires
the ideal but confronts the mundane”. He talked of everyday hindrances in such a process; there is no delete function when it comes to rows of bright and ugly cars lining the front of a building, but you can wait from them to drop into shadow. Continuing on he amusingly discussed a photograph he once used as his business card in which a building is photographed through tree trunks in dappled light. “The building was so ugly,” he laughed, yet he found a way to deceive the viewer with almost all recipients exclaiming, “that building is so beautiful”.

Process seemed to be a recurring theme this weekend. While always an interesting approach to creative commentary, it was great to see the theme being presented from so many new and interesting angles; Reynolds’ talk was a great example of this. His theme of honesty, or lack of, resonated strongly throughout. Approaching his talk as he would his buildings, he took a practice from a quieter corner of the creative world and made it sing. I think it’s fair to say we now know the truth and nothing said it better than this quote: “The modern architectural photo is magnificent, the drawing interesting and the building an unfortunate but necessary stage between the two”. Apologies architects, I think you’ve just been unmasked.

Emma Parnell is an Auckland designer who blogs at

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).