Art Critique and Community Vol. 1: Architecture

Welcome to our first critique and community forum!

We are very excited to be launching this kind of community here at Juxt. We hope this will promote growth, introduce the community to new language, and open the door for a honest conversation about photography. Once you finish reading the critiques please leave a comment with your thoughts on the series. We want you to join in the conversation!

We started with the architecture genre with a beautiful series from Paula Gardener.

We have four panelists crituqing Paula’s series. Paul Marsh, Su-Lin Meyer, Tilman Haerdle, and Fernando Prats.


Paul Marsh Seattle, WA
These four monochrome images from the Sol Y Mar hotel in Egypt all show different perspectives of the same work of architecture, presented thematically but with very different compositions. They appear to be taken on the same cloudless, bright day where gradient shadows add to the compositional elements. Although there are no titles to the images, clearly they’re presented as a group. A hint of warmth in the monochrome toning seems to deliberately add to and unify the compositions.

The photographer used very strong and dynamically angled lines to convey a crispness and sharpness to each image. A wide depth-of-field with everything in focus enhances this crispness, and the choice of high-contrast monochrome helps to dramatize the shapes. The warm-toned monochrome suggests a sense of the dryness of a desert environment. In the last image, the repeating pattern of angled lines and bars adds some interesting depth to that image, and in the second image, the diagonal line in the middle of the frame unifies the implied curve created by the larger dotted dark patterns from the windows and lounges. The positioning of the blank sky in each frame mostly helps punctuate the graphic, angular shapes in the architecture. Each composition fits the orientation chosen for the image. Minimalism is clearly a theme in all of the images, and the photographer was drawn to the different geometric patterns and shapes found throughout the hotel.

By reducing the building into more geometric, high-contrast patterns, the photographer presents a sense of strength and abstracts the sense of place. The more warm-toned monochrome helps provide context. In some ways, except for the last image, the 3D world of this hotel is flattened into a 2D space, where gradient shadows help to provide the texture and depth.  The simplicity of the compositions presents a meditative silence, especially with the lack of people and motion in the images. The compositions, especially with the choice of monochrome, are reminiscent of some of the Architectural Geometric Abstract works of Paul Strand and Ansel Adams’ 1929 photograph “The Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Taos, New Mexico.”

The high-contrast strong figures in the first and third images are very clear and interesting. In the third image, I’m sensing a conversation between the two figures. Perhaps an admonishment, with the figure on the right being a parent and the shadow covering the left figure representing the flush of sadness, embarrassment and shame felt when being scolded.

I’m particularly drawn to the first and third images for the reasons mentioned above. As a group, while the images fit together thematically, I think the specific geometric reduction used in these two images could be further explored and brought together in a wonderful portfolio or photo essay.  The second and fourth images could be strengthened, perhaps, by a little tighter cropping.
In the second image, I can see some of the natural and hard-to-correct lens distortion of the iPhone’s camera lens that detracts from the strong lines presented in the image. Since this distortion can be difficult to correct, I would suggest removing the sky and turning the image into a square composition (or crop it a little tighter so that it’s square-like but not exactly square):

This crop helps focus the simplicity of the image, provides much more balance and emphasizes the dynamic of the image. The diagonal line that intersects the middle of the scene is much more strongly presented and gives the little smaller shapes a sense of motion. The viewer is initially drawn downward into the image from top-left to bottom-right (around the implied curve/angle/L-shape) and then brought back around to the top again by the triangle shape in the lower-left corner that brings our eye back up into the top-right of the image – all in a bit of a top-heavy, angular figure-8 pattern:

The last image, too, would benefit from a square-ish crop as well: This crop reduces some of the extra noise of the repeated pattern yet provides enough anchor to still retain the simple geometric shapes in the overall composition. I wonder if burning in the sky in the left side a little bit just above the smaller portion of the building might add a little more contrast. With this crop, I again get a sense of a larger figure dominating a smaller figure – giving the photo some extra emotion.

Finally – this set of images is a great example of how color might be a distraction sometimes. By choosing monochrome processing, the gradients and contrast and smooth textures are emphasized. While I’m curious how these same images would look in strong color, I think we would be much more drawn to the contrasts of the blue and white/cream tones rather than the graphic lines and geometric shapes that are far more important in these images.

All of the images are very well composed and presented. As I mention above, this scene is worth further exploring and presenting as a unified photo essay.

Su-Lin Meyer San Francisco, CA

This series is comprised of snapshots throughout a North African hotel, and as a group, conveys an essence of place.  There is a sense of relaxation, simplicity, and leisure.  Forms are reduced to basic geometries, there is a lack of excess, and the environment is simple and pure.  The removal of color in this series allows the viewer to focus on basic form.  The skies are vacant of clouds and movement, and our attention as viewers is instead drawn into the play of light and shadow across surface.

In #2, the blank wall is punctuated by the dark hollows of the windows and the casual layout of the seating.  The sun is high in the sky which helps convey the feeling of a warm climate.  Looking at this photo, I find myself wondering how this scene would change had the shadows been longer and more dramatic.  The small punctuations of dark shadow in this photo would be extended, and perhaps the overall effect would make the photo less washed out. For example, the stair railing is barely visible in this image.  However this is also part of the photo’s appeal… the serenity of midday at a resort.

Compositionally, I like the somewhat whimsical layout of the chairs and how they balance against the very strong geometries of the facade.  The emptiness in the center of the photo, whether intentional or not, further emphasizes the dispersed nature of the layout.  It’s a sparse, minimalist spatial experience, and this view has framed its emptiness and emphasized a flat quality.  This scene could also work quite well if there was a person walking down the stairs, though that would change the very nature of the photo.  It would become more about how a person inhabits space, and less about the spirit of placid emptiness. Technique wise, I might have tried to straighten some of the lines in the windows, and along the bottom of the wall, in order to minimize the slight skew.

The use of shadow in #3 is more distinct, which immediately draws me in.  This image is quite captivating in its use of values.  The sky moves from dark to light and the walls move in opposition, from light to dark. The balance and play between these is quite nice.  It moves the eye up and down through the composition smoothly, as opposed to #2 where the eye is darting from each isolated element to the next.

The simple demarkation of the shadow on the wall is lovely.  The light is stark and it has given this photo a sense of being under a very strong, almost artificially bright, light source.  It reminds me of a stage set for a play, or the vacant architecture in the paintings of Giorgio deChirico – an ambiance that I personally love.  This photo has a transcendent, timeless quality and purity.  I only wonder what other shots the photographer might have taken of this corner, at different times of day.  The play of light in this area throughout the day must have been a joy to shoot.

Image #1 is alluring compositionally… the photographer has captured the folds of the facade in this corner quite well.  I appreciate the mild sense of vertigo looking up at the building from this angle.  The light must play in these folds and corners so beautifully, and I feel that the contrast between surfaces could have been emphasized more.  This photo leaves me wanting more… I want to see how the light plays sharply across the flat planes and how it etches dark shadows into the corners.  I want to see a bit of drama….

Again, similar to #3, I love the anonymous, simple purity of form.  Basic geometry with no decorative excess.  There is a beautiful, somewhat vapid emptiness, which is what I love about minimalist architecture.

The fourth image is the least captivating of the series, in my opinion.  This one is by contrast more about detail; I find my eye flitting around the composition to the various elements and rhythms of pattern.  Again, as in #1, the play of light and shadow is subdued.  In this case however, heavy shadows could make this photo too busy, especially in contrast with the other three, which are purely minimalist.  I think this photo is of a different typology.  It was taken to show an intersection of details, instead of framing simple plays of light or minimalistic emptiness, like the others.  Compositionally, I think this is the weakest of the group. There is no “wow” factor or strong visceral reaction when I look at this photo.  It’s simply a nice photo, but does not create an ambiance or present a narrative like #2 and #3.

I imagine this hotel offers a whole series of photos that explores the play of shadow, form and surface, and the photographer has tapped into this.  I especially see this in #2 and #3.  Light and shadow add compositional depth and drama.  #1 is just slightly more tame than I would like it to be… it feels like it’s holding back.  #4 does relate to #2 and #3 somewhat, in a compositional sense, but doesn’t have any deeper element of transcendence like the others allude to.

I do love the quiet, elegant nature of black and white, but part of me feels like I could be missing out on witnessing a beautiful play of color.  I imagine these sheer, white walls cutting across a clear, deep blue sky.  Although these shots might have worked well in color also, the nature of this series would change.  Presenting these views in black and white adds a certain dimension to them, an ambiance of memory perhaps.  They are devoid of the liveliness of color, devoid of excess decoration and form, and skies are reduced to smooth, featureless backdrops. It’s a quite compelling ambiance and I can understand why the photographer chose to present this series in monochrome.

Tilman Haerdle Munich, Germany
The photos, set in black and white, show parts of very clean, reduced looking buildings. The photographer explained to us that they belong to one of the Sol y Mar hotels in Egypt. One photo shows two deck chairs that hint to a recreational area. The series is untitled yet it is clear that those 4 photos belong together as they are linked by a common style.

The images are very much reduced to simple polygonal shapes. There are additional curved elements, especially in the fourth image that shows some kind of a balcony. Apart from the deck chairs we only see the building and the sky as a background. The buildings are further decomposed by different levels of grey as the shadows create their own shapes on the walls of the buildings. In every image we only see parts of a building, the viewing perspective is always looking up. Probably only few editing steps were taken, most likely some adjustments in contrast and brightness and cropping.

Since it is architectural photography, we’re focused on the buildings and their situation. All of the images convey a very minimal approach to architecture. Thinking of Northern Africa, sun, heat and the desert come to mind immediately. The buildings underline those associations. The white color reflects the sun in order to leave the inner parts of the building as cold as possible. The sky is perfectly clear as we would expect it to be in this region. The very simple geometries, apart from those arched windows and openings are a tribute to a very clean approach to architecture, as we know it from Bauhaus. The arches are symbolizing the local architecture that is rich of arches, curved roofs and ornaments. Very often buildings in this region have the same color as the sand, the white tone was probably deliberately chosen to stress the relationship to minimal architecture.

The images are beautiful and very aesthetic, their composition reflects the cleanliness of the depicted architecture. By forgoing the use of color the deconstruction to mere shapes is further enhanced. The photographer used the different intensities of the shadows to his advantage. Image 1 and 3 are very similar as they both show a similar scene so it would have been possible to eliminate image 1 from the series as it is the least necessary. Image 2 adds some human element to the situation by showing those deck chairs and some (hidden) stairs where we can imagine that someone steps down to the chairs. Image 4 is the most detail-rich image with those many arcs in different lengths and lines in different tonalities. I’d probably use this one as the signature image for the series as it also creates the best link to the region the building is located in. I could imagine a more extreme version of image 2 by cropping it to the point where no sky is visible. Still, those images very much create the desire to visit this very place and enjoy not only the sunny climate but also the pleasant environment for a relaxing vacation.

Fernando Prats Barcelona, Spain. [translation in italics]
Mirar y volver a mirar estas fotografías me traslada, cómo no, a lugares imaginarios. Ciudades que es posible y hasta tentador re-construir dejándose llevar por el pulso de una muchedumbre que aún no ha concretado sus futuras citas. Fragmentos que funcionan como índices e indexan objetos, significantes vaciados de contenido vueltos a rellenar mediante la acción del fotógrafo que se detiene con más o menos calma, reflexiona con más o menos prisa y decide un relato posible más o menos ininteligible frente a una multiplicidad de instancias narrativas al abasto.

Looking and looking again at these pictures, they moved me  to imaginary places. Cities that are possible and even tempting re-build carried away by the pulse of a crowd that have not yet finalized its future appointments. Fragments that function as indices and index objects, signifiers emptied of content and re-filling through the action of the photographer, ponders more or less quickly and can choose a story more or less unintelligible against multiple instances narratives.

En la fotografía arquitectónica, el contexto suele estar dado por referencias al autor-arquitecto, cuando el autor-fotógrafo aísla la obra de su entorno, o al objeto-ciudad, cuando en el encuadre se permite la entrada de otras hipotéticas estructuras relacionales, habitualmente dadas por gente que se dirige de un punto a otro y es contemplada, que vive, vamos. En el caso de estas cuatro imágenes la deliberada ausencia de estos elementos nos remite, como mencionaba al principio, a lugares imaginarios. Tal vez se trate de las ciudades sutiles elucubradas por Calvino y digo tal vez porque así prefiero desearlo. Desconozco casi todo de estas fotografías excepto a ellas mismas, lo cual me satisface. Veo lo que aún permanece de sus datos EXIF aunque no sé sus títulos,  intenciones previas, locaciones o autores.

In architectural photography, the context is usually given for references to the author-architect, when the author-photographer isolates the work of its environment, or object-city when the frame is allowed in other hypothetical relational structures, usually given by people who go from one point to another and is contemplated, that live, let’s go. In the case of these four images the deliberate absence of these elements leads us, as I mentioned at the beginning, to imaginary places. Maybe it’s the “subtle cities” conceived by Calvino and say well maybe because I prefer to desire it like this.  Am unfamiliar with almost all of these photos except themselves, which satisfies me. I see what remains of their EXIF data but do not know their titles, previous intentions, locations or authors.

Desde un punto de vista técnico, advierto una preocupación por la composición enfatizada por sutiles recortes a posteriori del encuadre original. El punto de vista elegido refuerza el uso de líneas y diagonales; de la misma manera que la gradación tonal homogeniza la serie y le otorga al espacio negativo cierta uniformidad que beneficia el resultado final. Se agradece que estas fotografías intenten realzar lo fotografiado sin haberse embarcado en un sórdido compendio de apps coleccionadas.

From a technical standpoint, I notice a concern with composition which is emphasized by subtle a posteriori cuts of the original frame. The chosen perspective reinforces the use of diagonal and lines , in the same way that the tonal gradation homogenizes the series and gives the negative space uniformity that help benefit the final result. We can appreciate that these photographs attempt to enhance the photographed without having an apps’ collection show.

Considero que se trata de una serie lograda. Se transmite la dureza solitaria de estructuras que aguardan bajo un sol que insta al resguardo.

I consider this a successful series. A lonely hardness of structures is transmitted that await in the sunshine urging the shelter.

Quizá hubiera planteado los encuadres para no tener que modificarlos luego -incluyendo el ángulo y tratamiento de la perspectiva en la imagen 2, y ganar en detalle-enfoque o minimizar el grano; aunque evidentemente éstas son decisiones y prioridades de índole estética y por lo tanto, intransferibles.

Perhaps I would have raised the frames to avoid having to modify them later – including the angle and perspective treatment on image 2, and gain in focus-detail or to minimize the grain, although obviously these are decisions and priorities of these kinds of aesthetics, and therefore non transferable.


Our Artist:

Paula Gardener

I am a wife, a mother to four wonderful children. Photography is my first language. It’s how I can share my thoughts, visions and dreams. I studied photography and fine art at various colleges in London, which enabled me to harness the creative soul within me. I am currently based in London, however Photography has made it possible for me to ‘visually’ travel on a global scale. My own photography business was launched in 2010, alongside my blog as a creative writer. It wasn’t until November 2011 that I realised the true potential and versatility of the iPhone. Through mobile photography, my creativity has evolved, my interpretation of life has been revolutionised. I am a visual storyteller with a passion for telling stories . . .


Our Panelists:

Paul Marsh

I’ve been doing photography at some level since before high school. I fell in love with the darkroom back then and am thankful for having started on film. In college, digital photography consisted of an early version of Photoshop and trying to find time next to a computer with an expensive scanner for the prints I’d made in the darkroom. Digital cameras were still a decade away from being commonplace. I snuck a few prints into some shows and somehow ended up with some recognition. Now, with the iPhone, I can combine all three elements nearly instantaneously and share my work with a much larger audience. And these days I continue to sneak into photo shows with iPhoneography, including having several images chosen for honorable mention in both years of the Mobile Photo Awards.

I chose a path away from photography, however, in college and by day I work with a Webby Award winning government web team. Jack of many trades, I suppose can call myself a webmaster. Still, I make time to run away from the cubicle walls and venture into the world of art, both as a creator and as a consumer. A few years ago I found myself hanging around a photo critique site, PhotoSig, and discovered I could write a decent critique (affirmed by the site’s editors when my critiques were chosen as featured critique several times). I have learned that in looking at photos more deeply it makes me a better artist. I have also come to see art as the polar opposite of dogma, since life is full of paradoxes and juxtapositions that go way beyond the constructs of the reality in which our minds try to keep us.

Some people actually know me as a musician more than as a photographer. And vice-versa. I enjoy writing. I also know way too much about baseball and am a passionate Seattle sports fan. Again, a jack of many trades but master of none.

Except being me.


Su-Lin Meyer

I’m an architectural designer and Chicago native, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. In all of my creative work, I strive to create refined. I value the power of simplicity and minimalism – “no more and no less”; and the reduction of elements to an elegant, self-contained whole. When I photograph and compose, I enjoy finding innate beauty in clarity of form and balance of structure, color and light. As a creator, I live for the moment when an image or design simply resonates to me, and I know I have found my solution. All of my photography is 100% mobile.


Tilman Haerdle

I’m 44 years old and work as an IT consultant and software developer. Living in Munich, I’m happy with my wife, my daughter, a colorful patchwork family and an array of cats, dogs and turtles. I began taking mostly travel snapshots since I was 18 or so but I didn’t really start to take photography seriously until I found Instagram in October 2010. Since then it’s an integral part of my life to take pictures of everything I find  which can be, well, everything. While the iPhone, especially with Hipstamatic, is my main camera I really enjoy to shoot with a DSLR, too. In the end, it’s all about photography. If you browse any of my galleries on IG, Flickr or 500px you’ll find that I have a certain inclination to architecture and landscape but I also love everything that is weird or out of place.


Fernando Prats

fernandoprats researches from photography, design, poetry, music, video and other disciplines, the word and its representations.

He was born in Buenos Aires, and he lives in Barcelona from a decade ago. He’s the author of many poetry and photography books, have directed different art & culture magazines and has received several awards for his photographic works.

In 2012, his mobile photographies have been published by  Life in LoFi, iPhoneography.com,  IphoneographyCentral, The AppWhisperer, The iPhone Arts and more. He has been part of the recent exhibitions MINA (Mobile Visual Arts Showcase) @ FRINGE Festival 2012 (Wellington, New Zealand), Depixtions (Orlando, USA), IX Colourgenics (Toronto, Canada) and Ubiquography (Barcelona). He has reviewed some of the leading photographic accessories for mobile media as Gizmon’s lenses, olloclip, Joby or the Glif + and he’s a beta tester for some new apps dedicated to this subject.

The Art Critique and Community forum for Juxt is a safe space for constructive critique and support to advance the individual artist and the artform.  We expect the utmost respect for all participants, panelists, and community members.  If you are wanting to contribute or you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and one of the moderators will respond to you. 

Big thanks for all your support and love.  Big thanks to the moderators:  Anna Cox and Tony Marquez.

This art critique and community forum is the first of many series. Go check out We Are Juxt for more art critique and other artistic interesting stuff.