Photographing heritage. The Palace of the Generalitat
On the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the building, I photographed on assignment from the Office of the President of Catalonia the Palace of the Generalitat in Barcelona.
This singular heritage gothic palace located at center of the city of Barcelona is the seat of the President and the Government of Catalonia: the building is a remarkable piece of civil architecture that now houses the 130th President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, an institution created in 1359 which, since the first presidency of Berenguer de Cruïlles, has reflected over the course of nearly seven centuries the Catalan people’s desire for self-government.
This has been one of my most challenging assignments, my first one portraying gothic and medieval architecture and obviously different to the contemporary architecture that I am used to: I have to admit although that I can’t really find any difference in photographing contemporary or heritage buildings in terms on how to look at architecture and translate it to images.
Maybe you have read some of my previous posts and you already know that my intent as an architectural photographer is never documentary, it is always an interpretive approach.
If I should say to support my statement, documenting architecture definitely has to do with portraying a building nowhere beyond the present while interpreting that very same building in photographs means placing it completely out of time.
The gothic and medieval architecture that I confronted on this occasion of photographing the Palace of the Generalitat of Catalonia raised the enormous difficulty of translating all the historical, artistic, and religious content that the building has accumulated over the centuries integrating all this relevant information without making it obvious but never invisible.
The major obstacle for me then was to exceed the figurative appeal of the many decorative pieces, gargoyles and applied sculptures with thousands of intricate ornamental details, to look for the simple appearance of the elements that supported them in stairs, windows, arches and courtyards to create the essential continuity of mere shapes and adding therefore the fascinating plastic quality of the color changing stone as the different lights of the day passed.
It is by consciously capturing these bare essential and abstract qualities how you portray an heritage building, how you represent its historical continuity and how you place it out of time.
As an architectural photographer, you don’t really find many opportunities to actually capture history expressed in stone but I feel that being consistent with the intent of representing the building beyond the scope of time was the key to the assignment.