Ezra Stoller was an architecture student at New York University when he bought his first camera, sometime in the late 1930s. But that purchase marked a significant shift in the trajectory of his career. Over the course of the next several decades, Stoller would become known for photographing buildings, not designing them. His shots of modern masterpieces like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Guggenheim Museum often helped those structures attain their iconic status. Now, his work is being collected in a new book, Ezra Stoller: Photographer, that includes many of those famous photographs as well as much of his lesser-known work.
Stoller was a meticulous photographer. According to Nina Rappaport, a professor of architecture and the editor of the new book, it was common to see Stoller “exploring every angle, spending a day on site to understand the passage of the sun on the building.” Of course, with a career that coincided with the golden age of modern architecture, Stoller had plenty of good subjects to shoot. But he had a way of composing and framing shots, Rappaport says, that brought out the formal and structural qualities of those buildings.
“He was an artist,” she contends, “but never considered himself as one.”
In the preface to the book, Erica Stoller, Ezra’s daughter, offers an anecdote that transpired when he was shooting Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, illustrating the photographer’s exacting eye:
I recall hearing about a problem at the Salk and his fearing that the equipment had been damaged; even with the tilts and shifts of the view camera, he couldn’t get the lines straight. Finally, he realized that the camera was okay–it was the building that was the problem. In construction, some of the concrete pours had bellied, creating vertical lines that were not exactly straight.
While Stoller’s architectural photography has proven to be his most enduring work, Rappaport points out that his oeuvre is a bit more diverse. In addition to photographing interiors for publications like Ladies’ Home Journal, he also had a great deal of personal interest in industrial subjects, shooting factories, machines, and equipment “in a time of a postwar optimism, focusing on the idea of production and progress,” Rappaport explains.
The new book, published by Yale University Press, is the first complete survey of Stoller’s career, during which he took nearly 50,000 photographs. It’s currently on Amazon for just over $40.