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Todd Eberle Stares Into The Creative Soul Of The World’s Greatest Architects

Eberle is the latest recipient of the Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography award.

Todd Eberle has photographed the world’s most influential artists, designers, architects, and politicians. His approach: “I try to make a photograph that describes as much about that person as I can in one or more images, so it becomes a ‘text’ in visual form on that person,” he tells Co.Design.

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Julius Shulman and Todd Eberle, Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, CA, July 2003. [Photo: ©2017 Todd Eberle]
Eberle–Vanity Fair‘s photographer-at-large for 20 years and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal Magazine, the New York Times Style Magazine, and Artforum–is this year’s recipient of the Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography award, one of the highest honors in the discipline of architectural photography. In conjunction with the award, Woodbury University (which oversees the Julius Shulman Institute) is exhibiting Eberle’s work in an exhibition related to his recent monograph, Empire of Space (Rizzoli 2011), which runs from May 4 to June 25.

Over the years, design icons like Lella and Massimo Vignelli, Philip Johnson, David Adjaye, Rem Koolhaas, Florence Knoll, Tadao Ando, and Zaha Hadid have passed in front of Eberle’s lens. His portraits tell stories about creativity in a way that just seeing their work can’t communicate.

Martha Stewart in her office, New York City, May 2001. [Photo: ©2017 Todd Eberle]
Martha Stewart in her glass-walled boardroom with the skyline of Manhattan in the background speaks of her acumen as a businessperson, not the “housewife” persona she played on her television show. When Eberle shot Frank Gehry beneath one of the architect’s own sculptures, the sinuous canopy almost looks like metaphorical brain waves emanating from his head. Gehry’s raised arms make him look like he’s in the middle of gesticulating some grand idea. (Eberle photographed Gehry both before and after he completed the Bilbao Museum, which catapulted him to fame. Eberle recalls asking Gehry about his newfound prominence: “You know, I’m now 69 years old, and I’ve been called ‘quirky, wonky, and zonky’ my whole f**ing life, and now they are saying I’m a genius. I really don’t mind at all,” Gehry told Eberle.)

Peter Zumthor at his Studio, Haldenstein, Switzerland, June 2001. [Photo: ©2017 Todd Eberle]
Take that in contrast to Eberle’s portrait of Peter Zumthor, an architect of intimate, contemplative spaces that are the opposite of Gehry’s bombast. Zumthor stands in the minimal metal doorway of his studio, posed with arms crossed, revealing the introverted nature of both the architect and his work.

“I’ve always been interested in the people who make and/or live in worlds that are uniquely their own, and my photographs celebrate that certain individualism in making, commissioning, or living in distinct environments,” Eberle says. “I think of most of them as artists who work in structure, objects, and space instead of the traditional perception that artists put paint on a canvas. So in a sense, maybe my photographs become canvases.”

See a selection of Eberle’s portraits in the slideshow above and visit wuho.architecture.woodbury.edu for more about his exhibition.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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