Catalin Marin of Momentary Awe is back on Project of the Week with another extraordinary set of images of an epic building! Today we’ll be checking out his photographs of Foster and Partners The House of Wisdom.
He kicks things off by telling us “Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates has been investing heavily in cultural institutions in the last few years and in 2019 held the UNESCO World Book Capital title. The House of Wisdom was built to celebrate this achievement and I was fortunate enough to be commissioned by Hadara Magazine to photograph the building. Designed by Foster and Partners, the building’s most striking feature is the cantilevered roof that extends 15 meters past the walls of the building.”
He continues, “During the scouting, I had to choose carefully what I wanted to photograph as the building is fairly large and we only had one day of actual shooting budgeted for this. Although its primary purpose is being a library, the building also houses a restaurant, a coffee shop, meeting spaces, a kids playing area, and even a 3D printing lab and book printing shop. I spent quite a bit of time on the exteriors as I loved the variety of reflections present in the pools around the building. The front of the building is perfectly positioned to be photographed at sunrise, while the side where the main entrance and car access is looks great in the afternoon light.”
Something I always admire in Catalin’s work is the way he gives us a sense of place and time. On the left, a specular highlight conveys that late afternoon timeframe while also creating a sense of heat. It is a nice compliment to the deep shadows and graphic quality of these photos. On the right, I love the way he gives us context and a glimpse of The House of Wisdom’s surroundings.
Repetitive converging lines create a dynamic and powerful composition here. There is a feeling of movement and boldness. As our eyes take in the scene, we are able to understand just how massive this structure is.
“Definitely the best memory from this shoot,” Catalin explains, “was setting up inside and watching the shadows moving across the floor as the sun was setting.” It is easy to see why! These photographs read so dynamically and are just gorgeous!
I love the variety of shapes and lines created in these photos. I was curious to know what Catalin was looking for compositionally when he was making these photos. He relayed “One of the main elements of the brief agreed well before the shoot was the focus on how the light plays through the external lattice of the building creating interesting lines and shadows.
Additionally, each individual lower window has a system of blinds that can be opened or closed depending on the use of the space which adds to the interesting shadows. I also looked for ways to show how large and full of natural light the spaces are. The bookshelves extend over both floors and I found a couple of vantage points that could showcase this.”
Back outside we get another look at the cantilevered roof. It is just enormous and captivating. Catalin’s composition harnesses a series of different leading lines that carry our eyes around the scene. It is a very geometric and shapely photograph!
Again, Catalin picks a perspective that puts emphasis on the stretching roofline while helping us note the shade it provides. The perfect reflection adds to the complexity and full feeling in this frame. I love the figure sitting inside, which helps us better understand the huge scale of The House of Wisdom.
Catalin shares “The most difficult bit [of this shoot] was trying to find a good way to photograph the building in the evening twilight when the fountains are on. Because of the way the water intensity in the fountain varies pretty much every minute, it took quite a few tries to get the right water height in the photos. I made sure I was in position about 45 minutes before the actual twilight, so by the time the 10 minutes of great light came, I pretty much knew what I had to do.”
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