When did you start taking pictures?
I entered Los Angeles City College to study photography at the age of 17, during WWII. Then at the age of 18 I was drafted. I took the basic training, they gave me five months of intensive training, both aerial and ground, and then they shipped me out. I spent 14 months in Guam as a photographer.
I came back in 1945, and they allowed me to go directly back into Los Angeles City College in mid semester. I stayed there until 1948. It was a wonderful experience to have Hal Jordan, a mature, really expert photographer teaching photography to six of us. Then Jordan said you better go to Art Center for polish. So I went there and graduated in 1950. There were wonderful instructors at Art Center; Alvin Lustig was my immediate mentor.
Were you always involved in architectural photography?
I came out of Art Center as an advertising photographer. After graduating, we decided to form a group from Art Center to get input from the people who were well known in photography, graphic design, architecture, and writing. Esther McCoy, Charles Eames, and Saul Bass all came and spoke; we had the cream of the city in the group, which went on for about two years. The Eames helped us, Saul Bass helped us, Esther was my direct mentor.
What format do you work in, and do you prefer black and white or color?
I usually work in 4x5. I do some assignments in 35mm, but not frequently. I prefer a larger camera. All assignments are shot in color and black and white.
I think color is here to stay. Black and white will always be secondary now. The interesting thing is that black and white is archival, and if done properly it will last well over 100 years. From the moment you process color film it starts to deteriorate. I do all my historical work in black and white.
Do architects accompany you on photo shoots?
I work side by side with the architect on occasion. Craig Ellwood used to go out with me all the time. I would give Craig a 35mm camera and I would work the big camera. When we got the film back we could put it on the table and study it. In a funny way it reinforced some of the thinking I had about architecture and the International Style. It helped me quite a bit to get feedback from a client.
Do you perceive yourself as photographing for history?
The architectural photographer should never be set up as a critic. Our role is to enhance and state the content of the building in an aesthetic way. The architectural historian should evaluate whether or not a building is important. I’m the photographer who sees it and has to sensitively photograph it so that architecture has a great deal of content and meaning.