A GoPride Interview

Paul Clemence

Paul Clemence interview with ChicagoPride.com

Wed. August 30, 2006  by PJ Gray

Paul Clemence
Feeling Mies:

Photographer Paul Clemence captures the Farnsworth House

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modern design legacy of "less is more" stands prominently within Chicago’s famous architectural skyline and still resonates in today’s world of continued excess. It is only fitting that one of his most significant examples is honored with the same approach. Avant-garde photographer Paul Clemence’s new book Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (Schiffler Publishing) captures the Plano, Illinois gem in remarkable and unique detail. Trained at the School of Architecture at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Clemence’s keen eye successfully removes the unnecessary from his compositions to reveal the cleanest view of the master’s revolutionary work while enhancing its essence.

PJ: What makes the Farnsworth House so unique?

PC: Many, many things. It’s a very special house. For me, being a big Mies fan, it’s knowing that it’s the project where he was able to finally bring together all the different ideas he was working on his whole life. Very early on his career he was interested in creating a unique interaction between the inside and the outside and undoubtedly here that struggle culminated in a very original solution. Walking through this house one is able to effortlessly grasp all his concepts. We are very fortunate to have this very important piece of architectural history preserved—and, most importantly, open to anyone that wishes to visit it.

PJ: As a photographer, what attracts you so much to architecture?

PC: In a nutshell, I like buildings. Architecture is my passion. It’s what I went to school for. And when I began photographing buildings, I discovered this other way to enjoy architecture and still be creative. I feel my work—it’s a collaboration between me and whatever architect’s work that I’m photographing. It’s a very interesting and stimulating process.

PJ: Do you have a favorite style?

PC: I like modern and contemporary. I feel that the abstraction they create best expresses our times and gives optimism toward the future. I respect historical styles, too, but they don’t excite me as much. I like the stimulus of looking ahead. I like the future!

PJ: How do you see the preservation movement in America?

PC: I feel it’s very good, but we are entering a challenging time where classic modern architecture, like the Farnsworth House, is becoming considered historic from the artistic point of view, but still not considered old enough to be preserved. As a result, we are in danger of losing many precious buildings to economic pressures, especially in these current real estate gold rush times. Luckily, this house has been designated a National Historic Site.

PJ: Why is his work so important to preserve?

PC: I consider him to be a complete artist with architecture as his medium. He worked his whole life to express, in built forms, the ideas he believed in—not just in terms of architecture or construction methods, but most of all, his philosophical beliefs. All of his designs reflect his own personal search for truth. And I feel he did this with a dedication and intensity that few architects have either attempted or accomplished.

As a result he left us a legacy that forever changed architecture; and so, historically, it’s important to preserve the buildings that influenced so much of what’s being built now. He was one of the masters of the Modern Movement that defined so much our cities today.

PJ: Describe the home of your dreams.

PC: That’s a tough question. I’m not sure where exactly it would be located, but I’m certain that it would overlook some water, whether the ocean or a beautiful lake and probably on a hill or mountain. And it would have a very interesting balance of openness to the outside and a certain cozy feeling of shelter inside. Solidity and transparency!

PJ: What makes architecture sexy?

PC: First of all, I would say first impressions: the forms and shapes you see, how they stimulate you and intrigue you to discover the inside of the building. Then as you get closer, the materials and the feeling you get from looking at what was used to make the building. How were the elements mixed and executed? And then, of course, the surprise element: what do you discover as you walk through the building? How the spaces evolve and flow? For me, a building is just like a person. You might be initially impressed by the external, but the final seduction is all about what’s inside.

Interviewed by PJ Gray