Integral to architecture and design is capturing the finished project through the lens and the expert eye of the photographer. In a new series, The Photographers, we present those whose professional life involves photographing all manner of commercial and residential architecture and design.
The men and women profiled belong to the Image Makers Association of Australia, an organisation that has partnered with the 2023 INDE.Awards in two new categories this year, The Photographer – Commercial and The Photographer – Residential.
We explore what makes each of these photographers tick, how they began their careers and why they chose to pursue architecture and design as their subject, as well as finding out a little more about them and their craft.
Today we profile Dianna Snape.
How did you come to photography?
Dianna Snape: My father was an aerial photographer in the Royal Australian Air Force and he gave me my first Hanimax compact camera when I was nine. At age 15 he taught me to process film and print in the dark room under our house and also gave me my first Pentax SLR when I was 22.
Through his own engagement and love of photography, he introduced me to the medium and spurred my interest. In 1994, at 23, I took 12 months’ leave without pay to travel the world and returned with a very focused ambition to become a photographer. I studied a BA in Photography (Hons) at RMIT from 1996 – 1999 and in my final year I chose John Gollings as a mentor and went on to assist him after graduating, the rest is history!
What do you most enjoy about your profession?
I enjoy the privilege of interpreting and documenting the built environment and the freedom and diversity of experiences that come with it. Every day there is a new environment to explore and new people to meet. It’s not just a profession but a passion that is always evolving and changing. It’s a pretty great life.
What drew you to focus on architecture and design?
I have always been interested in the built environment and natural landscape, so photographing architecture and landscape architecture was a logical career choice. Tailoring my craft for something I was passionate about has served me well. I have always had an innate compositional ability that I explored personally through travel and this drove me to study photography. It’s been an incredible privilege to work with Australia’s talented community of architects and designers, they have been, and still are, my continual education on all things architecture and design based.
How do you see the role of the photographer in architecture and design?
As a commercial photographer, my primary role is to produce a historic record of the project and tell the story of the building. To activate and bring it to life for the viewer who may never see the project in person. Photographs are often the only experience of many projects, especially those that are not in the public domain.
What is the most important aspect for you in capturing a project through the lens?
To understand the project, to learn about it first. For me, there is always a symbiotic relationship between myself, the architectural or design practice and the project. My role begins well before I head to the site. I try to ensure I understand the brief first and foremost and the purpose the images need to serve. This really does differ greatly from practice to practice, and as a commercial photographer, it is important to understand your client’s end use and expectations.
Obviously, it is always a priority to surprise and complement the commission with images they may not have expected. It is a real juggle between bringing your own style and point of view to the table and ensuring the architect’s or designer’s vision is honoured.
What is a usual day for you when you are on a shoot?
I’m up early, often driving somewhere remote, on my feet all day and usually home late, but most importantly, I am inspired. A shoot is a team effort often involving the practice, the client, talent, stylists and my team.
I prefer for clients to be on the shoot, they provide integral insights that are often not always in the brief and valuable assistance with logistics and client cooperation. My assistants are integral to my business and provide pivotal physical and mental support that allows me to juggle all the different hats a photographer has to wear.
What equipment do you use? What is the most important item?
I mainly shoot on a Canon R5 with a full suite of lenses and adaptors. I use a Gitzo tripod with an Arca Swiss ball head, and an iPad for the client. I also have a full Nikon kit that I can call on for backup.
Are there other areas of photography that you pursue in your spare time?
My family split our time between our home in Australia and our home in Tanzania where we usually spend the quieter winter months. I use every opportunity to explore landscapes across the National Parks both on the ground and in the air. My Lines & Tangles exhibition in 2019 featured limited edition prints of aerial abstractions of the Tarangire National Park, which I revisited in 2022.
What advice would you give to someone just commencing in the profession as an architecture and design photographer?
Be passionate, patient and ready for hard work, this job is physical.
– Make and foster good relationships.
– Know your worth and your boundaries and do it your way. Don’t feel that you have to do it the way others did.
– Don’t give up… it’s mostly a rollercoaster!
Who has inspired you in your photography career and why?
John Gollings. His commitment to his style, the built environment and architecture globally, is nothing short of inspiring. He has produced an impressive body of work internationally and his energy and passion haven’t wavered over his long career. His legacy will serve him well and it is an absolute privilege to have been part of the journey.
What is the most important thing that you have learned so far on your journey as a photographer?
To remain open, to keep learning, evolving and adapting. My business has survived the transition from analogue to digital, three global financial crises, a social media revolution, juggling family life with work and a pandemic. I remain hopeful and optimistic.
Do you have other pursuits or hobbies besides photography that you would like to share with us?
My partner and I run safaris and Mount Kilimanjaro climbs in Tanzania. It’s our way of staying connected with his homeland and culture and it’s a country we both love.
We think you might like to read about Architecture at the Heart of the Home by Jan Henderson and Dianna Snape
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