Outer-side Designs of the Park Güell Bench

JA+U : Outer-side Designs of the Park Güell Bench by Hisao Suzuki © Hisao Suzuki

Photography by Hisao Suzuki

In the Spring of 1988, I received a request from the office of Elias Torres & Jose Antonio Martinez Lapena Architects. They were restoring the main plaza of Park Güell and wanted a photographic record of the mosaic patterns on the long serpentine bench, in their original state before restoration. At the same time they wanted a record of the deteriorated and damaged sections. They were planning to ask either me or Lourdes Jansana, a female photographer who normally handled photographic assignments for the office. But no decision had yet been made about how to compile the material, and they wanted to know if I had any ideas. I replied that since it would be a photographic record the proper approach would be to shoot these relief mosaic designs accurately, from straight on, at the same magnification. Also I wondered whether it would be possible to create a concrete record of this serpentine bench by Gaudí by simply rolling it out in a flat way, like a Japanese obi belt.

JA+U : Outer-side Designs of the Park Güell Bench by Hisao Suzuki © Hisao Suzuki

Photography by Hisao Suzuki

This was before digital imaging photography had come into widespread use, so I was not sure that it would work, but I groped my way toward a method. Leaving the processing after shooting as another question, how should the shooting environment be sustained, and what would be the most efficient method of shooting photos that could convert a serpentine curved surface into a continuous image? The first thing I did was shoot frontal views with a 35 mm camera and, using the prints as a model, calculate while measuring the optimal span for a flat, continuous image. I found that a distance of two meters between the bench and the lens, and images with a horizontal effective width of 60 cm were values that satisfied the various conditions. This plan was accepted immediately by the architects and the construction company that would perform the restoration work. I now had a plan for detailed photography with a large-format camera. But there were two sides to the bench – the inner plaza side and the outer side. Also, although the shooting itself was simple, I proposed that it be done by 2 photographers to ensure that it proceeded smoothly and accurately. This was also accepted. By the time that I devised some equipment to regulate the shooting and was ready to check test shots, it was already July. The sun was passing directly overhead, near its zenith, making the light ideal for shooting the nearly vertical sides of the bench. But after shooting started, the sun would travel across the sky, making it impossible to photograph the bench in order from one side to the other. We had to shoot one part in the morning and a completely different part in the afternoon. The inner side of the bench was easy to shoot because it faced the plaza, but the outer side was in midair, which made it necessary to erect 10 meters or more of scaffolding, measuring from the floor of the pillar room beneath the plaza. I asked the construction company to build two sets of scaffolding, and each time requested that they be erected in positions where neither would intrude into the photos. Of course they had to be torn down and re-erected whenever they were moved. Reflections from the tiles, shadows from protrusions, and the lighting changed with time. After 10 minutes, the reflection from a small tile would quietly disappear.

JA+U : Outer-side Designs of the Park Güell Bench by Hisao Suzuki © Hisao Suzuki

Photography by Hisao Suzuki

I doubt that I have ever been reminded so many times in a single day that the sun or rather the earth is rotating. As we neared the end of the assignment, it was almost September, the sun had sunk lower in the sky, and the shadows from protrusions had become much shorter.

JA+U : Outer-side Designs of the Park Güell Bench by Hisao Suzuki © Hisao Suzuki

Photography by Hisao Suzuki

Although they have never been subjected to high-quality digital processing, these approximately 300 cuts of large-format film depicting Gaudí’s original design remain as an accurate record for both the inner and outer sides. Especially the design on the outer side had probably never been seen from front on since the time of their construction. This is the only occasion on which I have kept returning to the same location for more than a month to photograph a single work of architecture. On a private note, I also made distant photographs of these fascinating reliefs and mosaics, and still have them in my personal collection.

Editors note: More of Mr. Suzuki’s personal reflections on his craft can be read in his essay: La Luz Mágica – Magic Light, photographic exploration of The Cistercian Abbey Le Thoronet, and a conversation with SANAA’s Ryue Nishizawa. The printed edition contains these photographs and many more selected by Hisao Suzuki and printed in high quality.