In 1997, while photographing the interiors of the 1934 Edward Durell Stone-designed Richard Mandel house in Bedford Hills NY, photographer François Dischinger felt a kind of 'unexpected spiritual charge'. Not long after the shoot, which captured the first International-style residence on the East Coast, the South African-born photographer had changed paths entirely – moving from the world of fashion photography towards architecture and interiors.
Key moments from the two decades since are on display in a new exhibition in the downstairs space at New York’s Danziger Gallery. Featuring some of the world’s most recognisable properties – including Versailles, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and John Lautner’s Sheats Goldstein Residence – the show offers an insight into Dischinger’s singular vision and Zelig-like dexterity. (In the show notes writer and critic Mayer Rus declares the photographer the 'Loki of the photography world'.)
With an auteur’s perspicacity paired with technical virtuosity, Dischinger digs for his own kind of truth, resulting in remarkably expressionistic and often subversive images. Each one offers the beholder a completely new insight into often well-known buildings. 'Many of the places I’ve work in are extremely identifiable, so I really become creative with them,' the photographer says. 'I’m always very insecure when I get into a space – I think I can’t do it, because I don’t want to repeat what’s been done before.'
Dischinger pushes back against this sense of creative terror by following his intuition and avoiding premeditation. 'It sounds corny, but my ears block, I shut off and I start to try and feel,' he says. 'I look for a spiritual angle, which is quite distinct from classic architectural photography, which was meant to function as pure documentation. For me, experience is very important.'
The photographer’s images of the Farnsworth House, featuring a saturated celluloid-green lawn and the home’s Shinto-like interiors, are two of the exhibition’s most striking. Such pieces acknowledge then move beyond the traditional girders of the medium. 'The house was owned by Lord Palumbo who had purchased it from Mrs Farnsworth,' the photographer explains. 'When I photographed it, the house was being auctioned and they were really worried that a private individual was going to buy it and ship it to the Hamptons.'
The exhibition also features three enormous prints, which offer an invigorating and intimate glimpse into iconic rooms. 'The Versailles photograph is one of my favorites in the show,' Dischinger says. 'It’s printed six-and-a-half feet tall and when you approach it, it’s as if there’s another room there. It’s incredibly inviting in a physical sense.'
Wallpaper* US editor and frequent collaborator Michael Reynolds was there in 1997, when Dischinger fell in love with the process of documenting architecture. 'We have an unquestionably karmic relationship,' the editor and creative director says. 'François brings tremendous knowledge and historical understanding to every image he captures. He can take the most mundane subject matter to a whole other place because there’s always a twist and one brilliantly placed fly in the ointment. His imagery has tremendous depth: if it appears shallow or thin, then you need to look at it again.'