Curious about architectural photography? Internationally published photographer Cathy Schusler recently discussed her work with Tilewa Adeoye. In her own words, her work is “characterised by its nuance of light and shadow and a reverence for the elemental.”. Featured in Architectural Digest, Australian Traveller and other renowned publications, Cathy’s experience is sure to inspire and answer some of your burning questions.
Cathy Schusler
  1. Please tell us a little about your background.

How I became interested in architecture was a mystery for the longest time. After living in Japan for over a decade, I remember returning home to visit my old neighbourhood and suddenly the influences became apparent. I grew up in a mid-century modern home in an area of Brisbane known for mid-century modern designs.
As luck would have it, I went to kindy at Robin Gibson’s award-winning precinct and my primary school church was a suburban modernist structure by Martin Conrad. I
remember the opening of the Queensland Art Gallery, another of Robin Gibson’s works, and the occasional weekend spent at Harry Seidler’s Hilton Hotel where my
sister and I would sneak out onto the sweeping balconies in our pjs for a glimpse of the modernist atrium and its hanging gardens. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the
time, I believe my early exposure to great local architecture had a deep impact and shaped the way I look at the everyday.

Church House | DAHA | Photographer: Cathy Schusler

2. Why would you say (architectural) photography is important to architecture?

The photographic representation of a project is often the first experience others will have with that project, and in many cases the only experience. Photography allows
the architect to share with the world the experience of a space that may otherwise never be seen in person which is important not only for those involved in the project
but for the industry as a whole. Photography can also reveal new layers and bring fresh perspectives to areas of a space that may have otherwise been overlooked.
Despite the crucial role photography plays, I think most architects would agree that there is no substitute for experiencing architecture firsthand.

Spring Hill House | Myers Ellyett | Photographer: Cathy Schusler

3. Do you think there is enough awareness/understanding of this?

Not all stakeholders on a project will have an understanding of the photographic process and its importance. However, in my experience most architects understand the need for quality photographic representation of their work. Completed work will always outshine conceptual work and photography helps showcase an architect’s
capabilities, build their reputation and grow their business.

TreeHouse | RPS | Photographer: Cathy Schusler

4. Is architectural photography any different to other types of photography?

Yes, although the principles of photography remain the same. As with any visual art, the proof is in the image itself. You can have an amazing project but if the visuals don’t sing then you haven’t achieved your objective (No amount of rhetoric can save a flat image). With architectural photography, it is important to understand the language of the architect so that you can contribute to that language rather than detract from it. Having respect for the architect, their project and their vision, and
helping bring that vision to life through imagery, is paramount.

5. Is any special training required to work in this field?

Photography, like any profession, can take many years to master. I graduated with a degree in Visual Arts and briefly assisted commercial photography studios in Brisbane, Singapore and Tokyo. Additionally, I was mentored and taught various techniques by some amazing artists, including art photographer Marian Drew. The knowledge I gained and training I received were infinitely useful and contributive to my photographic practice.

6. What is the first thing you think about when approaching a project?

Be it an open brief or a strict brief, a large project or small project, the first thing I do when I step on site is experience the space and find the sweet spots. Every project has them and it is my job to explore those.

7. What is the most challenging type of building/space to photograph?

My role is to get the best out of any space and naturally some spaces will reveal themselves sooner than others. Perhaps the most challenging architectural project to photograph is one that has an unclear vision. Visual storytelling can get quite tricky when a project creates confusion or doesn’t have a clear identity.

The Nest | Shaun Lockyer | Photographer: Cathy Schusler

8. Do you have any favourite project(s) in your portfolio? If yes, why?

I’ve been really lucky to be able to photograph some standout architectural spaces so naturally I have a lot of favourites. What makes a great project even greater for me is the creative collaboration. We all respond differently to the same visual cues and everyone involved in a project provides a unique perspective. Combining different perspectives can inspire creativity, productivity and innovation to produce amazing outcomes. My clients trust me to consider these different perspectives when composing the final imagery so that I can create a well-rounded and holistic visual story of place.

Domic | Noel Robinson Architects | Photographer: Cathy Schusler

9. What advice would you give anyone considering a career in architectural photography?

Though it may seem counterintuitive, I would thoroughly recommend seeing the world. I took a very non-linear path between graduating and starting my business, working in various sectors in different countries before making the leap. Veering off the path was indispensable for me to gain life experience, broaden my perspective and understand how to make a business profitable. The insight gained from learning a foreign language and culture and experiencing some of the vernacular architecture of the world is something I carry with me always.

More of Cathy’s work is available via her Instagram and website.