| By Estela Ataíde

Fernando Guerra

«I’m only interested in photographing spaces that are already inhabited»

PHOTOGRAPHY Fernando Guerra

PHOTOGRAPHY Fernando Guerra

PHOTOGRAPHY Fernando Guerra

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Pioneer in the art of photographing and communicating architecture, Fernando Guerra defines himself both as «an architect who takes pictures» and «a photographer who can do architecture».
With a degree in architecture, after working in the industry in Macau for five years, he returned to Portugal to combine architecture with his eternal passion for photography. Together with his brother Sérgio Guerra he created, some 15 years ago, the studio FG+SG, specialised in architecture photography and, subsequently, the website Últimas Reportagens, a valuable photographic archive of contemporary architecture in which hundreds of reports reveal the eye of Fernando Guerra on dozens of works by national and international architects.
Does your training in architecture make your work different to that of other architecture photographers?
Yes, of course it does. Qualifications are always important, because they teach us to think and to solve problems, to outline ways of solving them. What happens with the architecture course and what I do today is precisely teaching me to see architecture.
Is your eye that of a photographer or of an architect?
This is the same as asking me if I’m more an architect or more a photographer. I don’t have a precise answer, because I think I am an architect that does photography, but I am also a photographer who can do architecture. It’s very complicated, because I am the result of these 27 years taking pictures and doing architecture, living architecture every day. I am a hybrid.

Photography by Joana Guerra

What is the process behind photographing a project?
The first visit to the work is what tells me what I have to do. Generally I begin early and I finish late. During the day, the sun tells me what I should do. The sun or the fog or whatever it may be. The process itself is very natural; I go after what I like.
The spaces in your photographs are already «inhabited». Is it this human presence in architecture that you are interested in capturing?
I am only interested in photographing spaces that are already inhabited. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do empty buildings, but I like houses that not only have the architecture entirely finished, but also have the family in them. This adds layers of information to what is the primary goal of the house, which is to be lived in. When I say in relation to a house, I say in relation to a museum, to a building. Capturing the spaces being lived is my goal, not least because the photography I did for ten years, before I started doing architecture photography, was precisely capturing people in their natural environment. Taking pictures of architectures didn’t interest me at all, not even those I created when I was in Macau, because I made a lot of works during five years. I didn’t even have this desire to register what I was doing, because architecture photography for me was very boring. I only gained an interest in it when I realised that I could join my style of photography with the discipline of architecture photography. Things changed entirely, as much the way we take pictures, as how we consume them, how we show them, how we communicate them.   

Photography by Fernando Guerra | FG+SG

Does photography influence the way in which a given architectural project is perceived by someone who only knows it through this medium?
One of the good things about this work of architecture photography is precisely that it makes me feel like a messenger; I am no more than this. And photography, strangely enough, creates egos in photographers, much larger than I see in any other professions. The egos in this field are hardcore, because people think that they are telling the truth, but we are just messengers, the star here is the building.
Is there the fear of badly «communicating» a project, of overlooking a detail that could be fundamental to understanding the building?
Of course. Architects commission me because they like my work. But, from the moment I arrive at the building, on the day of the shoot, everything that I have done before for them is worth nothing; the only thing that matters is what I am going to do on that day. This creates great humility, because every day we have to start from zero. 12 hours without a break, working, after photography. Every day is a new start for me.
Should architecture photography be objective or does it always come from a very personal eye of the photographer?
It is very personal. And just think, I have so much work that I could easily have three or four people taking pictures, but that would almost be a franchise. People want me to take the pictures; they don’t want a colleague to take them.
Últimas Reportagens has the largest photographic archive of contemporary Portuguese architecture. What impact has it had in terms of the international visibility of work by Portuguese architects?
In the past decade a lot has been done in Portugal; you’d arrive in any old town and they would just be finishing the new museum or the new theatre. When I began Últimas Reportagens, in 2004, my aim was precisely to share what was being done in Portugal, because there were no vehicles showing what was being done. And, suddenly, Últimas Reportagens became the site where all foreign publishers came to see what was being done in Portugal. What is strange is that now it not only has the archive of Portugal, but that it also has it from other countries, such as Brazil.
You have enjoyed a successful career in architecture photography. What is left for you to do?
I feel that I have been keeping the engine running; I don’t at all feel that I have reached anywhere, or that I should slow down. I am trying to photograph better with each day; I am trying to communicate what I do, invent new ways of taking pictures.