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Poring over Chris Mottalini’s debut edition, we’re first awash with the feeling of waking to a view thick with palm fronds, and the damp scent of volcanic soil. (Which reminds us: that’s precisely the peace-inducing atmosphere we're apt to angle for when art collecting for cozy spaces.) But take a closer look at this double exposure daydream and you’ll pick up on something beyond its verdant, blue-green beauty—including the unexpected ways in which a thoughtfully layered photograph of lush, tropical leaves is also a metaphor for the multidimensionality of an architectural legacy.
Mottalini’s evocative images have appeared in exhibitions around the world, and in all kinds of prominent publications, counting the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Town & Country among them. Perhaps his most widely noted predilection is photographing modernist architecture—his own act of art conservation, effectively preserving their place in the American landscape.
In 2007, Mottalini shot the final images of three Paul Rudolph designs, just days before their demolition. These haunting photographs would become the fodder for his first book, After You Left / They Took It Apart. Though Mottalini documented the buildings in various states of dilapidation and abandonment, he also brought a sort a sensitivity to play, the kind one might reserve for, say, an intimate portrait of an aging loved one, in all their oft-overlooked elegance. The same could be said of the series from which we selected today's edition. This personification not only elevates the structures and their surroundings, emphasizing their importance in the annals of architecture, but it also alludes to the tragedy of their decay and loss.
His new book, Land of Smiles, emerged from the artist’s trips to Thailand, and takes a similarly emotive, personal approach to capturing the built and natural landscapes of the country. The book was profiled by PDN earlier this summer, who called it “a meditative view of place that suggests something more than the sum of its parts”. And that seems to be exactly what Mottalini is after in photographing architecture—the experience of a place is more ephemeral than flora, wood or nails.
Today’s edition, War on Ugliness (#7), was plucked from an earlier project, War on Ugliness. For this series, Mottalini travelled to the misty hills of Oahu, Hawaii—quite the journey from his home base in New York. His mission? To photograph two midcentury cabins designed by the noted (though relatively under-appreciated) Russian-born, Japanese-raised, Hawaiian modernist architect Vladimir Ossipoff.
Mottalini created this particular image high in the hills in the area surrounding the minimalist, Japanese tea house-inspired cabins. In conveying the personalities of the buildings on a more profound level (as is Mottalini’s special strong suit), the artist approached the project with an exceptional, intuitive grasp of the architect’s connective inclinations. Ossipoff, who described his work as a “war on ugliness”, was deeply in tune with the environmental and cultural context of his structures, incorporating natural elements and traditional Hawaiian inflections into his designs.
Mottalini, it seems, is equally in tune, able to tap into the ambient qualities that truly communicate a sense of place. You might say the double exposure in this edition is Mottalini’s metaphor for the way in which Ossipoff seamlessly integrated nature into his designs, how the two environments interact, or perhaps even the multidimensionality of the architect’s work itself. It struck Mottalini that, unlike your average modernist building, the decidedly modern architecture of Ossipoff’s Oahu cabins is purposefully nestled in an equally impressive landscape. The way the terrain and architecture interact is a central and compelling part of the experience of the structures.
War on Ugliness (#7) is a fragment from a conversation between an architected and organic environment. It is suggestive, dynamic, and downright dreamy. It's evidence that static, sterile images of stunning buildings do nothing to bring them to life. Mottalini, on the other hand, captures their spirit. And in turn, he captures our attention.
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