Author Archives: Alyssum Skjeie, Curatorial Assistant, Heinz Architectural Center

Frances Benjamin Johnston in Charleston


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Frances Benjamin Johnston, self-portrait, in her Washington, D.C., studio, 1896.

I recently spent a few days in Charleston, South Carolina, researching and revisiting sites photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston. In the Heinz Architectural Collection there are 25 photographs by Johnston, an early female photojournalist and later in life a documentary photographer. Johnston’s interest in photographing buildings was mainly for preservation purposes. Her goal was to document the buildings should they be torn down, but also to inspire communities to preserve or restore the historic edifices if possible. The photographs in our collection represent houses, storefronts, and architectural details around the historic downtown Charleston area. The set was displayed in 1937 at the Gibbes Art Gallery, now the Gibbes Art Museum, and will be on view in the Heinz Architectural Center in the upcoming exhibition Architecture + Photography.

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, 148 Queen Street, Charleston, S.C., 1937, gelatin silver print. This image is one of the thousands of photographs taken by Johnston in the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.

Johnston donated most of her archive to the Library of Congress. Part of the archive includes the original photographs of the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South, a multi-year endeavor to photograph buildings from Maryland to Louisiana.

During my research trip I revisited the sites in Johnston’s photographs in an attempt to recreate the scene as much as possible. Many of the buildings in our set of 25 photographs are still standing, but a few are empty lots, or are completely unrecognizable. Below are some comparisons between Johnston’s images from 1937 and some from the recent trip.

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Market Hall, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Doorway at 32 Charlotte Street, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Parish House, Congregational Church, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Town Houses, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

The Model That Smokes


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Hiroshi Sambuichi, Inujima Art Project Seirensho, 2008, wood and acrylic model, incense; 1:50; Courtesy of Hiroshi Sambuichi

A particularly fascinating model on view in White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes is by Sambuichi Architects of a transformed copper refinery, or seirensho, on the Japanese island of Inujima. The Inujima Art Project Seirensho is a museum dedicated to preserving and reusing the remains of the refinery, as part of the broader Benesse Art Site.

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Iwan Baan, Aerial view of Seirensho and the island of Inujima, 2008, digital chromogenic print; Courtesy of Iwan Baan

The refinery features a large chimney that originally served as an industrial smokestack but it has since been repurposed into a chimney that connects to the building’s underground passageways, creating a natural ventilation system. Sambuichi Architects has included two small chambers on the front of the model that are designed to hold lit incense coils, sending smoke throughout the model’s passageways, over a scale figure, and eventually escaping out of the clear acrylic chimney stack.

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Lighting the incense coils, which burn for up to 8 hours. We’re using this kind.
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Placing the incense chambers into the front of the model.
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Incense smoke blows past the scale figure towards the chimney, illustrating the airflow in the repurposed refinery.

White Cube, Green Maze is open through January 13, 2013. Come see this model and over 20 others from six international art sites.

The exhibition presents works by:

Raimund Abraham (New York City); Tadao Ando (Osaka); Arquitetos Associados (Belo Horizonte); Tatiana Bilbao (Mexico City); Rodrigo Cerviño Lopez (São Paulo); Rudolf Finsterwalder (Stephanskirchen); Erwin Heerich (Düsseldorf); HHF architects (Basel); Oliver Kruse (Hombroich); Johnston Marklee (Los Angeles); Ryue Nishizawa (Tokyo); Rizoma Arquitetura (Belo Horizonte); Hiroshi Sambuichi (Hiroshima); Álvaro Siza Vieira (Porto); TOA (Taller de Operaciones Ambientales, Mexico City); Topotek 1 (Berlin); Weiss/Manfredi (New York City)