interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture

iwan baan and francis kéré: momentum of light exhibition at the architectural association, london

 

whilst my architectural commissions take me around the world, these trips [like exploring sub-saharan architecture in burkina faso] are important opportunities for me to document the wider context of architecture,’ begins iwan baan as the famed photographer discusses his ‘momentum of light’ exhibition, created in collaboration with architect francis kéré, in an exclusive interview with designboom. ‘I am fascinated with traditional methods of building, from regional techniques and local knowledge to the building materials gathered just meters away from a site. I believe there is an urgent need to show these building traditions because they are disappearing quickly.

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
a woman walking up to the building’s flat rooftop, bobo-dioulasso. photograph © iwan baan, 2021

 

 

iwan baan and francis kéré’s ‘momentum of light’ exhibition at the architectural association (AA)’s residency in the former habitat showroom on tottenham court road presents a series of dramatically contrasting images captured by the renowned architectural photographer during travels with the pritzker prize-winning architect through burkina faso in march 2020. it explores the interplay between natural sunlight, vernacular architecture and everyday life in the african country.

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

 

 

an opportunity to travel to burkina faso

 

the village of tiébélé in southern burkina faso has always intrigued iwan. he finally had the chance to visit the location after zumtobel invited the photographer to create the swiss lighting manufacturer’s annual report for 2020. the collaboration stretched beyond this survey, though, as the specialists went on to illuminate the photography exhibition. this even includes displays on cieluma lightboxes that evoke a warm glow through photographs on translucent print.

 

when zumtobel asked me to work on their annual report, I felt it was a perfect opportunity to visit the village of tiébélé in burkina faso and make a story about its extreme contrasts of lighting,’ continues iwan baan. ‘during the day, the sun is extremely bright and hits such high temperatures; then, inside the buildings, it’s basically pitch black. the structures are built in a way that keeps light and heat completely out. the thick mud walls are built from the surrounding ground in a yearly process, reapplying the mud and redrawing the traditional decorations on the exterior. each year the drawings are slightly adapted.

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

 

 

the lighting in southern burkina faso is mesmerising, especially in the village of tiébélé. the entrances to these houses are basically knee height; people have to crawl in. the idea is to keep light, heat and any possible intruders out. the very little light shining through the entrance works almost like a camera obscura as it is so small. it illustrates what is going on or who is approaching from outside, reflecting upon the curves of the mud interior and furniture that have been smoothed by hand for centuries,’ describes the photographer.

 

using the latest and best technology, incredibly sensitive cameras were able to quickly capture the architecture, people and daily routines in near darkness, completely handheld. the series details the unique qualities of light, from the near pitch blackness inside and the brilliant brightness outside the homes of tiébélé through to the irregular skylights inside the grand mosque of bobo-dioulasso. this articulate study of light, space, place and use emphasizes the complex relationship between people, architecture and environmental conditions.

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

 

 

contrast between natural sunlight, vernacular architecture and everyday life

 

the series of photographs, on show in an exhibition at the AA, takes visitors on a journey through burkina faso, from the communal compounds in gando and pouni to the main mosque in bobo-dioulasso and the decorated houses of tiébélé. it communicates iwan baan’s focus for architectural photography: the connection between people, architecture and the surroundings of the buildings. one such highlight is the images inside and outside the grand mosque in the country’s second city. its tower completely collapsed during the rainy season just months after the visit in march 2020. the structure was rebuilt by the community. the process stressed the habit of building there, as the locals add new layers to their buildings each year.

 

I have always wanted to visit the village of tiébélé so, once I received the project from zumtobel, I invited francis kéré to join me on the trip,’ notes iwan. ‘francis is from southern burkina faso, knows the villages and local people, and speaks the language. I was only aware of tiébélé but he recommended other notable places, such as the grand mosque in bobo-dioulasso, which is the second largest city in the country. the centuries-old building is one of the great examples of sub-saharan architecture.

iwan-baan-francis-kere-momentum-of-light-photography-exhibition-aa-london-designboom10

momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

 

 

from zumtobel’s annual report to a book and exhibitions

 

on the trip, it quickly became apparent that the photography – and its spotlight on the contrasts of lighting, vernacular architecture and everyday life – would stretch deeper than solely zumtobel’s annual report. a book was created with dutch designers haller brun and published by lars müller, combining photographs with line drawings penned by francis. the architect went on to design the layouts for the two exhibitions that followed: the first originally shown at the art museum olten in switzerland, and then at the AA in london.

 

the book recreates the contrast between the bright daylight and the pitch black of the buildings’ interiors. once inside these homes, it takes the eyes five minutes to adjust and adapt. slowly the contours of the interior, its furniture and items start to appear. half the book is printed on black paper with multiple print runs that firstly bring the light/whites on to the pages, then the silver plate, and finally the colors on top. we felt this printing process really evoked the patina of these blackened interiors where the light reflects only from certain parts of the pages,’ remarks the photographer.

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

 

 

I am intrigued by architecture in the very specific methods people use to build. however, I feel that in large parts of the globe these traditional methods of architecture are overlooked, like we see used in burkina faso. the moment an economy grows, traditional architecture of the place is forgotten in favor of concrete or corrugated steel. there is an urge for me to document these places when I travel because they are fragile: the building materials, methods and knowledge. this exhibition showcases part of my larger collection, in the hope of highlighting how people live in various different circumstances all the world,’ concludes iwan baan in an interview with designboom.

 

visitors can follow iwan baan and francis kéré’s journey through southern burkina faso in the ‘momentum of light’ exhibition at the AA in habitation, open from 12 march – 11 june, 2022.

iwan-baan-francis-kere-momentum-of-light-photography-exhibition-aa-london-designboom09

momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

interview: iwan baan's photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

iwan-baan-francis-kere-momentum-of-light-photography-exhibition-aa-london-designboom11

momentum of light, an exhibition by iwan baan and francis kéré hosted by the architectural association at AA in habitation, the heal’s building, london, 12 march–11 june 2022. photograph © sue barr

 

 

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interview: iwan baan’s photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
 
interview: iwan baan’s photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
 
interview: iwan baan’s photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
 
interview: iwan baan’s photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
 
interview: iwan baan’s photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
 
interview: iwan baan’s photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
 
interview: iwan baan’s photography series shines light on sub-saharan architecture
 

project info:

 

project: zumtobel annual report

photographer: iwan baan

collaborator: francis kéré

date: march 2020

location: bobo-dioulasso, gando, pouni and tiébélé in burkina faso

 

 

exhibition info:

 

title: momentum of light

location: AA in habitation in the heal’s building on tottenham court road

opening dates: 12 march – 11 june, 2022

commissioned and organized by christopher pierce and manijeh verghese

exhibition design: kéré architecture

lighting design: francesco anselmo

graphic design: AA communications studio

exhibition realisation: AA public programme

exhibition build: AA facilities

artwork installation: install archive

 

 

book info:

 

publisher: lars müller

title: momentum of light

photography: iwan baan

author: francis kéré

design: haller brun

dimensions: 24 × 33 cm (9 ½ × 12 ½ in)
hardcover: 180 pages with 108 illustrations
publishing date: 2021
ISBN-10:‎ 3037786868
ISBN-13:‎ 978-3037786864
language: english

ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY (257)

FRANCIS KéRé / KéRé ARCHITECTURE (33)

IWAN BAAN (91)

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