Hélène Binet has been called an architectural photographer, but her work resists customary definitions of the term. Alongside a building’s function as a sign—a conceptual form that can be fully accommodated in an iconic image—it is a material object that acquires meaning as a consequence of use. This meaning is made tangible in the photograph in a like manner, through an embodied exchange between photographer, camera and space. For Binet, the camera is not just a machine for measuring and representing built space, but a means of exploring her own subjective response to it. As well as technical mastery, her craft is based in intuition and an openness to sensation.
The photographs in this book show glimpses and fragments of three historical sites in South Korea. There are few shots of individual buildings, and little in the images to link their appearance to their function. Binet’s photographs describe space, form and structure, but they also invoke qualities that are more immediate and less easily defined—what these places might sound like, what the air might feel like, the quality of light. They linger on the materials used to construct these sites: on the tactile affinities between stone and wood, on the grain and texture revealed by time and weather. They move back and forth between deep enclosure and more open spaces, although there are few that could be called views. Some images provide a sense of scale, while others work against it.
Collectively, Binet’s photographs resist the impulse to describe these sites in their entirety, to resolve the various parts into a whole. Their objective is not to create a definitive record of a space, or to illustrate its conceptual purity, but rather to impart the slow unfolding of its essence. Alongside the conventions of architectural photography, Binet’s work opens up a different kind of encounter with built space: a way of photographing that operates in sympathy with the places themselves, and with the sensibilities that brought them into being.