Architectural Memories

Architectural Memories

First he was an architect, later a photographer, and now a combination of both. Fernando Guerra founded FS+SG along with his brother Sérgio 20 years ago, and since then they have dedicated to disseminate Portuguese contemporary architecture and an endless array of projects all over the world. Everything started with the question: what would happen if a building was photographed in the same way you take a picture of a person walking down the street? Everything flowed naturally after that. His style was defined by breaking paradigms and including external pieces in his work, in a time when it was practically forbidden to mix people and architecture. Fernando defended this idea, providing photography with a more human vision and today, it has become a standard.

Begoña Bescós: Photography…

Fernando Guerra: To me, the best way to preserve memories. You can make movies and record sounds, but a photograph is still the way in which I make the world mine. Of keeping everything that interests me and leaving out those things I don’t want to see. Finding something extraordinary in an ordinary place, that’s what I use the camera for. Also, I have a terrible memory.

BB: From architecture to photography, how do you describe the shift? 

FG: Being someone whose purpose in life was to become an architect and who held a camera in his hands from age 16, it was something gradual and very natural, everything simply happened, without a business model plan. Today, it is something serious and I have many people working with me who share my dream.

BB: How do you combine the human part with the materiality of an architectural work?

FG: I just let it happen. Perhaps there is someone at the place or as simple as the patio having a wonderful tree in the center, even a passing dog, anything can tell a short story about a work, telling how it works and how it exists.

BB: Before venturing into a project, do you rather have it surprise you or do you need to know a few details?

FG: I move within surprise and I like to arrive in an architectural place and be surprised. My brother is in charge of everything, so I can concentrate while shooting. He analyzes the whole setting in order to have the essentials handy for my work. Taking pictures means discovering and the surprise allows me to decide what to do and the angles to choose in order to describe the work.

BB: In the search for perfection, what is perfect for you? Which are the necessary features in order to reach that paradigm?

FG: Every day I wake up with the same purpose: to take the best picture of the day, the week, the month, and the year. The one that will stay in my memory, which will be part of an exhibition, or hanging from a wall at home, as a reminder of a hard work that’s close to perfection. The perfect picture does not exist, it is a chimera, but the search for it is real, and that is my everyday purpose.

I believe architecture has the same problem and architects live with the same concern. The perfect work does not exist, there are only nearly perfect solutions to an issue. However, finding that solution is a daily challenge.

BB: Do you believe the best photographers are architects themselves?

FG: I don’t like rules, I believe the market is open to architects and everyone else, you just have to respect the work. It is never about the photographer, this is no time for egos. It is always about the work: showing it, preserving it in our memory, respecting the proportions and intensifying the experience for those who see the image. This can be achieved by all architecture photographers or by anyone who understands the foundation.

Guerra belongs to the Canon Explorer ambassadors as the European representative of architectural photography.

BB: Favorite current?

FG: It simply has to be genuine.

BB: Who do you admire?

FG: Cartier Bresson, a photographer who is no longer with us, but who inspired thousands to take pictures in a different way, leaving the unexpected in the foreground. He taught me that decisive moment when the photograph is created, which I later applied to my work with architecture. Alex Webb, who taught me how to use several layers of information in one image. Architect Álvaro Siza, who I am happy to have had the chance to meet, travel with him, and have him as a friend.  

BB: Is there any style you would never collaborate with?

FG: I am open to whatever comes. I like variety. I reject projects due to lack of time, not because they are incompatible with my working style. Whatever comes to my hands has, with no exception, a positive side to be explored. I am no architecture critic, I do what I am asked to do and that’s it. It is not the job for a photographer to become the sommelier for this discipline.

BB: Traveling through time…

FG: I go back to 1960, to join Álvaro Siza in his early projects and trips.

BB: Where is photography headed? And what about architecture?

FG: They go hand in hand. Photography follows architecture, without changing it, it influences it, since it helps distribute what has been made all over the world..

BB: Which changes have you noticed throughout your career?

FG: Sustainability: the notion of how we should think and change what we use and buy, even if it is a house. And one thing that never changes is an architect’s spirit. The same obsession for reaching perfection, always.

BB: Do you believe that “less is more” is making a comeback or did it never leave? 

FG: It has always been relevant. Focus on what’s essential and reduce the noise, even if it is only visual.

BB: Favorite parts of a house… .

FG: I rather talk about the place I like the least: the bathroom. It can be amazing or have the potential to become that, but it usually falls into the same thing. Although it is true that every house is unique, there is not a defined pattern.

BB: What would you love to photograph, which you haven’t managed to do? 

FG: Tomorrow’s project. That is what worries me and what I would like to see finished, but the truth is that it starts from zero every time. The rest of the works I have either finished or I see them in the far future.

BB: What would you like to be if your profession was not this one?

FG: I would love to restore cars, although I probably say this because it is not what I do, could it only be that I would like to fix and drive my cars? I will never know, because right now I have so much fun on the photographic side of life.