Balthazar Korab Architecture Photography Now on Display in Chicago

Harry Weese, Northside Middle School (Columbus, IN, 1961), 1961 Of this image, Korab said: “This building, with its arched windows and brick details, reminded me of a school that I attended as a kid . . . .Weese’s design was controversial at the time, because it did not look like a Modern building. This is an imposing facade, but it was humanized by the figure running late to class while finishing his ice cream cone . . . . It’s amazing I caught that image.”

Harry Weese, Northside Middle School (Columbus, IN, 1961), 1961
Of this image, Korab said: “This building, with its arched windows and brick details, reminded me of a school that I attended as a kid . . . .Weese’s design was controversial at the time, because it did not look like a Modern building. This is an imposing facade, but it was humanized by the figure running late to class while finishing his ice cream cone . . . . It’s amazing I caught that image.”

Stunning black and white photographs of 20th-century cityscapes comprise the new photography exhibit Inflected Modernism: The Architecture Photography of Balthazar Korab running now through the end of this week at the Cliff Dwellers Club high above Michigan Avenue. Korab (1926-2013) was one of the most prolific and celebrated photographers of architecture practicing during the second half of the last century.

Mies van der Rohe, 860–880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments (Chicago, IL, ca.1951), 1960 Of this image, Korab said, “It was a wet, snowy day, and there were these beautiful tail fins of a Cadillac in the foreground, with the parking meter...it all acts as a counterpoint to the regularity of Mies’s architecture.”

Mies van der Rohe, 860–880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments (Chicago, IL, ca.1951), 1960
Of this image, Korab said, “It was a wet, snowy day, and there were these beautiful tail fins of a Cadillac in the foreground, with the parking meter…it all acts as a counterpoint to the regularity of Mies’s architecture.”

Chicago architect Trish VanderBeke, President of the Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation, organized the exhibit to “celebrate this much honored, but somehow still undersung hero of the Mid-Century Modern movement.” She has been an admirer of Korab’s work for much of her life as she grew up in Michigan near his studio. VanderBeke timed the opening of the show to coincide with the American Institute of Architects national convention, which happened last month. Over 25,000 architects were in the city. The photography exhibition was featured in several convention events and as an off-site exhibit in the convention catalog.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Korab scholar and biographer John Comazzi, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Minnesota, hosted a talk and book signing for his recently released Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Comazzi’s deatailed and beautifully illustrated work is the first to focus exclusively on Korab’s life and career, telling the story of his life in post-war Hungary to his late-1950s work as an architect and photographer with Eero Saarinen, to his five-decade career as an architecture photographer.

Mies van der Rohe, Toronto Dominion 45 (Toronto, Canada, 1967–69), 1973

Mies van der Rohe, Toronto Dominion 45 (Toronto, Canada, 1967–69), 1973

The exhibition’s selection of 17 photographs, originally curated by Comazzi and Korab’s son Christian, was made according to the premise that architecture is interpreted and recreated via photography. The architecture photographer’s experiences, sensibilities, and practices infuse the created images and affect the reception and dissemination of depicted architecture. As Korab said of his vision, “I am an architect with a passion for nature’s lessons and man’s interventions. My images are born out of a deep emotional investment in their subject.”

Born in Budapest, Korab studied architecture at the Polytechnicum, then the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris where he received his architecture diploma. In the 1950’s, Korab worked with many noted architects in Europe, including Le Corbusier. He came to the United States in 1955 and was hired by Eero Saarinen, where he began to experiment with photography as part of the design process.

This eventually led to many awards and honors for Korab, including fourth place in the international design competition for the Sydney Opera House, a 1958 invitation by Frank Lloyd Wright to join Taliesin as an architect and photographer, and in 1964 the prestigious AIA Medal for Architectural Photography. Architecture photography was his main occupation for the last decades of his life. His work has been featured in numerous important museums, collections, and publications.

Photo, John Comazzi

Photo, John Comazzi

Location: The Cliff Dwellers Club, 22nd floor, 200 South Michigan Avenue, The Loop

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Wendy Bright

Author: Wendy Bright

Wendy Bright is a Rogers Park architectural historian and the curator of the History of a House Museum. She has a masters in art history and is an avid photographer.

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2 Comments

  1. Beautiful pictures, and I look forward to seeing the exhibit. I believe the photo titled Mies van der Rohe, 860–880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments (Chicago, IL, ca.1951), 1960, is mislabeled. This is a photo of 900 Lake Shore Drive.

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    • Editor

      I can see what you’re talking about. The photograph was taken from East Walton Street, facing south. It’s 900 on the right of the frame, and 850 dead ahead.

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