Photographic Sprezzatura

Studied carelessness in architectural photography.

In a conversation, two acquaintances of mine made the case that it made no sense whatsoever to represent architecture (specifically in drawings and photographs) without people, since architecture is, you know, primarily made for people.

They’re absolutely right. Putting people in architectural representations is sensible as it gives a sense of scale, flow, and suggests that the space being depicted is in service of its users. Not to mention that we intuitively respond better to our environment when it contains living organisms, as they attract our attention more readily than inert objects.

©2022 RVLTR / Interior Designer: Syllable Design / Post-production: Erich Deleeuw / Photography team (assistants, etc.): Raf Besa / Model: Malcolm Smith.

One of the commentators suggested that it would make sense to push this idea further and photograph spaces in their natural state: dirty dishes, socks lying around, etcetera. While this may make sense on the surface, the problem with it is that we don’t perceive a space in 3D the same way we do with a 2D depiction of said space. Clutter, when reduced to two dimensions, exponentially takes on epic proportions. Small objects in the wrong spot, stray wires and such have the potential to render an image merely average, even if all the other aspects of the photograph are spot on.

This is why stylists exist. They take a blank space and visually turn it into one that naturally looks lived in. But if you were to walk through the scene, their staging would make no sense to you as it’s purely designed to evoke a certain atmosphere from one point of view alone. That’s because, as previously mentioned, the three-dimensional experience of a space bears very little resemblance to its two-dimensional depiction.

Male fashionistas love to chase after the idea of sprezzatura, or studied carelessness, which aims at composing extremely deliberate outfits, while appearing effortless. These are near perfect in every way and then some random element is added to make it look effortlessly elegant. It often manifests itself in leaving a button undone or tying a scarf in a slightly imbalanced way. In reality, they’ve spent hours looking at themselves in the mirror to create this look.

This analogy applies to photography of human spaces. If I photographed your kitchen the way you left it untidy this morning, the pictures would look like shit. But if I carefully recomposed the essence of that mess, making it look good from the camera’s angle, it would look, to an outside observer, as if I tried to randomly spread your dirty dishes around without rhyme or reason. In truth, the composition is calculated.

So, if you have the desire to make your space look lived-in, remember the idea of sprezzatura, making it look good seemingly without effort, all in service of that one image that will convey a certain ideal. And keep in mind that a stylist or a photographer agonized for hours over the composition of that one shot.

Arnaud Marthouret is the founder of Revelateur Studio