A new space wholly dedicated to photography just opened in Hong Kong this past February: it’s called f22. The inaugural exhibition, entitled Emotional Architecture, showcases the Mexican photographer Armando Salas Portugal who spent over forty years photographing the dreamy, colorful structures designed by his friend Luis Barragán. It’s easy to see how photography can turn buildings into icons and, vice versa, architecture make photographs iconic.
Monochrome pink and orange walls dovetail into one another. Stretches of water, clusters of trees, and swaths of land are key elements in the architectural composition. A badling of white ducks cut across a harmony of hues, lights, and textures, treading the line between land and water. We are looking at the iconic Cuadra de San Cristobal, built by Luis Barragán, as seen through Armando Salas Portugal’s serenely meditative lens.
Amando Salas Portugal was born in Monterrey in 1916. The landscapes of his native Mexico were the first to capture his attention as a photographer. His shots of volcanic valleys, desert plains, jungles harboring pre-Columbian ruins featured in exhibitions and book publications starting in the 1940s.
During one his exhibitions in Mexico City he made the acquaintance of the most celebrated architect of his time: Luis Barragán. This encounter marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship and artistic collaboration: Armando soon became the official photographer of Luis’s work.
The question of emotional architecture
Having explored Europe, North Africa, taken interest in Le Corbusier’s ideas, upon his return to Mexico Barragán developed a hybrid body of work characterized by intense colors and combining traditional Mexican inspiration with Arab-Andalusian influences and a reverence for nature.
Going against the grain of functional architecture, which had begun to dominate the modern world, he advocated “emotional architecture”—a concept which also lends the title to this exhibition. According to Barragán, “It is very important for humankind that architecture should move by its beauty; if there are many equally valid technical solutions to a problem, the one which offers the user a message of beauty and emotion, that one is architecture.”
Photographic and architectural icons
The nineteen photographs featured in the exhibition and rarely shown to the public reveal, as noted by one of the architect’s contemporaries, that it is “impossible to understand Barragán without the idealized images of his photographer.”
By assuming the role of the architect’s official photographer without losing his poetic prism, Armando Salas Portugal became instrumental in disseminating his work. It is thanks to him that Barragán’s architecture continues to exert fascination in contemporary creation.
Fashion in particular is still under its spell. When one of Luis Vuitton’s 2016 collections was modeled within the walls of Cuadra de San Cristobal, it was hard to tell whether the designer was paying tribute to Barragán or to the vision of Salas Portugal.
By Charlotte Jean
2 february - 24 march 2020
f22 foto space, shop w16 & w18, The Peninsula Arcade, Salisbury road, kowloon, Hong Kong