In the course of researching my recent VQR essay about architect John Lautner, I interviewed the Lautner scholar and architect Frank Escher, who Benedikt Taschen chose to restore the "Chemosphere" house displayed on the cover of the VQR winter 2013 edition. Escher, who wrote a book about Lautner and was present to chronicle the rebirth of love for the architect's work in the late 1990's*, gave me a great interview, and some of that conversation, of course, could not make it into the piece.
One of the more interesting bits that had to hit the cutting room floor concerned Lautner's apparent love for the act of photography. Sure, Julius Shulman and many other professional photographers shot gorgeous pictures of Lautner's work. But according to Escher, Lautner was a "great photographer himself." The architect apparently took thousands of photos over the course of his lifetime, which may not be unusual for an architect now but was not always the norm.
"He used the camera the way other architects use a sketchbook," said Escher. "He constantly documented what was around him. There are thousands of studies of clouds, caves, rock formations, waves -- sometimes quite abstract. And if you look at those subjects and realize what he was looking at through a camera you start to read where his architectural forms come from."
"There's a very clear interest in the sort of natural biomorphic form in Lautner's work, and it comes from his really intense connection to nature," Escher continued. "This starts when Lautner is very young -- the way he's brought up, what he enjoys. Throughout his life, he traveled a great deal."
Escher told me about how one of Lautner's trips may surprise people who associate him with Southern California, heat. "Lautner once took a trip to Alaska and photographed glaciers, producing gorgeous images," Escher said. "These almost formal studies of ice formations, how glaciers melt, or how ice melts on water, or clouds, or those desert landscapes -- these are where he developed his formal interests."-- Adam Baer
*And who generously shared his contacts in the Lautner world.