Corporate Architecture Through the Eye of Luka Mjeda's Camera

photographer Luka Mjeda
written by Branko Franceschi

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Architecture is a theme photographer Luka Mjeda has been consistently engaged with since 1984. His photographs of architecture originate from the perspective of a world traveller. This thematic cycle has been completed with footage of buildings from around the world, which lends global and universal substance to it. Judging from a cursory glance, it is evident that the author’s photographic sensibility is exci­ted largely by iconic buildings embodying a complex mix of the totality of the current status of general human knowledge and its relationship to the environment with the particular needs and strategies of the immediate socio-political environment in which the buildings were constructed. The number of historic buildings in this cycle is, however, numerically smaller than that of their contemporary, rather anonymous counterparts. The relative novelty of the photographic medium, in relation to the long and rich history of architecture, has perhaps contributed to this relationship, or perhaps credit should be attributed to the photographic instinct itself which, proverbially, most often and preferably responds to and engages in the interpretation of reality taking place here and now. In any case, Mjeda’s cycle introduces us into the architecture of the modern era, focusing primarily on its formal aspects, which in turn exhaust themselves in the analysis of the relationships of the titanic geometric volumes that corporate architecture imposes in determining the urban dimensions of modern civilization. If historical civilizations are judged by the complexity of the architectural ideas they put into practice, Mjeda’s photographs prove that, today, the demonstration of political and economic power and the corresponding level of technological standards are manifested in the extravagance of the skylines of global metropolises. The angle of Mjeda’s camera is the angle of a pedestrian. Defying gravity, the impressive geometry vertiginously develops from the pedestrian’s angle upwards. The dimensions are awe inspiring, an experience both oppressive and ravishing. In some photographs, his view is fixated on the display of isolation of these man-made giants, in whose heights there is only the silence of empty space or the steep abyss that separates them from their immediate neighbours. In the massive scale of this immovable world, which does not seem to tolerate something as tiny as a detail, Mjeda still manages to notice the tiny, the alive, the opposed. Sometimes it is a flying bird, sometimes the dynamics of a flag in the wind, sometimes a defiant cross, sometimes a humanoid silhouette lost in the majestic proportions. Symptomatically, there are never any people in Mjeda’s photographs. Drawing a parallel with the cityscapes of Thomas Struth, the German photographer, which are emptied of people and which address the impersonality or absence of contemporary urban planning – presented as the zero point of identification of the common problem at the current International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale as well – it is evident that Mjeda views the global uniformity of today’s architecture from the opposite starting point. His photographs show the uniformity of triumphant, impressive architecture of power. It is an area that can quite easily become an abstract ideal, a space of creative freedom in the elaboration of clean volumes and proportions in the endless combinations of their mutual interactions. In fact, this paradise of technical possibilities results in a not-so-pleasant environment for, some will say, petty human destinies. Mjeda’s photographic panorama of urban architecture is achieved with the absence of colour. The consistent black-and-white photography serves the function of his concentration on volumes as well as the expressive potentials of their dimensions. Still, the essence of his procedure is entirely neutral and do­cumentary. All the tension, all the intensity and the enor­mousness do not arise from some staged photographic effect, but from the concept of architecture that creates these symbols of undeniable earthly power ascending into the sky. This refers especially to the titanic monoliths of the epoch of liberal and neo-liberal capitalism which characterize the modern-day binding line between the city and the sky, this much talked about metropolitan skyline. Contemporary construction technologies have enabled the architects of today to have the greatest freedom of form, to achieve the highest possible height and spatial usability in the history of construction. Luka Mjeda’s photographs show us how one can selfishly enjoy these potentials, how simple and self-evident it is in our world to accept power disguised as structural audacity and technical innovation, how a pedestrian still lifts his head with admiration towards immeasurable peaks where corporate power games take place. These monoliths obscure the sun, change the direction and strength of the winds, and heat the air, displaying wasteful behaviour with regard to our environment. But still, against our better judgment, finding in them the manifestation of the human impact on the inviolability of magnificent natural laws, we still love them. Mjeda’s camera either carefully picks the moments when the sun rays appear behind the shapes that fill the entire frame of the photograph, or registers the fact that the shadow cast on them may only be the shadow of an equally great or even greater human creation. The architecture of the skyscrapers in his photographs is ultimately equated with the flag itself, this widely accepted symbol of national identity. Social power and national pride alike are defined by the manifestation of technological progress and economic strength, which is reflected in the number of floors and defined by every metre constructed toward the sky.


But what remains in the end are the photographs. The moment of their creation should compress all the layers of meaning inherent in the motif. The blend of social and formal dynamics of corporate architecture in Luka Mjeda’s photographs is expressed in clean, clear and precise imagery. After all, beauty is in the eye of the pho­tographer.