Architectural photographer João Morgado hails from Portugal where he has found enormous success, earning countless accolades including the ARCAID Architectural Photography Award for ‘Sense of Place’ in 2014. His early experience in architecture, which he studied at ISCTE Lisbon, gives him a unique perspective within photography as both an artistic and communicative medium. Lucky for us, Morgado was willing to share some of his insight with our readers.
Do you remember your first camera, or even your first photograph? How long have you aspired to be a part of the professional photography world?
At first, while I was still studying architecture, it was not my intention to become a professional photographer full time. At that time, I photographed some projects that I liked and others occasionally on assignment for some Portuguese studios. While doing my internship at Wiel Arets, I had the opportunity to photograph some stunning projects for the office. During this experience, I realized that architectural photography was a true passion and when I looked back, I already had photographed around 80 projects. I still remember my first camera as it was a very basic digital reflex camera that I carried on every trip. Curiously, that camera earned me the first photography award that allowed me to buy a more advanced model.
What, for you, makes photography unique as a medium? How do you use this to your advantage?
Photography has the ability to freeze a project in time and also to select only the best compositions and light to communicate a project. For me, this is one of the main advantages compared to other media. I have worked with film in several occasions but still prefer photography as a form of communication as you can use it for several purposes and work with several orientations and formats.
There’s no question that you have a gift for capturing the things you see in the best light, composing stunning images regardless of subject matter. At the same time, it seems like the purpose of a lot of your photography is simply to document a building or space. To what extent do you view your work as archival rather than artistic; how do the two worlds of function and aesthetic interact?
I definitely see my work as a part of the architecture project rather than an artistic vision. I work directly with the architecture studios and my goal is to capture the best photos of a building for its communication, whether it’s for a worldwide publication or only internal communication. I usually look at my work of architectural photographer as the last phase of a project.
Personally, I prefer to stay closer to reality and documentation rather than staged scenes. When people look at my photos, they know what to expect when they visit the building. In my opinion, the photographic work should not overlap the architecture itself but highlight its best angles and light.
This is when the aesthetic sense comes into play and you build your own photographic language. Although I have a more documental and neutral approach, people recognize my work and own point of view of the projects I photograph.
You have an impressive collection of both exterior and interior photography. Do you prefer one over the other? Is there something about the distinct spaces that is more attractive or allows for greater compositional possibilities?
Both exterior and interior spaces are part of architecture so its also part of architectural photography as a whole. That are a lot of projects where you have a very strong relationship between interior and exterior and it’s my goal to highlight this intention of the architect. In my work, I usually don’t set a boundary between Exterior photography and Interior Photography because it simply doesn’t make sense as both overlap at some point. Sometimes I have to photograph only interiors where you simply don’t have a direct connection with exterior architecture: for example, an apartment renovation or an interior design project.
It’s clear that architecture is your strong suit – but do you have a favorite subject? Are you naturally drawn to structure when composing a scene?
My favorite subject is in fact architecture and its relation with function. I really like to photograph a nice house that is already inhabited, as I am able to reveal more about its owners and lifestyle. That is the true purpose of architecture. Before every assignment, I create a kind of a storyboard, to tell a story about the project taking advantage of the best light and compositions throughout the day.
To what extent has aerial photography and the introduction of drones impacted your practice? Have you noticed its effect on the world of photography as a whole?
Aerial photography brought me the ability to photograph architecture from another angle and create a new perspective. In some projects it’s really important to highlight the relationship with the surrounding landscape. Before the drones, I used to photograph from the air using a helicopter or airplane, but it was not always possible to take lower altitude images or photograph at different times of the day because of budget constraints. Sometimes it was not safe to fly near a tree to take a photo. At some point I decided to research about aerial images and find a way to have more ‘freedom’ in the air and capture the best images from the air. I have done a lot of research and started setting up and programming two custom-made drones for my own purposes and since then, I have added two other machines to my fleet. I also had to invest a lot in my own training as a Certified UAV pilot in order to fly safely and within all the legal constraints. Aerial photography with drones is really changing the world of photography as it is now easier to capture images from different angles that were not possible before.
What’s next for Joao?
At this moment I am busy with a series of new projects, including a huge update of my website. I am focusing on the launch of a new regular newsletter and the promotion of a lot of international and national assignments. Recently I have been travelling a lot to photograph amazing projects worldwide and for me it’s very important to reinforce the relationship with the best printed and online publications to publish and show these projects. Stay tuned to my Facebook and Instagram, as I will have a lot of new things coming in. I will be happy to share some of them first-hand with Gessato readers!