Daily Picture Show

The Photographer Who Made Architects Famous

  • Burnap Post House, Esherick House, Louis Kahn, Philadelphia, Pa., 1966
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    Burnap Post House, Esherick House, Louis Kahn, Philadelphia, Pa., 1966
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Hirshhorn Museum, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Washington, D.C., 1974
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    Hirshhorn Museum, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Washington, D.C., 1974
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Brenner House, Harry Weese, Champaign, Ill., 1952
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    Brenner House, Harry Weese, Champaign, Ill., 1952
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Catalano House, Eduardo Catalano, Raleigh, N.C., 1955
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    Catalano House, Eduardo Catalano, Raleigh, N.C., 1955
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • CBS Columbia Records, 1953
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    CBS Columbia Records, 1953
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • CBS Columbia, Long Island City, N.Y., 1954
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    CBS Columbia, Long Island City, N.Y., 1954
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Design Research, Benjamin Thompson, Cambridge, Mass., 1970
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    Design Research, Benjamin Thompson, Cambridge, Mass., 1970
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Exxon Building on Sixth Avenue, Harrison and Abramovitz, New York, N.Y., 1974
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    Exxon Building on Sixth Avenue, Harrison and Abramovitz, New York, N.Y., 1974
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Heinz Factory, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1958
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    Heinz Factory, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1958
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • IBM 702 Machine, 1955
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    IBM 702 Machine, 1955
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • John Hancock Chicago construction, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago, Ill., 1967
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    John Hancock Chicago construction, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago, Ill., 1967
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • John Hancock Chicago construction, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago, Ill., 1970
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    John Hancock Chicago construction, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago, Ill., 1970
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Johnson Wax Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright, Racine, Wis., 1950
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    Johnson Wax Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright, Racine, Wis., 1950
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Lever House, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, New York, N.Y., 1952
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    Lever House, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, New York, N.Y., 1952
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Manufacturer's Trust Company, Fifth Avenue, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, New York, N.Y., 1954
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    Manufacturer's Trust Company, Fifth Avenue, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, New York, N.Y., 1954
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Marin County Civic Center, Frank Lloyd Wright, San Rafael, Calif., 1963
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    Marin County Civic Center, Frank Lloyd Wright, San Rafael, Calif., 1963
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • McMath Solar Telescope, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Kitt Peak, Ariz., 1962
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    McMath Solar Telescope, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Kitt Peak, Ariz., 1962
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Miami Parking Garage, Robert Law Weed and Associates, Miami, Fla., 1949
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    Miami Parking Garage, Robert Law Weed and Associates, Miami, Fla., 1949
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Olivetti Underwood Factory, Louis Kahn, Harrisburg, Pa., 1969
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    Olivetti Underwood Factory, Louis Kahn, Harrisburg, Pa., 1969
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Philip Morris Research Center Tower, Ulrich Franzen, Richmond, Va., 1972
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    Philip Morris Research Center Tower, Ulrich Franzen, Richmond, Va., 1972
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Salk Institute of Biological Research, Louis Kahn, La Jolla, Calif., 1977
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    Salk Institute of Biological Research, Louis Kahn, La Jolla, Calif., 1977
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Seagram Building, Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, New York, N.Y., 1958
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    Seagram Building, Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, New York, N.Y., 1958
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Seagram Building, Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, New York, N.Y., 1958
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    Seagram Building, Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, New York, N.Y., 1958
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • Seagram Building, Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, New York, N.Y., 1958
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    Seagram Building, Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, New York, N.Y., 1958
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • TWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, Eero Saarinen, New York, N.Y., 1962
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    TWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, Eero Saarinen, New York, N.Y., 1962
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • TWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, Eero Saarinen, New York, N.Y., 1962
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    TWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, Eero Saarinen, New York, N.Y., 1962
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • TWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, Eero Saarinen, New York, N.Y., 1962
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    TWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, Eero Saarinen, New York, N.Y., 1962
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • United Nations, International Team of Architects Led by Wallace K. Harrison, New York, N.Y., 1952
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    United Nations, International Team of Architects Led by Wallace K. Harrison, New York, N.Y., 1952
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • United Nations, International Team of Architects Led by Wallace K. Harrison, New York, N.Y., 1952
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    United Nations, International Team of Architects Led by Wallace K. Harrison, New York, N.Y., 1952
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
  • United Nations, International Team of Architects Led by Wallace K. Harrison, New York, N.Y., 1952
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    United Nations, International Team of Architects Led by Wallace K. Harrison, New York, N.Y., 1952
    Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery

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Ezra Stoller probably wouldn't care about this question, but let's indulge it anyways: What makes a "beautiful" photograph?

To a degree, a lot depends on the subject, right? Would Ansel Adams have been half as famous if those landscapes hadn't already done most of the work?

Then again, beauty is also in the eye of the beholder. Bill Brandt didn't design the human body, so how can he take credit for its beauty in his photos? Because he knew how to capture the poetry of all its curves and angles — forcing us, in turn, to see the body in ways we hadn't seen it before.

Architectural photography, though often relegated to its own genre, is no different. The task is to capture the intention behind someone else's design — to distill the philosophy of a building into a single, digestible image that transcends explanation. It's not easy, but when it's done well it looks effortless. So much so that you're left admiring the building alone, and likely never think twice about the person who helped you see it.

Portrait of Ezra Stoller with view camera, circa 1965. i i

Portrait of Ezra Stoller with view camera, circa 1965. Bill Maris/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery hide caption

itoggle caption Bill Maris/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
Portrait of Ezra Stoller with view camera, circa 1965.

Portrait of Ezra Stoller with view camera, circa 1965.

Bill Maris/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery

But again, this conversation is almost entirely moot:

"I'm not interested in art photography," Ezra Stoller once said in an interview. "I'm interested in architecture as it is, to look at and enjoy. But what I do is a job of work, that is what it is."

Spoken like a true modernist architect. When Stoller was photographing in the 1950s and '60s, the idea that "form follows function" was what the most prolific architects had espoused. Designers like Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier had purged the flourishes of Beaux Arts in favor of sleek lines and cool rationality. Stoller's photos followed suit.

In the introduction to Ezra Stoller, Photographer, his daughter writes that Stoller's "approach to photography was formed by the functionalist tenets of Modern architecture."

"He believed in the honest ability of photography to reveal the structure, function and material qualities of a building," she writes. "His commitment to the visual transcended the need for words: if one could look at an image, then text was redundant."

Stoller knew the material well. He had studied architecture at NYU before ultimately switching to industrial design. His career began with photographing his friends' designs. Eventually his close relationships with art directors at top magazines solidified his reputation as one of the best photographers of architecture and machinery, among the likes of Julius Shulman on the West Coast.

For Stoller, what preceded his interest in the craft of photography was a predilection for structure, mechanics, function and design. Those were his interests from an early age, and his attraction to (and mastery of) photography was in the technical. He had no qualms about what some in the industry disparagingly refer to as a "commercial photographer."

Life Savers Factory, Port Chester, N.Y., 1956. Although he is most well-known for his photographs of architecture, Stoller was also often assigned to photograph stories about innovations in technology and man's relationship with machinery.

Life Savers Factory, Port Chester, N.Y., 1956. Although he is most well-known for his photographs of architecture, Stoller was also often assigned to photograph stories about innovations in technology and man's relationship with machinery. Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery hide caption

itoggle caption Ezra Stoller/Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery

"While he didn't strive to be an artist," his daughter, Erica, writes, "the photographs are meaningful and beautiful works of art."

That's why, decades later, his photographs have been mounted on the walls of Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City. Milo, owner of the eponymous gallery and curator of the show closing Saturday, acknowledges the beauty but also underlines the significance of Stoller's role in the history of architecture. "Many argue," Milo tells me, that his photos "actually made the buildings famous."

"His pictures ... helped give architects the kind of celebrity status that they enjoy today, and to introduce the idea that they are as much artists as are painters and sculptors," curator Andy Grundberg writes in the introduction to Ezra Stoller, Photographer.

It took someone like Stoller to put names like Frank Lloyd Wright on the tip of American tongues. As for "Stoller," that will likely never be a household name, although recent books and exhibitions don't hurt.

Then again, he probably wouldn't care.

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