Ezra Stoller, Who Captured Modern Buildings, Dies at 89
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: November 2, 2004
Ezra Stoller, a celebrated architectural photographer whose work
introduced the viewing public to the high modernism of the postwar era,
died on Friday at his home in Williamstown, Mass. He was 89.
The cause was complications of a recent stroke, his daughter, Erica, said.
Trained as an architect, Mr. Stoller photographed most of the important
buildings of the 1950's and 60's, including Frank Lloyd Wright's
Guggenheim Museum, Eero Saarinen's T.W.A. Terminal and Louis I. Kahn's
Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
"He had a pretty deep appreciation of the kinds of strengths of modern
architecture: simplicity, proportion, balance," William S. Saunders, the
author of "Modern Architecture: Photographs by Ezra Stoller" (Abrams,
1990), said in a telephone interview. "He was dedicated to showing
buildings in the best possible way."
Mr. Stoller was not merely a documenter but also an interpreter of
buildings, translating an architect's three-dimensional vision into
two-dimensional abstract compositions that had a sweeping beauty of
their own. Famous for his ability to capture a building from just the
right angle and in just the right light, he was often commissioned by
the world's leading architects, who spoke, in hopeful tones, of having
their creations "Stollerized."
"I see my work in a way that is analogous to a musician given a score to
play who must bring it to life and make the piece as good as it can be,"
said Mr. Stoller, in an interview quoted in a brochure about a current
show of his work at the Williams College Museum of Art. "While I cannot
make a bad building good, I can draw out the strengths in a work that
Shooting primarily in black and white and using a large-format camera,
Mr. Stoller laid meticulous groundwork, often spending days watching the
light move across the surface of a building before he ever clicked the
"He would almost 'stalk' the building and approach it from every angle
and make all these diagrams," said Deborah Rothschild, the curator of
"Ezra Stoller: Architectural Photography," on view at Williams through
Dec. 19. "That, combined with a natural gift for composition and
clarity, enabled him to get just the right vantage point."
The resulting images, published widely in newspapers and magazines as
well as in architectural books, were praised for their crispness, sharp
tonal contrast and cool, controlled stance. Because Mr. Stoller's work
was portable in a way that his subjects could never be, it was often the
only way for far-flung viewers to experience the buildings of titans
like Wright, Marcel Breuer, I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Richard Meier and
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mr. Stoller received the Architectural
Photography Medal from the American Institute of Architects in 1961.
Mr. Stoller's images reflected his own aesthetic sensibility, but they
also communicated something vital about the architect's. Photographing
at the Guggenheim, he resisted the natural temptation to climb to the
top of the museum's inverted ziggurat and shoot the gallery below.
Instead, his photograph looks dizzyingly upward, flattening the famous
whorls into an abstract form that suggests a chambered nautilus. "He
captures this whole spiral, and you see the organic inspiration for most
of Wright's work," Ms. Rothschild said.
Photographing the Salk Institute in San Diego, Mr. Stoller maneuvered
himself into an awkward position in order to catch what Ms. Rothschild
described as "the almost Cubistic way the building works."
Ezra Stoller was born on May 16, 1915, in Chicago. He received a
bachelor's degree in 1938 from the School of Architecture and Allied
Arts at New York University. During World War II he taught photography
at the Army Signal Corps Photo Center in New York. In 1966 he founded
the photo agency Esto Photographics, which represents his work and that
of other architectural photographers.
Besides his daughter, of Rye, N.Y., Mr. Stoller is survived by his wife,
the former Helen Rubin; two sons, Evan, of New Lebanon, N.Y., and
Lincoln, of Shokan, N.Y.; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Interviewed about his craft, Mr. Stoller tended to deflect critical
praise. "Architecture, being a sensory experience, must be interpreted
through a sensory medium," he told The New York Times in 1991. "I never
claimed that my work is art. The art is the architecture."