The 21st Cen­tury Eye Of Noel Baldewi­jns Hav­ing spent his work­ing ca­reer in the Euro­pean fi­nan­cial in­dus­try, Noel Baldewi­jns re­tired in 2011, took a de­gree at the Academy of Fine Arts in Heus­den, Bel­gium, and has since ded­i­cated him­self to black and white

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UK cor­re­spon­dent Thomas Peck dis­cov­ered the dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­tural pho­tog­ra­phy of Bel­gian pho­tog­ra­pher Noel Baldewi­jns, and it’s a style de­rived from a very metic­u­lous ap­proach to shoot­ing build­ings.

Tak­ing record pho­tographs of build­ings is sim­ple. Cre­at­ing artis­tic in­ter­pre­ta­tions of ar­chi­tec­ture is quite a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. Noel Baldewi­jns is most def­i­nitely a pho­tog­ra­pher who falls into the lat­ter cat­e­gory. He takes as his sub­ject mat­ter the ul­tra-mod­ern con­struc­tions of Nor­man Foster, Frank Gehry and San­ti­ago Cala­trava. These ar­chi­tects are at the fore­front of the mod­ernist style of build­ings – un­clut­tered, clear struc­tures, fo­cused on lu­cid forms. In the United King­dom, Foster is per­haps best known of the three – think of the highly sculp­tural shapes of build­ings like the Gherkin in Lon­don. Gehry is known for his de­con­struc­tion and re­for­mu­la­tion of build­ing shapes, sleek, rad­i­cal and play­ful – MoMa in New York or the Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall in Los An­ge­les. Cala­trava cre­ates build­ings that re­flect nat­u­ral shapes and rhythms. He takes in­spi­ra­tion from zoomor­phic forms – birds with out­stretched wings (Lyon’s rail­way sta­tion in France), a turn­ing torso (an apart­ment tower in Malmö, Swe­den)

Noel Baldewijn’s images echo the mod­ern feel of these build­ings. The look is strongly stylised – black sky, streaky clouds, seg­ments of build­ings, dra­matic

lines, ab­strac­tion etc. Al­ways sleek, al­ways dra­matic. The pic­tures re­flect the ex­cite­ment that he feels em­a­nat­ing from the build­ings. It’s an adrenalin rush. He ex­plains that the link be­tween sub­ject mat­ter and artis­tic style is very de­lib­er­ate.

“Cala­trava’s de­signs are based on birds, hu­man bod­ies in mo­tion like dancers and sports­men. This leads al­most al­ways to over­whelm­ing struc­tures. It is as if the build­ings have the in­ten­tion of flying away. From other build­ings you can recog­nise in­sects and even musical in­stru­ments. With Foster’s de­signs I’m at­tracted by how func­tional they are. When you walk in the City in Lon­don there is a whole area de­vel­oped by him where there is a play of light sur­round­ing these build­ings. Gehry and his swing­ing con­struc­tions are well known. I like to cre­ate pho­to­graphic se­ries with dif­fer­ent parts of his de­sign. With all of these pho­tog­ra­phers the build­ings and struc­tures are quite dif­fi­cult to shoot, but the re­sults can be mas­sively re­ward­ing.”


Noel’s images go way be­yond sim­ply be­ing pho­tographs of build­ings. This feels like a style that takes mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture as its cat­a­lyst. The dif­fer­ence be­tween pho­tograph­ing build­ings and pho­tograph­ing ar­chi­tec­ture is rooted in what Noel refers to as the emo­tional con­tent in the images.

“Be­fore I even pick up my cam­era, I try to con­nect with the mas­ter ar­chi­tect by re­search­ing them – what is their back­ground, how do they think, and what were they try­ing to con­vey when they worked on the plans for the buidling? I com­bine this re­search with my own fo­cus –what do I want to con­vey with my work? What emo­tions do I want the viewer to ex­pe­ri­ence when see­ing my images? What story do I want to tell?”

There is then a care­ful plan­ning process in the run up to mak­ing the images.

“It’s not like I wake up in the morn­ing and de­cide to go out to shoot. For me this does not work. I pre­pare a long time in ad­vance. What sur­rounds the con­struc­tion? How do I get ac­cess and per­mis­sion to pho­to­graph? What hour is sun­rise? How will the sun turn around the con­struc­tion?

“Nearer the time for the ac­tual shoot I will check weather fore­casts – I want to know if and when there will be clouds and what type of clouds. If the weather is not what I need then I will can­cel the trip. So prepa­ra­tion is time con­sum­ing, and very of­ten trav­el­ling is in­volved as well so I really need to pre­pare. No prepa­ra­tion means no suc­cess­ful shoot­ing.”

Dra­matic Im­pact

The highly dra­matic im­pact of the images is a com­bi­na­tion of pho­to­graphic tech­nique plus com­po­si­tion and then black and white post­pro­cess­ing. Noel de­scribes how he likes to keep his pic­tures ‘tight’; there are no dis­trac­tions, ev­ery­thing is pared down with a min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic.

He is not afraid to use neg­a­tive space – of­ten 50 per­cent of the pho­to­graph – which bal­ances the build­ing and al­lows for a chiaroscuro in­ter­play be­tween sky and build­ing. He ex­plains his process of tak­ing images.

“I start mea­sur­ing the light in man­ual mode. I de­ter­mine the white point in the ex­pected frame. Then I make some test shots. For me the most in­ter­est­ing set­tings, if pos­si­ble, are f8.0 at 1/200

“Prepa­ra­tion is time con­sum­ing, and very of­ten trav­el­ling is in­volved as well so I really need to pre­pare. No prepa­ra­tion means no suc­cess­ful shoot­ing.”

sec­ond at the low­est pos­si­ble sen­si­tiv­ity… for me, that’s usu­ally ISO 100. De­pend­ing on the avail­able clouds and what I want to achieve, I will then slow down the ex­po­sure by about 13 to 16 stops. I use a trans­for­ma­tion ta­ble, so 1/200 sec­ond with 16 stops be­comes about five min­utes of ex­po­sure time. When I use more than ten stops, I add 40 to 50 per­cent ex­tra ex­po­sure time. So in the ex­am­ple above, five min­utes be­comes seven.

“Most of the time I need to do more than one shot, so tak­ing the photo that I’m look­ing for some­times needs around one hour. I cover my cam­era with a big, dark man­tle to avoid light leak­age. My wife, Mieke, made the man­tle for me. It starts at the front of my lens, goes over my cam­era and covers the ball­head and a part of the tri­pod. I some­times get strange re­ac­tions from peo­ple and once I got ques­tions from the po­lice…

“Fi­nally, I con­vert to black and white, but to be hon­est I’ve pre-vi­su­alised the im­age from the start in mono­chrome. It ef­fects how I see the shoot. I’m al­ready see­ing the drama in the fi­nal im­age and I then bring that out us­ing lu­mi­nos­ity mask­ing in the post-pro­cess­ing. I feel this gives the images the sense of time­less­ness that I’m look­ing for.”

Drama And Emo­tion

In­deed the light does seem to shine from the images, they pos­i­tively glow.

I won­der about Noel’s ap­proach to ab­stracts. Is there a dif­fer­ent way of ‘see­ing’ an ab­stract ver­sus ‘see­ing’ the whole? Our con­ver­sa­tion brings us back full cir­cle to the dis­cus­sion of drama and emo­tion in the images.

“It de­pends on how I feel on that day or at that mo­ment. Some build­ings are very im­pres­sive and are ask­ing to be pho­tographed as a whole. I pho­to­graph sports sta­di­ums as a whole be­cause of the very ex­cit­ing de­sign they have. For me they com­pare to be­ing a grasshop­per or a bug so I do not see any rea­son to go ab­stract. I just see the grasshop­per and the bug. But I keep my own dra­matic style. That day [sta­dia images pre­vi­ous page] there were thun­der­storms in the air, the walls were full of graf­fiti, young peo­ple were hang­ing around – skaters and bik­ers. There was a very dra­matic at­mos­phere so I never thought about shoot­ing ab­stracts there.

“With other build­ings, you can feel the ab­stract. For ex­am­ple, I walked in the city of sci­ence and art in Va­len­cia. I felt Cala­trava must have been very proud of cre­at­ing this. So I started to look around for a place where I could ex­press that ‘pride’ the most. There was a pedes­trian bridge – not nec­es­sar­ily a sym­bol of pride – but I could feel it was there. Af­ter a few hours I came up with the idea to look at that bridge up­side­down, and I had it! I could pre­vi­su­alise a pea­cock, the sym­bol of pride. I would never pho­to­graph that bridge as a whole.”

Noel Baldewijn’s images cap­ture the sleek, rad­i­cal and yet or­ganic, sen­sual forms of the build­ings he pho­tographs. A style of im­agery that feels very un­clut­tered and mod­ernistic in its ap­proach. Very much a 21st cen­tury eye.

With sports sta­dia, the whole build­ing is ex­cit­ing, says Noel Baldewi­jns, so there’s no need to go ab­stract.

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