Online Lecture: The Making of the Book & Film: Rome Was!

Join this online talk to learn about a whole new way of doing photography as Langenbach’s digital technology meets Piranesi’s engravings.

About this Event

Randolph Langenbach initiated what can be described as a new form of large format photography that takes advantage of digital technology.

A version of this photographic work was first shown in a lecture at the Sir John Soane Museum in 2006, and since then he has produced a film named Rome Was! Ruins Eternal and a book named Rome Was! The Eternal City from Piranesi to the Present. The book was published by ORO Editions in 2019.

His objective in Rome was to photograph the same views that had been engraved and etched by Giambattista Piranesi in the middle of the 18th Century, as well as other views of Rome which had been painted by other artists from the 15th through the 19th Centuries. This experience revealed a new way to understand photography’s place in the history of art.

In his ICOMOS-UK presentation, Langenbach will focus on the subject of his book and film, explaining in depth what he has learned about perspective, focusing on his creation of what he calls “photo-mosaics.” These digital combinations of photos use digital technology to merge photos together into views that are far wider than single photos that can be taken, even with a fisheye lens. What he found particularly with the works by Giambattista Piranesi, is that Piranesi’s wide angle views do not present the distortions found in photographic panoramas. Instead they look entirely normal as flat images. This honors the original Piranesi engravings themselves, as Langenbach’s photo-mosaics are merged and re-proportioned using Photoshop in as perfect a juxtaposition with Piranesi’s 18th century views as is possible.

Langenbach will begin his presentation with one of Piranesi’s most artistically compelling images which inspired him to pursue what he first called “The Piranesi Project.” During his fellowship, when he visited Hadrian’s Villa for the first time, he saw a sign that included a reproduction of Piranesi’s engraving of the Grandi Terme. After seeing this sign on the main path, he searched for, and found a way into the ruin of the ancient Grandi Terme. Piranesi’s image of the ruin on the sign then inspired him to take the 6 wide-angle photos that were necessary to document the ruin from the same point of view from which Piranesi brilliantly composed his engraving – a space that turned out to be fully 180 degrees in width.

It was from the challenge of working with these 6 photographs that Langenbach first learned how to match his photography with the pre-photographic perspective of Piranesi’s art. Over the course of that year, this experience turned out to be transformative. His talk will explain what he learned from Piranesi, beginning with this view. From this first “photo-mosaic,” he has gone on to use this technique for creative photo-composite views of ruins and sites throughout Rome, and then later in historic sites in other parts of the globe, including Machu Picchu, interiors of architecturally significant mosques in Isfahan, Iran, and Istanbul, Turkey, and in many other historic sites.

About the Speaker

Randolph Langenbach’s early work focused on documenting the textile mill towns of New England and landscapes of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. In Britain, his 1980 exhibitions at the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Cartwright Hall Museum in Bradford, and his contributions to the book Satanic Mills (published by SAVE Britain’s Heritage) contributed to shifting British government policy away from systematic demolition of historic 19th Century textile mills. Langenbach’s received a Diploma in Conservation Studies from the I.A.A.S. in York, England, as well as two degrees from Harvard University. Langenbach has returned to Britain a number of times to give lectures. Most recently, in 2019, he was invited to give lectures at Oxford, Cambridge, and in London at the Institution of Civil Engineers for SECED, The Society for Earthquake and Civil Engineering Dynamics.

From 1984 to 1991, he was Assistant Professor at U.C. Berkeley, during which his research focused on historic masonry buildings in earthquake areas. In 1991, he suffered the devastating loss of his prior work as a writer, professor and photographer when his home was destroyed in the Oakland Firestorm. His creative photography resumed when he was awarded the 2003 National Endowment for the Arts Rome Prize Fellowship to spend a year at the American Academy in Rome, and was also appointed as a Fellow at ICCROM. During that year, he undertook research on the damage and recovery operations after the 2003 earthquake in Molise, Italy, but he also initiated a photographic project focused on the archeological remains of Ancient Rome, documenting the same views as engraved by Giambattista Piranesi that takes advantage of digital technology that he later published in both the book and film he will be describing in detail in his talk for ICOMOS-UK described above.

About attending this event

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