Longview: 50 Modernist Churches

My creative practice as an architectural photographer is centred around making evocative images that go beyond a straight documentation of buildings. How can a photograph—or a series of vignettes—tell the story of spaces and structures? My current project, Fifty/50, investigates this question through exploring modernist church architecture in Toronto, Ontario.

From the late 1940s to the 1980s, Toronto experienced a high rate of growth and development, resulting in a wealth of modernist-style buildings. Due to an increasing population, parishes were also outgrowing their spaces and found themselves in need of new facilities. Consequently, there are many fine modernist churches in the city. This series is an ode to these buildings, albeit a half-century or so after their construction.

Aesthetically, I am drawn to modernist architecture for its pared-down material palette, clean lines and elegant details. This is directly reflected in my choice to shoot with a minimal kit—a DSLR and a 50mm lens (my favourite focal length)—and to use the format of vignettes. I have chosen black and white processing as a unifying element, and as a nod to the fine art and commercial architectural photography of the mid-century.

The series also challenges some tropes prevalent in architectural photography. I have purposefully chosen to photograph almost exclusively in winter and often in “bad” weather, to leave blemishes and damage to the buildings without retouching, and to include wires, signs, and other trappings of urban sites in the frame, rather than digitally removing them in post-production.

These days church attendance and donations are dwindling, and the cost of maintaining parish buildings has become daunting. Toronto is in a housing crisis, and low-rise modernist buildings are frequently demolished to make way for new development. While it is somewhat de rigueur to convert older, more stately churches into lofts, the same cannot be said of their modernist counterparts. Beyond documenting a largely ignored subset of modernist architecture (and creating compelling imagery in its own right), Fifty/50 also raises questions about preservation and architectural legacy in my home city.