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architectural art and engraving

Hedrich Blessing (1929-present)

Hedrich Blessing became the world's premier architectural photography company by speaking the language of architecture better than most architects. From the start, they appeared to effortlessly translate the three dimensional world of the built environment into the two dimensions of a photograph.

In 1929, as the country headed into The Great Depression and a virtual stop in new construction, twenty-one year old Ken Hedrich started his fledgling photography business. Soon partnering with Henry Blessing as manager, Ken and his brother, Bill Hedrich, found it artistically unchallenging to follow in the footsteps of the earlier documentarians who spread the Chicago story to the world. Rather than shooting a building in its totality, as imposing as a mountain and lit from front to back, they found what to them was a more modern approach. "Be honest, be succinct and distill a space down to its essence" became the credo for the firm until the present day.

In order to sell their approach to the architects and real estate developers they needed as clients, they produced idealized images of buildings that illustrated the builders' first inspirations of the project: the "Acropolis" an architect envisions before his mind is cluttered with the nuts and bolts of actual construction. These images reminded architects of why they wanted to build when they were still twelve year old dreamers. In painting, Hedrich Blessing's approach would be called "formalist." The shape a structure makes is often more interesting than the narrative, with suggestion more compelling than the literal.

By "selling" to the builders, the builders passed along to their clients this iconization of the structure. As Detroit learned to sell dreams instead of mere vehicles, architects and developers sold "lifestyle" instead of bricks and mortar. The parallels of still photography to cinematics were purely intentional, and John Wellborn Root Jr. and John Holabird wanted this approach for their Chicago World's Fair pavilions in the summer of 1933.

A Century of Progress was not only a much needed public works construction boost for Chicago, but also a seismic shift in the aesthetic possibilities of architecture. Built on a gigantic scale in impermanent materials, the fair acted as a full scale model of builders' fantasies. New stylistic directions, stolen from Hollywood film sets, as well as genuine architectural innovations could be installed on this giant board game peopled with real-life players.

Holabird and Root, the sons of Chicago School masters themselves, didn't want the "official" fair photographers, Kaufman & Fabry, to shoot their new Chrysler pavilion for posterity. They hired Ken Hedrich to show the world what they'd been up to. And the Hedrich Blessing company benefited from their authorship of one of the most famous iconic images of the fair. The simplified wall elevations and elemental shapes of the new streamlined architecture of the 1930s fit hand-in-glove with the formalist approach of Hedrich Blessing. Soon their photographs became a staple for architecture magazines and savvy developers learned to call them in before the last coat of paint was dry.

Frank Lloyd Wright, whose career had been revived by the mid-thirties, entrusted Bill Hedrich with what would become his own career-making opportunity. In wading into the small river to shoot the new getaway house Wright was building near Pittsburgh, Hedrich found the perfect vantage point to view the masterpiece that would forever after be known as "Fallingwater."

After World War II, Mies van der Rohe began turning his modernist theories into real American buildings. His reliance on Hedrich Blessing as a communicator helped to make his reputation and introduced what became known as the "International Style" to cities around the planet.

The company leading this movement, Skidmore Owings and Merrill, became the world's biggest architectural firm and carried Hedrich Blessing with them into the first ranks of architecture. As the photography firm matured, dropping Blessing early on but keeping his name, they found that the way to produce the right image of a building was to stretch the concept of a "Decisive Moment" into more or less a decisive hour or hours of waiting for just the right lighting conditions. Patience and taste defined the company that would eventually become the General Motors of architectural photography.

In 1991, Jack Hedrich, the youngest brother and managing director of the firm, sold the archives to the Chicago Historical Society, ensuring the information contained within would be available to the general public. In the same year, the firm produced a limited edition, large format portfolio of ten of their favorite images from the 1930s. Five years later, they created another portfolio of sixteen exhibition size prints they called Forty Years of Design. As they knew their archives would benefit from being placed into a major institution, they saw that the exhibition portfolios and last remaining proof prints would be better served in a commercial gallery setting. In the summer of 2001, Jack called on ArchiTech to become the exclusive dealer of the vintage and period prints they had accumulated since the firm began in 1929.

A new clientele, not of magazines and developers, but of art collectors passionate about architecture was finding the original prints made for seventy years of reference files to be one of the new art forms of the 21st Century. Everyone knew these buildings. Everyone had heard of Hedrich Blessing. These beautiful documents now assumed their new places beside paintings, drawings and original prints by established artists.

Because buildings themselves can rarely be "collected" as other fine and decorative arts, their images, particularly of lost structures, have become objects of veneration. And the images of Hedrich Blessing, now in its ninth decade, continue to hold the public's fascination and inspire awe and wonder. Theirs are the ultimate still lifes and man made landscapes. Hedrich Blessing, in collaboration with the greatest Twentieth Century builders, made the simple act of looking at our world into the art of our time.

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Link to Art of Hedrich Blessing  
Link to Hedrich Blessing: Interiors  
Link to Hedrich Blessing: Painting with Light  
Link to Foto Chicago  

David Jameson
ArchiTech Gallery
730 North Franklin suite 200
Chicago, IL 60654

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