Oculus Book Review: “Ezra Stoller, Photographer”

Ezra Stoller, Photographer
By Nina Rappaport, Erica Stoller, Andy Grundberg, Akiko Busch, and John Morris Dixon, FAIA; Yale University Press, 2012

“My father (1915-2004) was a storyteller,” extols Erica Stoller in the preface of Ezra Stoller, Photographer. “To explain the flow of space through a building, he spent a long time getting to know the project, following the sun from dawn to dusk even before setting up a camera.” With great aplomb this statement provides the reader access into the heart of Ezra Stoller, the artist and craftsman who produced more than 50,000 photographic images during his lifetime.

Iconic photographs of 20th-century architectural masterpieces such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, and Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal are just a few of the buildings that lavishly enliven the pages in this beautifully-designed and well-written book. Stoller’s images have a quiet aliveness to them that I can only equate with that wondrous space between inhalation and exhalation.

What came as a complete surprise to me about Stoller’s work was his photography of industrial spaces and American labor in the 1950s and ’60s, which Nina Rappaport suitably notes as having so powerfully “captured the energy of the factory floor and the people who worked there.” Part of Stoller’s style, Andy Grundberg writes, was that he vividly “picked moments that complemented the buildings or revealed its voids or penetrations.” That is equally true of both his architectural subjects: industrial spaces, where the voids or penetrations are punctuated not by light or symmetry, but rather by people as extensions of the form.

With another section of the book focused on Stoller’s residential work, viewing the compilation of these images side by side, page after page, gives the reader the experience of what Akiko Busch so aptly describes as his unique “sense of flow between the interior and exterior” of these spaces.

Ezra Stoller has left us with storied moments of places that are iconic in their time and in the singularity of his vision. I would, however, be remiss if I did not mention Erica Stoller’s critical role in the preservation of her father’s work as the director of Esto, the photographic agency founded by Ezra. She continues another part of the Stoller legacy.