National Building Museum to receive Alan Karchmer photography collection

Categories: Other, Press

Celebrated architectural photographer bequeaths entire archive

Auditorio de Tenerife, Santiago Calatrava Architect


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today the National Building Museum announced that Alan Karchmer, prominent architectural photographer, has promised his collected body of work as a gift to the Museum. The Alan Karchmer and Sandra Benedum Photographic Archive will include all works produced over the course of his career and comprises thousands of photographs featuring landmarks across the United States and abroad. Selected images will be the subject of a forthcoming exhibition at the Museum.

The National Building Museum’s collection includes several significant photographic archives, spanning from the pre-modern to contemporary eras. Karchmer’s pledged gift complements the Museum’s existing holdings, most notably the Robert Lautman Photographic Archives, which span much of the early and high modernist periods in architecture. Karchmer, still in the prime of his career, has established a worldwide reputation thanks to his iconic portraits of works by some of the leading architects of our time, including Santiago Calatrava, Tadao Ando, SmithGroup, and TEN Arquitectos, among others. His work draws on his professional education in architecture, which underlies his unique capacity to read buildings and tell their stories through photographs that speak with an authoritative sense of form, space, texture, and light.

“Alan’s eye and patience always give the viewer the essential perspective of whatever building he photographs,” said Chase Rynd, executive director, National Building Museum. “These photographs will contribute greatly to our collection’s currency, and enhance its usefulness to future scholars, historians, and practitioners.”

The exhibition of Karchmer’s work, in planning stages now, is conceived not as a simple photographic essay, but rather as an investigation of the process of architectural photography. It will examine how aspects like technology, artistry, and technical skill affect the photographic process, and explore how the resulting images influence our perceptions of architecture. It will illuminate the juncture between the photographer’s creative vision and that of the architect whose work it interprets.

“I am truly pleased that the National Building Museum will become the permanent home for my photographs,” Karchmer stated. “While I intend to continue working for many years, it is appropriate, now, to lay the groundwork for the eventual transfer of the archive. I am honored that the Museum recognizes the importance and historic value of this body of work, not only for the buildings it documents, but also as a representation of architectural photography during its time.”

Karchmer’s life in photography began while studying architecture at Tulane University (M.Arch., 1978). Using a camera, he realized that his natural talent lay not in the design of buildings but in photography and the act of observing and interpreting them. Self-taught in photography, he has been based in Washington, D.C., since 1990, often working in collaboration with his wife, photo stylist Sandra Benedum. His photographs have been widely published in journals and books in the United States and abroad, and in exhibitions about architecture at the National Building Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Julius Shulman Institute, among other venues, and are held in private collections.

Images are available at All photos are © Alan Karchmer, courtesy National Building Museum.

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