This artists dialogue, recorded at the New York Public Library on Feb. 9, 2011, pairs art historian Glenn O'Brien with photographer Todd Eberle in a discussion on his book of photographs: Empire of Space. Eberle discusses what makes a photograph successful; how Walker Evans influenced his approach to making and sequencing photographs; why Jasper Johns is a sucker for faxes; and why there are some photographs that resist being paired. Plus, how was it possible for a pro bono photography assignment to interest Eberle? Hint: it involves a house...
The beginning of Eberle's career as a photographer starts with a familiar story of a sixteen-year-old boy who took his grandmother's K1000 camera to photograph Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water. The rest of Eberle's story is anything but typical. Eberle has photographed everything from computer parts and radios (Art International Radio proudly hangs a series of these photographs in its galleries) to presidents to Martha Stewart. He is Photographer at Large for Vanity Fair, and is represented by Gagosian Gallery. Eberle is also the editorial director for Art in America and former editor of Interview Magazine.
The Artist Dialogues Series at the New York Public Library pairs artists with critics, curators, gallerists, writers or other artists to converse about art and the potential of exploring new ideas. The series is curated and hosted by Arezoo Moseni, artist and Senior Librarian.
Years ago while working for Prada I helped launch the opening of the LA flagship designed by architect Rem Koolhaas. In preparation for the unveiling, we hired photographer Todd Eberle to document the space. Watching him work was inspiring – his meticulous attention to detail, unique approach, and methodical pace were quite unique, as if a painter had set up an easel for a long day of interpretation. The results were incomparable and Todd is a true artist, one of the very few who could capture the vision of Miuccia Prada. So naturally his book, “Empire of Space,” deserved a spot on my book shelf, and you should consider it to.
From the publishers: “Todd Eberle’s photographs document the disparate images that make up American architecture, landscapes, and society and are united by a minimalist aesthetic that runs through his work. Whether his approach to a particular subject is earnest (an unfurling flag) or kitsch (the Vegas strip), Eberle brings to his photographs a heightened sense of precision, symmetry, and proportion. The Empire of Space is a lavish look at Eberle’s career and features many rare and never-before-published portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and interiors.”
Maybe it has something to do with growing up speaking two languages, but I loved diptychs before I knew how to spell the word. Pairings always fascinate me: the interplay between disparate things; the unexpected associations they evoke. I was delighted to find that Todd Eberle’s new book “Empire of Space” was chock full of such wonderful visual dialogues. Taken from a long and prolific career, Eberle’s twosomes plainly show the photographer’s wit and sense of whimsy—indeed, the critic David Hickey calls him the “Noël Coward of photography.”
When photographer Todd Eberle's new book, Empire of Space, came across my desk recently, it stopped me dead in my tracks. The amazing images, juxtaposed in stark and intuitive pairings, made this one of the strongest photo books I'd seen in a while. Although I hadn't spoken to Eberle in many years, I knew him back when he was a kid shooting bands and nightlife for PAPER. It was through this work for the magazine that he met his long-time partner, our then-art director Richard Pandiscio, now a well-known creative director who has of course, designed Eberle's book out this month via Rizzoli. It was fun to catch up with him after all these years.
KIM HASTREITER: I remember in the mid-'80s when PAPER was still run out of my house, you used to snap photos for us. That's how you met Richard Pandiscio, right? We used to stay up all night and cut and paste the magazine together with wax and matte knives on big poster boards. Crazy times.
TODD EBERLE: I'd taken a photograph of a skateboard kid and Richard asked to see my book. For PAPER I shot Björk and Einar from the Sugarcubes, Wire, Peggy Lee and was eventually convinced to shoot nightlife after initially being offended by being asked. I was the "Cultural Sushi" editor for a while. I ended up meeting everyone there was to know in New York, and the downtown scene that was thriving back then.
KH: Were you in school at that time?
TE: I had been kicked out of Cooper Union after one semester.
KH: What was the first assignment from a big mainstream magazine you were given after PAPER?
TE: I think it was HG. The major turning point was when I wrote Donald Judd a letter asking him if I could shoot his house. I was interested in Judd's aesthetic. He had me come to Marfa to photograph his architectural installations and Tina Brown ended up buying the story for Vanity Fair. I was immediately tagged as an "art and architecture photographer."
KH: Was this because you loved doing this or were they assignments?
TE: A little of both. I've always thrived on the access I get to amazing things through my editorial work, especially with Vanity Fair. Graydon Carter embraces a number of my ideas and builds stories around my interest in various subjects.
KH: What was your most surprising shoot?
TE: Probably being in the Oval Office for hours thinking I had shot every conceivable angle -- even the ceiling that has the presidential seal in plaster. But something was missing, and then I realized it was president Clinton's point of view. It's a viewpoint I'd never seen of that most famous of rooms.
KH: What was the most difficult?
TE: After I had convinced Oscar Niemeyer to go to his famous Das Canoas House in the mountains outside of Rio, he showed up and said it was too cold. He was about to leave but I cajoled him into it, and got just four frames of a shot, which was very different than what I'd originally planned.
KH: When did you begin to evolve into an artist who used photography as a medium — as opposed to a photographer who shot for magazines?
TE: My "aha moment" happened when I shot these vintage computers at the Computer History Museum in California for Wired and saw Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse in the gridded circuit boards with delicate wires I was shooting. I then realized I could fuse my obsession with art history and photography.
KH: Can you talk about the pairings of the photographs in your book?
TE: The inspiration for the pairings came from a Walker Evans book, First and Last, in which all the images he made had something in common. It allowed me absolute freedom to mix subjects. I wanted to have my first book represent what I do. I think it's hard to come up with a point of view when making a book and the pairings solved many things for me.
KH: I adore the pairing of the bedroom aboard Air Force One and... whose is the other bedroom?
TE: That's my grandparents' guest bedroom in Houston, Texas. They are both rooms with twin beds and murals.
KH: I also love the dogs and the women writers.
TE: It was one of the very first pairs. I consider them to be the same picture in a way. I think both of those pictures are just about grace and dignity.
KH: Will you make more books?
TE: I have a number I'm contemplating — the complete Judd photographs, a social study of the art world, flowers that I make into what I call "Digital rorschachs." I won't make another book of pairings though. I spent about eight months putting together 400 pairings. Richard sat down with them at our dining room table and sequenced them. A narrative emerged that I hadn't at all expected. As he knows my history of making most of the photographs, he was able to bring a story to it. For me, it became an autobiography in his precise choices. I have always found being categorized as any specific thing very annoying. I hope this book will bring an end to that, as this really represents some of everything I've done with my camera over the last 30 years.
Thirty years of modernist, poetic and enduring photographs constitute Todd Eberle first book, Empire of Space ($85), which is released April 5. The Vanity Fair photographer-at-large came into prominence in the early 1990s with his iconic photographs that documented the disparity of American architecture, landscapes and society. Eberle’s minimalist aesthetic runs throughout his work and unites the images included in the book. Whether his approach to a particular subject is earnest (an unfurling flag) or kitschy (the Vegas strip), Eberle brings a heightened sense of precision, symmetry and proportion. Empire of Space, with a forward by Glenn O’Brien and introduction by Graydon Carter, is a lavish look at Eberle’s career and features many rare and never-before-published portraits, landscapes, still lifes and interiors.
Vanity Fair’s photographer-at-large, Todd Eberle, composes images that capture the essence of an architectural work, the hidden pattern in a man-made space, the spirit of an innovative design—or designer. As evidenced in these stunning diptychs from his new book, Empire of Space (Rizzoli)—with essays by Graydon Carter, David Hickey, and Glenn O’Brien—Eberle has traversed the globe in search of the perfectly rendered place.
My good friend, Todd Eberle, is well known in the world of photography. I met Todd many years ago after launching Martha Stewart Living. In fact, I gave him his first real job shooting a story for my magazine. Since then, he shot many other fabulous stories for us and went on to become a world-renowned photographer of architecture, art, and portraits. Todd is currently working as a photographer-at-large for Vanity Fair and he regularly contributes to the New York Times Style Magazine and holds exhibitions at leading contemporary art galleries such as the Gagosian chain of art galleries. Last Monday, I attended a party at The Four Seasons in Manhattan, where Vanity Fair, Gagosian Gallery, Dom Perignon, and a large gathering of devotees toasted Todd and his first book Empire of Space. In this large collection of extraordinary photographs, Todd reminisces about his prolific career and shares many rare and never-before-published images of American culture taken over the last thirty years. I hope you’ll have a chance to pore through his book. I think you’ll admire his photography as much as I do.
We had a beautiful event last weekend for Todd Eberle, the photographer, celebrating his new book, Empire of Space–which features the Four Seasons 50th anniversary portrait Mr. Eberle took two years ago, with lots of regulars including Michael Ovitz, Peggy Siegal, Dolly Lenz, Aby Rosen, Ed Koch and, of course, me! Larry Gagosian, Vanity Fair and Dom Perignon threw a party full of very fashionable people–Jay McInerney, Martha Stewart and Helen Lee Schifter were there. Graydon Carter was supposed to host, but he never showed up! Mr. Eberle was so busy signing copies, I think he was here until midnight even though the party ended at eight. Everyone was drinking Dom Perignon, of course, and Mr. Eberle never took off his hat.
This week, lunch at the Grill was totally booked, except for Friday when everyone disappeared for the long weekend. Pete Peterson was here only one day–he must have been too busy talking about the deficit! I’m surprised we’re so busy for the time of year, but all of our events have sold out, too. On Thursday we held a private tasting for Brunello di Montalcino by Mastrojanni, a delicious Italian red wine. We had a lovely time–too much of a good time, with all that wine!
Ralph Lauren was here on Wednesday. So was Ms. Stewart and the actor Chris O’Donnell. Geraldo Rivera, who did his last wedding with us, also came in for lunch, and on his way out, he hugged Bill O’Shaughnessy, who was looking very charming as usual (but still no haircut!). On Thursday Tory Burch was here with a guest I didn’t recognize, who was very stylish, of course.
We hosted a breakfast for Henry Kissinger, where he spoke at length about China and his new book. It was fabulous–the most well-attended breakfast in Four Seasons history. It shows that Mr. Kissinger is still in charge. Mr. Obama, you should listen to him!
Over the weekend, MasterChef Australia filmed at the Four Seasons, and I was one of the judges along with Paul Liebrandt and David Chang (Wylie Dufresne was supposed to come but he got sick!) We didn’t even start filming until eleven o’clock at night, and were there until six a.m. but it was a lot of fun. The people who won made a chocolate gold cake.
I also got outside the restaurant this week–can you believe it? On Tuesday night someone invited me to Elaine’s, two days before it closed. We drank bottles of 1996 Cheval Blanc that were outrageously inexpensive, and there were so many people I knew that I started to go around taking their orders–I was playing the maitre’d, and everyone thought I worked there! The best part about the night was the food. The last time I was at Elaine’s was ten years ago, but the food was excellent. I had a steak that’s as good as the one we serve in the Grill (don’t tell anyone). I’m sad Elaine’s closed–it’s the end of an era. But at least I got to be there.
Todd Eberle knows how to throw a party, and take a photo. One of the world’s top architectural photographers, Eberle signed copies of his first book, “Empire of Space” from Rizzoli, for an A-list intellectual crowd at the Philip Johnson-designed Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building. Guests included Martha Stewart , Kelly Klein, architect Enrique Norten, Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, Anne Bass, writer Jay McInerney and West Chelsea Hotel Americano owner Carlos Couturier.
Dressed in a Panama pinchfront fedora with a black band, dark suit and pink scarf, Eberle charmed guests who sipped Dom Perignon and downed salmon ceviche while taking in Johnson’s timeless interior.
Even in the grand room smothered in French walnut, Eberle and his book were the center of attention. Encompassing over 30 years of Eberle’s work, “Empire of Space” juxtaposes photographs with certain similarities on opposite pages. The photographer himself selected each contrasting image. The result is a seesaw ride through Eberle’s wild mind and personal photographic chronology. It’s also a telling account of how the world has not changed, despite what we think.
Vanity Fair editor-in- chief Graydon Carter wrote the Foreword, with Glenn O’Brien handling the interview with Eberle. “Empire of Space” is available for $85 wherever fine books are sold, including Amazon.
Lincoln Center recently held its 38th Annual Real Estate & Construction Gala. All proceeds benefit the partnership between local real estate and construction industry companies and Lincoln Center Corporate Fund, a group dedicated to raising money to support nine performing arts organizations and two training academies affi liated with the iconic cultural institution. Glenn J. Rufrano, president and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield, and Stephen J. Furnary, chairman and CEO of ING Clarion Partners, were honored.
After an early dinner, guests were ushered to performances for “War Horse” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, “Rigoletto” at the Metropolitan Opera and a performance of New York City Ballet . Now that sure beats dessert.
If there's a whiff of fresh air to be found amid this hot, humid, stormy August, it's this arresting shot of architect Philip Johnson, which photographer Todd Eberle snapped in 2003 and published this past April in his dramatic new Rizzoli tome, Empire of Space. The photo brings to life one of Johnson's most famous quotes: "I have very expensive wallpaper," he once said of the landscape surrounding the Glass House, which he completed in 1949 in New Canaan, Conn.
On Aug. 18, as part of the Philip Johnson Glass House Conversations in Context series, Eberle will host a two-hour tour and reception on the grounds. Aspiring wordsmiths can win tickets to the event by doing what comes natural: writing haikus about why they dig modern architecture. Stumped? We highly suggest gazing at the photo above and waiting for those 17 magical syllables to flow.
A personal retrospective featuring over thirty-some years of his photography career, “Empire of Space” celebrates the work of Todd Eberle who has been the photographer at large for Vanity Fair for over a decade and who has photographed some of the worlds most famous buildings, interiors, and celebrities.
In general, his style is minimal, his attention to detail, unworldly, the spaces he photographs, fabulously chic, and his technique, sheer perfection. The book is full of great interiors, celebrity portraits, and amazing architecture, all so perfectly photographed, and all so deliberately arranged. If you find yourself browsing through the pages forgetting that the day has already gone by, well then, you my friend wouldn’t be the only one to have done so.
Welcome back to Mr. Blasberg’s Book Corner, the feature wherein our editor at large Derek Blasberg picks his read of the week, and meets the author. Today’s book, Todd Eberle’s Empire of Space, is a retrospective of the three decades of pictures the photographer has taken of some of the world’s most impressive interior and exterior spaces. Eberle’s work is quite broad: he’s equal parts architectural photographer, interiors man and social chronicler. Here, Blasberg asks about how he blends the three, and if there is a picture he still wants to take.
Derek Blasberg: The book looks at thirty years of your career. But, Todd, you look so young!
Todd Eberle: The book has a photograph I took of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house (pictured above) with my grandmother's Pentax camera when I was 16, so that's now 31 years ago. I'm in denial about being 47, and I still pretend like I'm 29.
DB: How did you start taking pictures?
TE: I started out photographing rock bands because I never figured out how to be a rock star.
DB: Where did you get the title: Empire Of Space?
TE: It's made up. I wanted something vague that could contain the wide variety of images in the book. An "empire" is defined as "a number of territories under a single sovereign authority", and space is what all my photographs have in common. It looks good in type, and sounds good too.
DB: Have the majority of these pictures come from editorial commissions? Or from personal journeys and exploration?
TE: I'm lucky in that the majority of what I do editorially is often my own ideas, so it all gets mixed up and it’s a grey area. I really only photograph subjects that personally interest me.
DB: I've been told that architectural photography is much different than, say, fashion photography. Do you agree with that, and if so, what are the differences? Is Mother Nature a more difficult model?
TE: I used to make fashion pictures with some success years ago, but realized I was never that passionate about it. It's also very difficult to make fashion photographs that don't look dated after they appear. I'm lucky to have subjects that age well in the photographs.
DB: There seems to be a patience to your photography, waiting for the perfect moment. Do you see that?
TE: I do have an uncanny kismet of very often finding myself in the right places at the right time.
DB: Which do you prefer: a residential space, or a commercial space?
TE: Personal spaces are always the most interesting as it gives me "evidence" to go on. A lot goes into making portraits of people in their own spaces, as I feel obligated to tell some kind of story about them.
DB: There are some pictures in here that look like they were taken at night, perhaps in a social situation. Do you always have your camera on you?
TE: I pretty much am never without a camera. I have been photographing the art world for years, and there is one in there. I'm thinking about that as a possible next book, but haven't decided yet.
DB: It looks like you've traveled all over the world. Is there one particular picture in this book that has a fantastic story behind it?
TE: Most of the photographs have fantastic stories behind them, which I 'narrate' in the footnotes in the book. I want the reader to make up his or her own fantastic stories, though. It's why I didn't put the titles of the images on the page. The book becomes the reader's personal "Empire of Space" in a way.
DB: Any ‘space’ left in the world you want to go?
TE: I get to see so many exotic places in my job that I don't dare dream about that. I had always wanted to photograph a castle, and that just happened when Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis commissioned me to photograph hers in Germany. It's the largest private castle in the world.
DB: Is that your favorite house? Or, I guess a better question is, do you have a favorite house that you’ve photographed?
TE: Aside from the 250 "favorites" in my book, my favorite house is the one I haven't yet seen, and my favorite picture is the one I've yet to make.
Born in Cleveland, OH, in 1963, Todd Eberle is a professional photographer and artist based in New York City. He is currently photographer-at-large forVanity Fair. First celebrated for his photographs of Donald Judd’s works and architecture, Eberle is best known for his interpretive work comprising of iconic subject matter such as art, architecture, interiors, design, and portraits. Turning his lens on these subjects, Eberle presents the disparate images that make up international architecture, landscapes, and society. His vision is united by a minimalist aesthetic; a potent mix of control, symmetry and proportion.
We caught up with him to find out more about his photographs, the lessons he has learned throughout his career, and his brand new book, Todd Eberle: Empire of Space.
Todd, Working for Vanity Fair has given you the opportunity to shoot some great events, places and people. What are a few of your personal favourites?
Probably my “Modern’s Masters” portfolio in which I made portraits of the last of the great Modernists: Philip Johnson (which was his last portrait), Oscar Niemeyer, Florence Knoll Bassett, Phyllis Lambert, Dieter Rams, and Dan Kiley. The combined age of the subjects in that portfolio was over 1,000 years.
Some of my other favourites are my portfolio on portraits of painters, “Gotta Paint” in which then little-known artists such as Cecily Brown and John Currin were launched into their ‘superstar’ careers; John Pawson’s monastery in the Czech Republic, Disneyland’s 50th anniversary I got to make with Dave Hickey who wrote the essay in my book, Donald Judd’s work in Marfa, Texas. Most of the stories I’ve had in Vanity Fair were my ideas, so I’m personally attached to most of them. It’s why I make little distinction between my ‘personal’ work and my ‘commercial’ work. Those lines are as blurred as my subject matter.
Empire of Space is your first book. Given your expansive back catalogue, was it difficult to narrow down which images you wanted to include? What process did you go through to choose your images?
Walker Evans’ posthumous book, First and Last, was the inspiration for making pairings of images in my book. The most liberating part of it was it allowed me to mix my expansive range of subjects. Once I settled on making the juxtapositions of pairs of disparate images, it helped me to focus it exclusively on finding two images that had something in common. I think I came up with about 400 or so pairs that got edited down to 125 or so in the book.
What attracts you to want to photograph something? Your scope is very broad – from architecture to society. Is American life the common thread that holds it all together?
It doesn’t really matter to me if it’s a building or a person as long as I can tell some kind of a story that means something to history. My book has a lot of “American” subjects, and that’s something I’m certainly obsessed with, but at the end of the day, it’s all instinct. Drag queens, flowers, architecture, the art world, artists, architects: as long as a subject interests me, I can become obsessive about it. All those subjects have always held my interest, and will continue to.
You were able to photograph the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. What are the challenges around shooting something on that scale? Do any other assignments stand out as especially challenging?
At CERN, it was not being able to get back far enough to effectively capture the scale, as the spaces are 300-ft underground and packed tight. As long as I get a decent amount of time-and sometimes don’t for whatever reason, I have to make the best of the circumstance. I have made something out of a five-minute window of opportunity, but it’s certainly not ideal.
After a shaky start-I got kicked out of art school in 1985, and never trained formally in photography, so I’ve gotten quite fast at making photographs in the nearly 30 years I’ve been making them. My biggest problem is editing after the shoot. I make a lot of material and approach many things as if they are book projects, so it’s sometimes difficult to get rid of images.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as a photographer?
To have had the sense to discard the somewhat successful fashion photography career I once had. I knew the art and architecture I was starting to photograph actually made for material that means something over time, and a fashion photograph for the most part, are completely useless once they are published. And besides, Avedon, Penn and Newton had already made their marks, and they were indelible. How can one stand up to that pantheon of talent? In committing to subjects of my own interest and choosing, I’ve been able to build something of my own, I think.
Which other photographers do you admire?
Walker Evans and Irving Penn-both of whom had no boundaries when it came to their subject matter.
Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’ll be talking about at the AGO?
I will show some of the pairings from the book and talk about some of the memorable stories behind them. I might also talk about how some photographs are not ‘what they seem’, and that the viewer should not necessarily take some of mine at face value.
This next item in the UnBeige Gift Guide combines four of our favorite favorite things: modernism, minimalism, photography, and Todd Eberle. A longtime contributor to Vanity Fair, Eberle defies categorization: one day he’s revealing the beauty in overlooked architectural spaces (abstracted elevator banks, ceilings, bathrooms) or immortalizing the works of Donald Judd and the next he’s making a luminous portrait of the uber-multitasker: Martha Stewart. Part of the pleasure of paging through Eberle’s 30-year career in Empire of Space (Rizzoli) is that the book, designed by Richard Pandiscio, unfolds as a series of paired images, visual juxtapositions inspired by the Walker Evans book, First and Last. “It allowed me absolute freedom to mix subjects,” Eberle has said. “I wanted to have my first book represent what I do. I think it’s hard to come up with a point of view when making a book and the pairings solved many things for me.”