Timothy Soar reflects on changing technology, travelling the globe and helping architects to inspire new audiences and win more work.


Timothy Soar on location (ph: Tom Rothery)

My father was a keen and accomplished amateur photographer. His love of photography and architecture created a distinct and handsome portfolio, one he was able to exhibit alongside Edwin Smith’s work in a joint show, a proud moment. Together Dad and I built a darkroom at home, I was processing and printing before I was 10, I don’t think a week has gone by in the past 50 years when I haven’t been making photographs.

I started my career in photography as a precocious teenager, witness to the riots and rock concerts of the late ’70’s. I was sponsored into the NUJ, and my first news front pages, by my early mentor the Sunday Times’s senior photographer Peter Dunne. Exciting times; black and white 35mm film, hand processing, wet prints, darkrooms, and smoke filled offices. Life revolved around Fleet Street, the picture desk and the print works, vast cathedrals mastered by men with hot lead linotype, green visors and shirt sleeves clipped up with steel armbands. The Wapping dispute refocussed my ambitions to large format photography, a more technically demanding image making made at a gentler pace. Early success with photographs for David Thurlow and Syd Furness of Cambridge Design, a string of RIBA award winning projects, and my future path was set.

I have been around long enough to witness the fascinating change from the protracted analogue processes of the photography of my youth, to the instantaneous, ubiquitous force it is today. Although the technology has changed the essential conversation, the core narrative of architectural photography, still cleaves to a formal sensibility established over 150 years of recording the built environment.

My work has encompassed projects from Stonehenge to the Google Headquarters, my first RIBA award winning scheme in 1982 to celebrating more than a few Stirling Prize candidates. It has been a privilege to be working alongside so many great talents and inspirational careers. Especially the joy that accompanies watching the early moves of a young practice flourish into design celebrated around the world.

There are, of course, a thousand stories: Landing in a ferocious blizzard in Kazakhstan, sandstorms in Kuwait, child soldiers in Uganda, flying through tornadoes in Oklahoma, leaving Cairo on the last commercial jet as the Arab Spring engulfed the city. Memorable commissions in Rome, Milan, Venice, Athens, Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Berlin, Brussels, Oslo, Paris, Nimes, Almaty, Sydney, New York, Boston, Seattle, Riyadh, Dubai…. And London, from St Paul’s Cathedral to the top of the Gherkin. Overnight shoots in the British Museum, the National History Museum, Harvey Nichols. The delight of having a free run of the Millennium Dome, The Jubilee Line, Terminal 5, One Hyde Park and the Olympic Park. Certainly architectural photography has provided a stimulating time behind the lens.

I am constantly mindful of the role the photographer plays in communicating the ambition and spirit of architecture, great images are made as a collaboration between creative individuals, not an imposition of styles or photoshop filters. I always return to the idea that my work needs to inspire and to create enduring appetite for the work of my clients. Never before has mastery of the photographic image been more important, or better able to affect change.

I hope to continue enabling my architects to find a voice that helps make a distinct argument for their design. To find a clarity, authenticity and honesty in my image making that helps describe, explain and illuminate complex and demanding programs. And to continue making the deep and lasting friendships that have sustained me and the work for so long.

Google Headquarters, Kings Cross, designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (ph: Timothy Soar)

Burntwood School in Wandsworth, designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (ph: Timothy Soar)

St Paul’s Cathedral, London (ph: Timothy Soar)

One Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners (ph: Timothy Soar)

Carré d’Art, Nimes, by Foster + Partners (ph: Timothy Soar)