Marvin Rand, Architectural Photographer. 1924 - 2009.
“In this room, the one we’re sitting in now, there’ll be a point of perfection. I don’t know whether it’s this moment or the next moment or a moment in the past. But, there is a time when the room looks most beautiful and everything is working. I visualize what those moments could be and then I shoot.”
“He worked behind the scenes but was well known amongst those who understand architecture—but can't see it all in person. He was the Yoda/Zen Master of photographing ‘outer space.’”
—Jack V. Hoffmann
February 25, 2009. Venice.
--In these pages we have, from time to time, described neighbors and friends as Venice Patriots. Photographer Marvin Rand, who died on Saturday, February 14, at the age of 84 was a patriot of a different sort—his blood ran through with architecture.
He admired greatness in it, demanded such from his friends who practiced it, and recorded it in his clients’ work.
Imagine this run of twentieth century architectural greats: Charles and Ray Eames, Louis Kahn—for whom he photographed the Salk Institute—Welton Beckett, Craig Ellwood, Caesar Pelli, John Lautner, Ray Kappe, Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne. For his photographs of their work, his monumental study of Watts Towers, and his books documenting Irving Gill and Greene & Greene, Rand was awarded an Honorary AIA title by the American Institute of Architects.
He was extraordinarily proud of the designation. Of course, it was not enough. He was onto the next thing, new architects whom he saw greatness in: Michele Saee, Greg Lynn, Lawrence Scarpa. He was well into his seventies, then early eighties, and had battled heart problems for two decades, and he worked alone. But Rand was small and ferocious, his recording of architecture continued.
For twenty years Marvin photographed Scarpa’s work. But Scarpa used to tell us that Marvin invariably arrived at a shoot having left a key piece of equipment back at the shop. The photographer was the only person we know that could ever make Scarpa stress. (To be honest, at one point Scarpa confided to us that he skipped a couple of shoots simply because he couldn't take that moment when it was revealed--just what Marvin had left behind.) And yet Marvin’s images of Scarpa’s work landed in some of the field’s most vaunted publications.
Rand was many things—for instance, women characterized him as ‘adorable.’ Yep, it's true. Ask them. He was also a Venetian. His studio was on Abbot Kinney, his wife, Mary Ann Danin who owned the building had her own space in back of his and an architectural firm leased the front. So you would see him around, he’d be on the street or at Hal’s, or, maybe, down a few doors at his fellow photographer’s Kwaku Alston.
“He often visited the studio,” Alston said. “And my team would engage him in wonderful conversations about architecture, photography, and life.”
In his thirties and launched in a career that already had seen his portraits on the cover of the New York Times
magazine and Time
, Alston said of Rand “He was a personal hero to me for the beautiful images he made and for his dedication to his work.”
And so it was that those from our community, Marvin’s professional community, and Mary Ann and Marvin’s personal world gathered last weekend at the studio the couple had shared to remember him and his work.
The space was packed with a beautiful, humbling mix of architects, artists and accolades. The guys from Marvin’s temple, Venice-lifer Simon Maltby, artist Doug Edge, architect Jennifer Siegal, Tom, Gwynne—the stories of the man as diverse as the group.
Ahde Lahti who designed Rand’s essential tome on Irving Gill remembered a photo shoot about six months ago on a busy Los Angeles street that had no parking. Though Rand’s always-present van was full of camera equipment, and heart problems slowed him, Rand had no inclination to leverage the “handicap” notice in his windshield.
“He was devoted to his craft like no other photographer I have ever met,” said architect and Venice local Jennifer Siegal. “We spent one afternoon at my house together setting up to take one shot. It took us four hours to prepare… I learned more about architectural photography that day then any other.”
“Marvin was the quiet genius,” said Jack Hoffmann told us as he advocated that Marvin be honored in these pages. “He spent hours in our office just getting to know it… Intimacy was at the heart of his work. He adjusted lighting up and down to perfect the pose of the design but his eyes always shone bright. He savored his moments and was intimate with his subject. He used architecture like the allure of a naked woman posing it to catch all the subtle nuance necessary to have anyone able to feel it is theirs, within reach, personal and extended it to the spiritual. He was an artist. Shining his light into the cavities of the world, he introduced emerging space to the world like birth.”
We will admit we had not know that Maltby and Marvin knew each other. “What are you talking about!?!,” demanded Maltby, “He photographed everything I ever did.”
That was Marvin, though he, like the rest of us had an ego, fundamentally what he cared about was documenting the craft of architecture, not whether or not the architect or designer was famous but that they had talent. He shot the work of as many unknowns as knowns. He was magnificent that way.
“He should have been dead years ago,” Maltby marveled of a man whose determination to continue the work had fought back critical health challenges for decades. Architecture kept him going as did his wife Mary Ann, who often, quietly, cleared his path.
Marvin did not suffer fools gladly. He would wipe the floor with even established or successful architects if he believed their work was lackluster or did not uphold what the art was worthy of. But it was never personal to Marvin, it was always about his dedication to architecture.
Thanks to an introduction from Scarpa, I first visited Marvin’s studio. I spent more time than I deserved there. “Now, Tibby,” he would say as a prelude to telling me I had something way way wrong. You wouldn't think you'd miss being trashed by someone so much. I'll miss it.
Interviewing him for a feature Scarpa commissioned for the Pugh + Scarpa website I asked Marvin: Does a photographer make an architect or do you just have a good eye for talent?
"You get lucky," Marvin said. It was the only time we heard him equivocate. He knew it would be read, and that clients would see it. In Marvin's absence we feel safe to take the equivocation away: Marvin Rand was a great. He forced us to be greater in knowing him.
Said Hoffmann gently, “He was only small in size.”