'PHOTOGRAPHY OR LIFE' & 'POPULAR MIES' / Columns of Smoke Vol.I / Juan José Lahuerta

This first volume of Columns of Smoke is a brilliant treatment of modern visual culture that will redefine our concept of modernity.


Graham Thomson




21 x 16 cm

37 halftone images; 58 colour plates

126 pp.

ISBN: 978-84-939231-5-0          



'Photography or Life' and 'Popular Mies' make up the first volume of Columns of Smoke, a collection of essays that review the bases on which modernity has been constructed. Contrasting the canonical images of the history of twentieth-century architecture with anonymous graphic materials or pictures from the popular press, Lahuerta creates an illuminating dialogue that dismantles stereotypes by revealing a less perfect but more plausible idea of modernity.

Pointing a camera at a building is not natural (innocent/unconscious); rather it involves making decisions that are closely related to the meaning of architecture. Juanjo Lahuerta makes this clear in his analyses of, inter alia, the photographic gaze of Loos and Le Corbusier, whose irreconcilable approaches represent radically opposed ways of understanding architecture and life. Furthermore, scrutiny of the snapshots of Walter Gropius's Bauhaus building taken by teachers and students can also lead us to unexpected insights into the construction of the myths associated with the Dessau school.

Using this same method, Lahuerta's analysis of the photographs of the works that Mies commissioned and published shows us how much the architect was influenced not only by Stieglitz and Camera Works but also by the popular tropes of a mass culture that included zeppelins, the music hall, X-rays and fantasmagorical gadgets. At the same time, in their portrayals of Mies's work the press and anonymous photographers situated it in a popular context that provides the necessary counterpoint to conclude the account of a modernity that can no longer be thought of as heroic.




Juan José Lahuerta is the Chief Curator of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia in Barcelona and professor of History of Art at the Barcelona School of Architecture. He has been a member of the Collegio Docenti della Scuola Dottorati del Istituto Universitario di Architettura of Venice and holder of the King Juan Carlos I Chair of Spanish Culture and Civilization at New York University.

He has published many books and essays for journals and magazines, on history of art and architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He was founder and joint director of the gallery C. R. C. Galería de Arquitectura (Barcelona, 1985-1987) and has been curator of the exhibitions: Dalí. Architecture,Barcelona, 1996; Modern Art and Spanish Magazines, Madrid, Bilbao, 1996; Margaret Michaelis: Photography, Avant-garde and Politics in Republican Barcelona – Valencia and Barcelona, 1998, Universo Gaudí (Barcelona, Madrid, 2002), and Salvador Dalí, Federico García Lorca and the Student’s Residence, Madrid, 2010). He has worked as an adviser to the Reina Sofia National Art Museum in Madrid (2004-2005) and was senior curator for the Picasso Museum of Barcelona (2010-2011).



“Modernity without stereotypes.”

“Columns of Smoke is the result of an inquisitive wandering among the dusty shelves to which historians only run a distracted look, from which Lahuerta has rescued -as Ernst Jünger would say- a little treasure.”

“The illustrations of this book demonstrate an exemplary indifference to stereotypes. It is a disenchanted and intelligent use of documents of different nature and origin; an interpretative effort that manages to mix sources of a 'high' and 'low' origin without recognizing a prevailing authority in either.”

"This book is a gift for those who understand the act of reading as an exercise for intelligence.”


Francesco dal Co, Casabella