Pulling a Photographer’s Work Into Focus


Architectural photographer Robert Lautman produced some 30,000 prints, transparencies, and negatives in his 60-year career. They now occupy two walls of boxes, stacked floor to ceiling, in the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Curator Chrysanthe Broikos and her staff will catalog the collection, which the photographer donated to the museum in 2006. Two-thirds of it is already on hand and has been stabilized and inventoried with Lautman’s guidance. The remainder is soon to follow, including projects Lautman was pursuing when he died last October.

Catalogers will enter a record for each photograph into a searchable database. “Whoever catalogs ends up having a great wealth of knowledge that can be transferred into interpretive and analytical write-ups,” says Broikos. The process will help curatorial staff assess the full scope of Lautman’s work and make it easier to find and select photographs for whatever exhibit is on display.

Lautman began photographing Washington architecture in 1948 and was the “go-to guy” for architects such as Charles Goodman, Arthur Keyes, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, George Hartman, and Warren Cox. “He photographed basically every major building in Washington,” Broikos says.

The Building Museum was an obvious choice when the time came to decide what to do with his work. He had photographed the building itself in the late 1960s as part of the effort to convert it into a museum of the building arts, when what had been the Pension Building—designed and engineered by U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs in the late 1880s—had fallen into disrepair.

Now that the museum is home to Lautman’s collection, Broikos is brewing an exhibition idea: DC Modern. The museum does not showcase individual artists, but DC Modern would “basically be a Lautman retrospective” because of his role in documenting modern architecture.

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Jessica Wilde is a writer and filmmaker who creates content for NASA and other government clients.


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