Photo by Alan Karchmer; World Trade Center Transportation Hub, Santiago Calatrava Architect

Alan Karchmer: The Architects’ Photographer

Alan Karchmer earned a degree in architecture from Tulane University in the 1970s, but he eventually decided that he had a better knack for photographing buildings than for designing them. Running an architectural photography firm in D.C., with his wife, photo stylist Sandra Benedum, Karchmer has become well-known in his field. The National Building Museum’s ongoing exhibition of Karchmer’s images, drawn from an archive he donated to the museum, includes large-format photographs of structures designed by such architects as Santiago Calatrava. It also spans the world, documenting buildings in Rome, the Canary Islands, Saudi Arabia, and the District. Featured in the exhibition are images of West End apartment buildings, the Washington National Cathedral, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Videos explain the tricks Karchmer used to make his images, including buttonholing passers-by to serve as comparisons of scale in his images and digitally altering his interior photographs so that every portion of large spaces is suitably lit. While Karchmer’s depictions of Calatrava’s movable, winged creations are eye-catching, his humble, earth-toned portrayals of old, rustic scenes are often more satisfying. The most unexpected visual treat comes when Karchmer turns his camera upward in Verona, Italy, framing the cornices of three adjoining buildings so that the void forms tranquil tributaries of sky. The exhibit runs through June 5, 2022, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. nbm.org. $7–$10. 

Editor’s note: Karchmer has bequeathed his professional archive to the National Building Museum; however, it will not receive the images until he retires and some images shown in the exhibition are not part of that archive. The exhibition is a celebration of his bequest.