Cottle Carr Yaw on photography

12/19/2013

We asked contributor Amy Touchette to interview Cottle Carr Yaw Architects‘ Principal Chris Touchette* about the use of photography at their firm.

*(yes, Chris is her relative)

Elk Camp Gondola & Restaurant 2013, CCY architects.

Elk Camp Restaurant (LEED Gold Pending): Snowmass Ski Area. Photography by Robert Millman

For Cottle Carr Yaw (CCY) Architects, photography is one of the most effective ways to express the company’s vision: to connect people, nature, and community through the art of design. Because the firm’s fundamental goal is to strengthen connections among the people in a community, being able to communicate to everyone is imperative. “Architectural plans, sections, and elevations are great at communicating ideas to people who can read them, but that’s a very small segment of the population,” wrote Chris Touchette, Principal at CCY Architects, via email. “Everybody gets photography.”

CCY Brasada Ranch Resort

Brasada Ranch Resort: Powell Butte, OR. Photo Courtesy of CCY Architects / Will Young

Located near Aspen, Colorado, CCY Architects is a boutique firm of 32 employees focused on resort hospitality and private residences. It has garnered over 100 design awards from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and related trade groups over its 30-plus year history, including Sustainable Community and Responsible Design Award of the Year for the Brasada Ranch Resort project, Urban Land Institute’s Award of Excellence for the Aspen Mountain Base Area redevelopment and Little Nell Hotel, AIA Western Mountain Region’s and Colorado’s Firm of the Year, as well as two-time recipient of the Owens-Corning Energy Conservation Award for the Aspen Airport and Sport Obermeyer Headquarters.

To document their work, CCY Architects contracts with a handful of professional photographers, many of whom are local or regional and have worked with the company for some time. But the firm continually searches for new talent, actively doing so through word-of-mouth, or through web research that often starts with Google. “While we’ve been introduced to a few photographers through direct mailing, the vast majority either come from existing relationships or with the publication that our work appears in. Generally publications use a different photographer than the ones we hire to pitch a story,” said Touchette.  For un-built work, they search Shutterstock for images that can be used in Photoshop renderings.

CCY Starwood Residence 02

Starwood Residence: Aspen, CO. Photo Courtesy of CCY Architects / Todd Kennedy

“Each project is unique, and so too are the photographic requirements, both from a shot selection, quantity, usage intent, and fee/budget standpoint. Some of our photographers shoot for high quality magazines like Architectural Digest, while others mostly do real estate advertising. It all depends on our needs for the specific project. Not including our time, we usually spend between $1.5-$7K per project for photography, but the total cost of a shoot would be significantly higher; those figures just represent our portion. We usually split photography costs with our team of general contractors, interior designers, lighting designers, and owners,” Touchette said. “We try to get between 8 and 20 images per project.”

When asked what CCY Architects looks for in a photographer, Touchette replied, “The work comes first. We look for photographers who capture our brand by connecting people, nature, and community in an artful way. Personality and fit is also really important,” he said, because “we’re all about collaboration.” (There are no closed-door offices at CCY Architects’ Studio.) While the firm always has an idea of what they want, they are “completely open to the photographer’s expertise.”

“Because we’re brand sensitive, we’ll spend a full day scouting with photographers before an actual shoot. Since we have been documenting the course of construction, we have a general sense of where the best angles are and where the magic resides. Likewise, we like to attend the shoot and assist with scene selection if there are lighting controls that need to be navigated or furniture to be re-arranged. As the photographer’s bracketed shots emerge on the little screen, we kind of hover, compare notes, and discuss the framing of an image or probable cropping strategies. In addition, we like to take our own photos and have on a few occasions captured images as strong as the those of the photographers.”

But the importance of hiring a professional remains, Touchette added, citing the time “photographer Paul Warchol set up a camera 18 inches from the ground to capture the essence of a space [Mountain Star Residence in Avon, Colorado], which we had been struggling with for years. In an instant, it was like ‘Wow, genius!’ We would never have thought of that approach.”

CCY Mountain Star Residence 02

Mountain Star Residence: Avon, CO. Photo Courtesy of CCY Architects / John Cottle

No matter the method, in the end, the images need to be “seductive,” Touchette said. “They need to bring you into spaces, suggest form, capture details, and strike an emotional response.” Recently, CCY Architects has been focused on “highlighting nature and people as equal partners to architecture. We’ve got a lot of great shots that hit architecture and nature or architecture and people, but few that do the triumvirate. We’ll push this agenda harder on future assignments. It’s our photography goal for 2014.”

CCY Eagle Pines Residence 02

Eagle Pines Residence: Pitkin County, CO. Photo Courtesy of CCY Architects / Larry Yaw