'Stitching' images to create new worlds: the art of imaginary architecture

Updated 18th April 2016
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jean francois rauzier
'Stitching' images to create new worlds: the art of imaginary architecture
Written by By Angelica Pursley, for CNN
Jean-Francois Rauzier's ability to capture whole cities in one photograph, is undeniably entrancing.
The French photographer developed the concept of the "hyperphoto" in 2002, a technique which involves digitally "stitching" hundreds of images together.
Rauzier's photographs, which use hundreds, sometimes thousands of photographs and contain millions of pixels, allow the viewer to zoom in on the most minute details while also conveying vast scale.
This technique results in images which are sometimes several feet long when printed.
With image libraries full of "highlights" from cities -- his ideal trees, skies and structures -- he acts as a collector of the world around us.
While there are other techniques that create similar effects, there is no one replicating Rauzier's painstaking method.
Gigapixel photographs stitch together multiple images, but these are often taken using an automated system and then pieced together with computer software. With the help of an assistant, Rauzier does everything by hand.
In a new exhibition he focuses his unique photographic practice on Brazil and particularly Brasilia. It is part of the 450th anniversary celebrations for the country's capital, the architectural jewel in their crown, originally designed by Oscar Niemeyer.
We interviewed Rauzier to find out more about his unique practice and the upcoming exhibition.
CNN: Where did the idea for the hyperphoto come from?
Jean-Francois Rauzier: I was a classical photographer, but when digital came in I realized it could be a fantastic tool to create a very high resolution image and to do, what we now call, a photomosaic. You shoot about 100 to 200 pictures of a place and digitally "stitch" them together.
I began by stitching five, six images but then it became more and more. I thought my work was very busy, like hyper-realistic paintings. For that reason I called it "hyperphoto."
CNN: How many photos do you take now, on average, for one image?
Jean-Francois Rauzier: It depends. For example when I shot the Versailles castle, I took about 300 pictures and then just repeated the same image, to create an infinite quality.
Veduta, Lower East Side
Veduta, Lower East Side Credit: Jean-Francois Rauzier
But for the series Vedute for example there is about 500 to 1000 buildings, and each building is made of around ten to 30 images -- so there's maybe around 30,000 images in a Veduta image. There's even more in what I call the Balade -- for the Paris one I have a three kilometer-long image. For that I shot around 100,000 buildings.
Sometimes when people ask me what I'm doing on the street, if I'm busy and I don't want to answer, I say "I'm Google!" But the difference is Google Street View is very automatic. I erase all that I don't need from the image; the wires and the cars. Shooting and stitching is very automatic, I can do that easily, but the longer work is cleaning the image.
Close up of Veduta, Lower East Side
Close up of Veduta, Lower East Side Credit: Jean-Francois Rauzier
CNN: How much time does creating an image usually take you?
Jean-Francois Rauzier: Everybody asks me this but it's hard to say. I remember my first images, using old computers, took about five to six months to make one image. But now it's faster because I have more computers, and an assistant as well. It was six months ten years ago and now it's two weeks.
Sometimes I have to hide a fault, so I use a tree or something. As I've been doing this for about 16 years I have thousands of trees cut out in a library, and it's the same for the skies.
CNN: You are creating images that are both realistic and idealistic. What is the intended effect?
Jean-Francois Rauzier: I'm a dreamer, like many artists. I would like a better world but I know I'm not a manager, a chief, I'm not a president... so I do it my own way, making images to dream and to help other people to dream.
CNN: Why are you so inspired by architecture particularly?
Jean-Francois Rauzier: It's interesting because a lot of architects love my work, which I find very surprising. I'm inspired by architects and I hope I inspire them. I think architecture is, in a way, more impressive than many art forms -- thousands of people live inside buildings and see architecture every day.
I try to show the entire city in one image, to create the best of the city.
Jean-Francois Rauzier
My creations are built mainly with old architecture. I love buildings from the 30s and 40s, and I try to glorify the heritage of all those architects. In my photos, like Vedute, I try to show the entire city in one image, to create the best of the city.
It's the same with the libraries. I collect libraries and for me they are the sum of thousands of people who give their life to create books. There are so many books that you cannot read them in your life.
Angelica, 2010 -- Ideal Libraries
Angelica, 2010 -- Ideal Libraries Credit: Jean-Francois Rauzier
CNN: You say you love classical architecture, but which modern architects inspire you?
Jean-Francois Rauzier: Zaha Hadid, who of course just died. It was very sad. Her work was fabulous and there are not as many women in architecture. I don't know why but it's very masculine. She made so many curves, such soft buildings.
CNN: What are the main themes of your work?
Jean-Francois Rauzier: My first image was about human megacities, it was an anxious vision. When I made my first Babel I drew the man in black, who is a kafka-esque figure. Alone in a big city with big walls, I was afraid. But finally, by traveling a lot, I became very optimistic. Humans make a lot of mistakes, but I'm especially optimistic about cities.
Essentially I am a photographer. The vocation of a photographer is to show, and the first photography was of architecture. I think I am in the tradition of the first photographer.
CNN: But you're showing what could be rather than what is?
Jean-Francois Rauzier: Yes, I want to collect everything to show the best of a city. I also try to be in the head of the architect who constructed the building -- what would he do now with technical advancements? Creating futuristic buildings made with old materials, I love that. Retro-futuristic. It's what could be.
As your images have such high resolution, viewers can often zoom in very closely. What do you feel is the effect of seeing the whole image, as well as the tiny details?
Information. I want to put the maximum amount of information in one image. I would prefer to have one Veduta of Paris than a whole book of images. You can move inside my images. People who have bought them tell me that they discover new details every day.