Q&A with Andrew Pielage, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unofficial Photographer

Travel and architectural photographer Andrew Pielage is on a personal crusade to photograph all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.  Modernism Weekly sat down with the Phoenix-based photographer to learn more about his noble quest.

Andrew Pielage was born to an adventurous mother and a geologist father, and spent his childhood exploring the backroads of the Southwest.  This constant desert travel rooted his artistic soul in classic landscape photography. A few years and many new adventures later, Pielage’s photography evolved to include shooting urban scenes and beautiful architecture, finding new and progressive ways to capture our world through the camera lens.  His journey eventually led to shooting Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, which in turn has propelled Pielage into the international limelight as he embarks on another artistic adventure.

What made you decide to become Frank Lloyd Wright’s unofficial official photographer?
That sounds way too important of a title to me! It’s more about the experiences I document than any unofficial title. I was asked on an NPR interview how many Wright sites I wanted to photograph, and without thinking, I said all of them – and boom, the project and that title started. Now that love for Wright has turned into a full-on obsession. I am always looking forward to the next one.

There are 532 FLW buildings.  How many have you shot so far?
Yes, 532 in total but only 431 are still standing today. I have photographed 60 of them. And when I say photograph, that means both interior and exterior access.  Drive-bys and peeking over fences don’t count towards the project.

What has been your absolute favorite to shoot so far?
Each Wright site is so unique in their own way, so that’s a hard question. But I think some people don’t realize that just like people, some Wright sites and architecture, in general, are more photogenic than others. All his designs have a flow, and tapping into that flow is different at each site. A fun site for me was Unity Temple in Oak Park. The lines inside are some of the most amazing I’ve seen anywhere. I was blown away, I had to stop and sit down inside the space for 15 minutes before I started photographing.

Have you been surprised by anything or any particular project?  Unexpected discovery? 
Once I get the green light to photograph a new Wright site, the preparation begins. I am fortunate to have access to the archives at Taliesin West, so it usually starts there. But on a recent assignment with Travel Wisconsin photographing the Wright Trail, I got access to a private home called the Bogk house. I knew very little about the house and had to focus most of my studying on the sites that were officially on the Wright trail – the Bogk house was not. I remember I was late and rushing over from the American System Build houses to get there before dark.  When I walked in I was blown away. The carpet, the furniture, the lighting, it was all there with all of Wright’s bright colors. The owner said I could stay as long as I wanted to photograph. I asked her how she would like her coffee in the morning. I honestly could have stayed all night photographing!

What’s your favorite part/aspect of shooting Frank Lloyd Wright’s work? 
So many to choose from. My roots are in landscape photography and that is one of the reasons I was so drawn to Wright’s designs. He thought home and hill should be one, and so it’s really fun and a great challenge for me to attempt to blend those in my photographs, as well as Wright did in his designs.

Where are you headed next and which projects are you going to shoot?
2019 is going to be awesome. I will be taking my annual pilgrimage out to the Madison/Chicago area in August. I have the green light on the Guggenheim and the Darwin Martin house in New York. I am also working on some sites in Michigan and will be adding a few Wright sites to my photography workshop list as well. I keep my website updated, so you can always check the blog there for the latest information.

Don’t miss Andrew Pielage at Modernism Week, where he’ll be speaking with architecture critic and writer Alan Hess about his work, and leading an intense 2-day photography workshop taking participants out and about in Palm Springs to shoot some of the city’s most well-known midcentury modern structures.

Tickets available for Photographing Frank Lloyd Wright conversation on Feb. 20 from 9am to 10am.  Limited spots available for Andrew Pielage’s 2-Day Photography Workshop Feb. 21-22 from 6am to 6pm.