photography by Nikola Olic
text by Brantley Hightower, AIA
In 1827, Nicéphore Niépce took what is thought to be the earliest surviving photograph. Although barely recognizable, the ghostly image featured the courtyard of his family’s country estate in eastern France. In other words, the world’s first photograph was an architectural photograph.
The technology facilitating the capture of photographic images has advanced considerably in the nearly 200 years since that first photograph was taken. In that same time, architectural photography developed a number of unspoken rules to ensure that two-dimensional representations of buildings effectively communicated their three-dimensional reality: Horizons are to be level. Third vanishing points are to be avoided. Context is to be provided.
The work of Nikola Olic routinely breaks some if not all of these rules. If the primary goal of conventional architectural photography is to explain the built environment, his photographs brazenly abstract it. Originally from Serbia, Olic studied engineering science at the University of Texas at Arlington. That background allows him to see urban environments in unexpected ways.
“I’m attracted to structures in computer science without which technology wouldn’t work,” Olic says. He’s similarly attracted to the patterns and rhythms that define the built environment, which he highlights in the images he creates. Despite having no formal training in architecture or photography (or perhaps because of this fact), Olic’s compositions are playful and disorienting in a way that architectural photography rarely is.
Although they often feature well-known Texas architectural landmarks, his photographs obscure key details that might otherwise offer clues regarding scale and perspective. In doing so, he transforms recognizable buildings into something new. Just as a jazz musician improvises melodies over existing chord progressions, Olic crafts novel visual compositions using the forms and patterns of the built urban fabric.
“I’m surrounded with a nearly infinite visual language of these buildings,” Olic says. As he explores the streets of Fort Worth or Dallas or Houston, he uses his camera not as a mere tool of documentation, but as a means of active creation. “A building can flatten, a building can break a line, and a building can become the new vertical or the new horizontal, which throws off your sense of comfort where you are.”
That intentional discomfort — that way of looking that does not prioritize the communication of architectural intent — is a key element of Olic’s work. “It recognizes the variety of what I see and the joy of lining things up and breaking things down.” That seemingly contradictory act of deconstruction via alignment allows Olic to reappropriate the familiar to create the surprising.
Although his work may appear digitally altered, it is not. A written description accompanies each of his photographs, along with the specific geographic coordinates describing where it was taken. This information helps ground the image while demonstrating that his unique view of architecture is available to anyone willing to look at the built world from a slightly different perspective.
Brantley Hightower, AIA, is the founding partner of HiWorks in San Antonio.