Architectural photographer Dennis Gilbert (1951-2021): an appreciation

Architectural photographer Dennis Gilbert has died aged 70. Founder of View Pictures, one of the foremost agencies for architectural imagery, and an honorary fellow of RIBA, he helped shape our perception of contemporary architecture

The acclaimed architectural photographer Dennis Gilbert has died at the age of 70. Gilbert was not only an exceptionally talented photographer in his own right, but he also established View Pictures, one of the foremost agencies for architectural imagery. Set up in 1983, when Gilbert was just 32, View was well placed to chronicle the growing international reputation of British architecture.

Gilbert personally worked with some of the best, including Norman Foster, David Chipperfield, Walters & Cohen, O’Donnell + Tuomey, and 2020 Pritzker Prize winners Grafton Architects. Other architectural photographers who contributed to the agency include Peter Cook, James Brittain, Fernando Guerra, Christian Richters, Richard Glover and Edmund Sumner. The result is a vast archive of imagery of architecture from around the world

Timber Wave, installation for London Design Festival 2011, by Amanda Levete Architects, photograph by Dennis Gilbert

Gilbert trained as an engineer in his native South Africa before studying photography at the California Institute of the Arts in the 1970s. He subsequently moved to London, where he established View and began his career at the very height of traditional film technology, when each and every shot was the result of the painstaking relationship between careful planning with Polaroid film, and meticulously calibrated exposure and processing, resulting in detail-rich transparency images that will retain their vibrancy and life for decades.

Digital brought a new challenge, one that Gilbert rose to with skill and patience, never losing sight of the enduring power of the image, despite the exponential increase in competition from all quarters. He was equally adept at capturing context as well as details, making use of different times of day to emphasise light and shadow playing across façades. 

Saw Swee Hock Students’ Centre, London School of Economics, by O’Donnell + Tuomey, 2014, photograph by Dennis Gilbert

Gilbert also worked extensively for the National Trust in the UK, and in 2005 he received an honorary fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for his substantial contribution to contemporary architecture. He transitioned to the creation of short films towards the end of his career, bringing the same levels of care and meticulous attention to detail that characterised his photography.

‘Dennis was a joy to work with, an incredibly poetic and gentle man, trusted and admired by the architectural community,’ says Wallpaper* editor-in-chief Sarah Douglas. ‘It was always a highlight seeing him – contact sheet or transparencies in hand, beaming with enthusiasm for the building that he had just shot. Dennis made a tremendous contribution to architectural photography – he will be missed, and his impact and legacy will live on.’

It would be churlish to say that architectural photography had a heyday, when so much of what we do depends on the supreme talents of the men and women who work hard to capture contemporary architecture in all its splendour. But modern architectural photography is definitely different; new technology and new timelines, plus an almost infinite number of platforms and outlets have democratised the art to unseen levels of ubiquity.

Dennis Gilbert was one of the modern era’s originals, a photographer with a rare talent for showing architecture as both beautiful and functional, helping shape our perception of what makes a great building. §

Dolce & Gabbana, Milan, by David Chipperfield Architects, 1999, photograph by Dennis Gilbert

Medical School Building and Student Accommodation at the University Limerick, Grafton Architects, 2012, photograph by Dennis Gilbert