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Best of ASMP 2008

In renovating a dilapidated house near the C&O Canal, architectural photographer Anice Hoachlander created an idyllic home that is also beautiful to photograph. Architect (and client) Robert M. Gurney’s master plan transformed the space in phases over a 10-year period. During this time, Hoachlander and Gurney integrated many details admired from the architect’s other projects. The resulting photographs have been extensively published and garnered multiple design awards.

Anice Hoachlander — Washington, DC

Web site:
Project: The 10 Year House project — A dream home renovation serves a dual purpose as the site of award-winning architectural photographs.

All images in this article © Anice Hoachlander

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

AH: I have been working as an architectural photographer since 1986 and have owned my own business since 1990. From 1982 to 1990, I was a full-time photographer and vice president of Harlan Hambright & Associates, an architectural photography studio here in WDC. I purchased that business from Harlan in 1990 and started my own business, Hoachlander Photography Associates. In 2002, I formed a partnership with one of my employees, Judy Davis. We are now Hoachlander Davis Photography, LLC. There are four photographers in our studio — three architectural photographers and one photographer who serves as our studio manager and master color printer. We have a number of outside assistants, as well, who are on call.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

AH: Since 1994.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

AH: Architectural photography, specializing primarily in commercial and residential interiors.

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

AH: In photographing my own house, I applied the processes and techniques I use in photographing any residence for an architect. Initially scouting / discussing with the architect, defining the views, creating a shot list. Then, we organize and create a schedule for time of day and staging — props, etc., of each view.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

AH: My entire camera system. Each piece is integral to the other. I use a large format Arca Rm3d, numerous lenses and a Phase One digital capture back with Capture One software. And then there’s my laptop. Could not do anything without it.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach, or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

AH: I am extremely interested in communicating my client’s design intent. I always have my clients walk through the project with me on a scout and discuss the work from a story/concept point of view. Then, I go about interpreting their description of the design through the photographs. I always make sure that the time of day the project is photographed reflects elements of the design intent.

ASMP: Your dream was to live in a house that you would also like to photograph. Please describe all the ways that making this dream a reality has impacted your life and business.

AH: Because I am now living in a house that was in itself a design process, I better understand an architect’s thought processes that are used to transform a combination of ideas into a three-dimensional, functional living space. And most importantly, I get to live in a house that I love to look at.

ASMP: In terms of price, location, photogenic quality and existing infrastructure, please talk about the attributes of the sites you viewed during your home search that were most important to your decision-making.

AH: I love to transform space. This is the second house my husband and I have renovated and I am currently in the process of creating a new studio for our business in a space “that needs lots of work.” Any time that my husband and I saw a space that was “finished,” we instantly thought about what we would have done that better suited our needs. So we decided it wasn’t worth buying something that someone else had improved. We looked for a property that was in need of tender loving care. (The first house we bought was condemned!) With this particular project, we were looking for a wonderful neighborhood to raise our two children, both in terms of families and a good school system. I happened to find the neighborhood we live in now during a couple of hours of down time I had while I was photographing a project nearby for one of our architectural clients. The site is a stone’s throw away from the Potomac River and the C&O canal. Our living room looks out onto Federal parklands on the C&O canal. Also, having access to the outdoors for walking, biking and boating was of utmost importance.

ASMP: Please describe the architectural elements incorporated into the renovation of your house to make it photogenic, including the shape and interior spaces, the textures, colors and unusual design features, and the siting and surrounding landscape.

AH: I have always been very attentive to the amount of light that is our home. I love to see sun raking across a wall or a sunset out a window. The architect we hired to design our house was a longtime client of mine and I knew that he had the same sensitivity to light and form and function that I did. Both my husband and I love the outdoors and wanted to feel like we were living outside inside. Our living room could not be a better place to sit by the fire and watch a sunset any time of the year or snowfall in the winter. It feels like you’re part of the surrounding scenery.

ASMP: What distribution channels (specifically stock distributors, photography portals or social networking sites) do you use to market your images? Did this house project lead you to set up any new distribution channels? If so, please elaborate.

AH: Most of our work is commission-based, with a small amount of income derived from stock. Our architect, Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, always submits to design competitions and this house has won many design awards to date. Because of this, we have gotten a lot of exposure. We also contacted magazine editors who regularly publish my work. So far, this project has been published 5 times, twice as the feature cover story (Trends Magazine and Custom Home Magazine).

ASMP: Please describe your collaboration with the architect on this project. Did you plan this as a ten-year project at the outset? If so, were there particular strategies used in planning to keep this timeline on track?

AH: From the very beginning, Bob Gurney was mindful of the fact that we wanted to create a house that needed to be done in stages because of budget. He designed a master plan that could be implemented over time. We worked on the kitchen first, the living room, the children’s wing, then the front entrance/office and finally, the master bedroom/bath and dining room. The master plan stayed true to the footprint and initial design. When I was on a shoot with Bob photographing another one of his projects, I would point out a detail and say “Hey, I like that design element — think we can integrate that into our living room?” We kept on track because I have always been very deadline oriented because of my job, so sticking to a 10-year time frame was easy enough.

ASMP: You mention that this project was developed so that you could do much of the work on the house yourselves. Did you learn anything from working on the house that has benefited your architectural photography work?

AH: I have to say that working on the house ourselves was pretty much my husband’s love. I helped but was really taking care of our young children at the time. Luckily, he and I had the same vision and tastes. Working on the house on the weekends was his release from his completely unrelated job during the week (International Development and non-profit work).

ASMP: Please talk about the transition of your business from being a sole proprietor to a corporate partnership. What were the most important elements that were weighed in changing the structure of your business?

AH: My partner, Judy Davis, was my employee for 10 years. She apprenticed with me and was shooting full time for a number of years when we formed our partnership. It was a logical transition, if she was to stay working with the firm. Since then, we have trained two other photographers, one of which is working currently photographing as our associate, Allen Russ. When we train a photographer, they apprentice as our first assistant for at least 3 years.

ASMP: Within your current business structure, how are projects allocated between partners / staff members? Do you each work independently or take a team approach to projects, or both?

AH: I would say all of the above. The main reason we have a partnership is to be able to give each other support, to work as a team of photographers on a big project and stay involved as a community, sharing ideas and discoveries. If a project comes in for a partner who is booked, the other partner or associate can step in. Because we have all worked together for so long, our styles and approaches are very similar.

ASMP: Your Web site mentions that your business is specialized in interior lighting techniques. Please elaborate further about your philosophy of lighting a space.

AH: Even with the advent of HDR, we are true believers in interior lighting. We love digital techniques and embrace anything that helps us create better photographs. However, there is still no substitute for a raking accent light to create depth and texture. We use the same approach to lighting now as we did when we shot film. It seems to have served us well.

ASMP: Do you have any favorite tips or tricks for lighting a space to share with others?

AH: I guess the biggest tip I can share is to not scrimp on lighting even though you think you can approximate it in Photoshop. I have been hearing from numerous magazine editors that they really appreciate when photographers still take the time to light.

ASMP: When discussing a prospective assignment with clients, is there any one question that you find to be most important or telling?

AH: Every project is different, so no, not really. Certainly time of day, how the project is sited is one of the most important pieces of information to obtain.

ASMP: Has the recognition and publicity surrounding your Ten Year House project had any impact on your relationships current clients? Has it attracted new clients?

AH: Nothing can help more for our business than helping architects win awards and get published. Many of our clients knew that I was working on this project and were very supportive. I still have not had a party for all of our clients who have heard, non-stop about all the stages and phases we went through! Maybe this year!

ASMP: This was a large, complex, long-term project. What did you learn from completing this project that would be useful in future business or creative endeavors?

AH: I have learned through all of this that I absolutely love to transform space. I am in constant awe of what architects are able to do and how they are able to see through dimension and time. I have spent many years translating space and “flattening” it to two dimensions. Thinking in terms of volume and functionality has taught me a lot about how my clients think and process the ideas of their clients.

ASMP: Looking back on this project is there anything that you would do differently? Are there any parts or elements to the house that are still in progress or you would like to change?

AH: Thinking back, the only thing I would have done differently is plan for a family room. We now have a 15-year old son and 10-year old daughter and much of their time is spent in the living room with their friends. While I love to be around them, my husband and I often find ourselves in the back yard or in our little office. Also, at this point, we are continuing to work on the landscaping. And of course, since this project took us 10 years, we are now in the process of upkeep! Just hired painters to put on a fresh coat of paint on the whole house and we’ll need to update the dishwasher soon….ah, well.