Architecture

Markus Brunetti’s Monumental Church Façades

All images from the series Façades © Markus Brunetti

The journey began in 2005 and it’s not over yet. For self-confessed nomad and photographer Markus Brunetti, Façades - a series of large-scale images of European churches and cathedrals - still needs more work.

He got the idea for it while travelling through the continent with his partner, Betty Schöner, in their so-called “expedition truck”. A vehicle they’d converted themselves, the truck allowed them to live and work on the move, travelling from country to country on what the Bavarian calls their “Grand Tour”; it also allowed them to take time out from their busy working lives as commercial photographers, and to let projects unfold at their own rate.

Born into a family of builders and architects, Brunetti soon found himself drawn to the sacred places they were passing on the way.

“During the first year of our journey, I developed a precise visual idea of how to approach the series – a very clear, minimal, reduced representation of the façades, an idealised picture so to speak,” says the 50-year-old. “I studied the original drawings and plans of the façades I was interested in. The technical realisation developed over time and is something I refine and improve on with each new work.”

All of the churches and cathedrals in the series were taken in central, western and southern Europe, explains Brunetti; he and Schöner researched their trip but had no set travel agenda, and often adapted their route as they went along. “Very often locals suggested where to go and sometimes we discovered regional styles unknown to us,” says Brunetti, citing the azulejos design of the Paróquia de Santa Marinha in Cortegaça, Portugal as an example. “Europe is a fascinating continent because of the diversity of cultures in such a small space.”

For Brunetti, the series is not just an inventory of famous churches but a very personal project. He and Schöner visited some churches several times over many years to get the right shot, and they inevitably faced numerous setbacks along the way. “Sometimes the sheer dimensions of the buildings caused problems, but weather, traffic, light, ongoing construction, parked cars, busses and all kinds of tourism [also posed problems],” says Brunetti. The couple visited Cologne Cathedral five times in seven years, for example, due to ongoing construction and restoration work on the building’s façade – but even so, he says it’s been a labour of love.

“Sacred buildings represent the culture of the time in which they were built, which is what fascinates me about the façades of European churches,” he says. “The most ambitious were designed by architects who would never live to see the finished building as they took hundreds of years to build. The ornaments, sculptures, and stones were made by the best craftsmen of the day with the aim of creating something for future generations to look up to.”

Brunetti showed 33 works at Les Rencontres d’Arles festival in 2015 in his first international solo show, (notwithstanding a smaller exhibition before this in Cologne). The Arles exhibition, curated by Markus Hartmann, featured enormous prints, the majority measuring 180cm high by 150cm wide, which allowed visitors to both stand back and soak up the sheer size, or move closer in and pore over the meticulously rendered details. “My works should enable the viewer to look at them, detached from time and space, [and] to study them carefully without distraction,” says Brunetti. “Next we want to travel to east and northern Europe. The longer we travel and develop the series, the more ambitious the images will become.”

See more of Markus’ work here.