For Elle Decor’s latest cover story, Indonesia-based architectural and lifestyle photographer Martin Westlake visited Green Village, a compound of twelve bamboo houses and villas on the banks of the Ayung River in Bali. Martin had been elected by Elle writer Gisela Williams to photograph the compound’s latest addition: the Eclipse House, a three-story bamboo structure that Gisela describes as a “space-age bird nest.”
Gisela is interested in the use of bamboo for modern architecture, as is much of the global environmental community. Bamboo, which is technically a grass, is significantly less resource-intensive to grow and to harvest than trees are. Some species of bamboo can grow 35 inches in a single day (!), and as a building material, it’s remarkably durable: its tensile strength-to-unit-weight ratio is three to four times that of steel.
All twelve of Green Village’s bamboo homes were constructed by IBUKU, a Bali-based architectural firm founded by Elora Hardy. Before launching IBUKU, Elora had collaborated with her father on the Green School, an elementary facility within walking distance of Green Village that boasts a core curriculum centered on environmental issues.
Given the distinctly ecological bent of the feature, it was important for Martin for incorporate the surrounding environment in both interior and exterior shots. Martin performed extensive reconnaissance to make sure that he’d be able to stage each shot at just the right time of day.
“It was important to get to see the house the day before the shoot. I always make a point of checking out the location in morning versus afternoon light. I check sunrise and sunset position and times.”
During his initial visit, Martin took test shots and angles to send to Gisela, who then made prop and styling decisions for the following day. The shoot started pre-sunrise, at 4:30AM, when Martin began with close-up exterior shots. (He had considered shooting the exterior using a drone before learning that it was prohibited, and had also considered shooting from a hill on the opposite side of the river before learning that the grass there was populated by venomous cobras.)
Gisela and Elora soon arrived to set up the interiors. In order to emphasize the unusual architectural elements of the Eclipse House, Martin and editor-in-chief Whitney Robinson had agreed on a “less is more” styling ethos. “The house is very different from anything I’ve photographed before,” Martin notes, “in that there were very few straight lines – which I really liked.” Martin shot tethered so that the photographs could be reviewed on his laptop and the rooms re-styled accordingly. It was a race against the clock:
“The most challenging aspect of architectural photography in the tropics is shooting interiors. Bali is just below the equator and the windows of soft light are very short, so most of the time there are problems with contrast and lens flare caused by harsh sunlight. The Eclipse House is mostly black bamboo, so the contrast between inside and outside was even more exacerbated than usual. To overcome this, we planned a very tight shoot schedule based around best light times. I also used a white bed sheet as a reflector for a key shot that was strongly backlit with dark bamboo furniture in the foreground.”
Despite the harsh tropical sunlight and threat of rain – November is the beginning of monsoon season in Bali – the single-day shoot went off without a hitch.
“This was a dream shoot for me. It was nice to concentrate all of my energies on one location and to photograph such an incredibly beautiful house. Collaborating with Gisela and Elora on this project resulted in a smooth and stress fee day’s work. And I hadn’t been briefed to shoot a cover image, so it was a lovely surprise to see that one of my shots was selected for the front cover.”
See more of Martin at martinwestlake.com!
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