“Oh, look! There’s a building in the desert!” Seriously. The Headquarters of the United Nations sits comfortably and picturesquely amid an Arabian desert, dunes of nothingness behind its modern and clean façade.
Then, there’s the Chrysler Building, quite literally stuck in the sand, its well-recognized spire enveloped in a cloud of dust. It’s an unexpected and beautifully depicted juxtaposition – equally as jarring and intriguing as it is stunning and evocative. Outside of their original context, do these buildings become more beautiful? Do they feel isolated or surprisingly right at home? The ambiguity and subjectivity strikes a chord, and it’s the artist’s ultimate goal.
Designer and photographer Anton Repponen meticulously curated the “Misplaced Series,” a photography collection he officially launched in April, which places iconic New York City buildings against unexpected and remote backdrops, such as the Lanai Islands of Hawaii and Costa Rican volcanoes.
“Now imagine those buildings restored to [their] original design, with clean facades, no garbage, no scaffolding… and [placed] somewhere else, somewhere very far away,” Anton says. Having taken up photography at the age of 14 and studied architecture before becoming an interaction designer, Anton, now designer and co-founder of Anton & Irene Design Studio in Brooklyn, has always had an affinity for shape, form, film and digital. This is what ultimately drew him to the challenge of visually restoring buildings to their original design and placing them elsewhere, where they can breathe new life and establish a new kind of visual harmony – all left up for interpretation.
It was German artist Markus Brunetti’s “Facades” series, a 10-year project that captured the intricate architecture of some of Europe’s most iconic churches from a distinct, head-on perspective, that first inspired Anton to experiment with his photography. Taking on the technical challenge, Anton tried various techniques, both in photography and post-production, ultimately unearthing the style of what would become “Misplaced.”
“When I was retouching my photos and removing all of the city noise, such as scaffolding, signs, people and cars, I got to the point where I started removing other surrounding buildings in the frame, streets and sky, until there was just one isolated construction left,” Anton explains. “That’s when I decided to use something else for the backdrop, some surreal landscape that would match each building and bring more focus and attention to it.”
The initial process began with an arduous review of tens of thousands of photographs from Anton’s travels. The deliberate matchup involved painstaking attention-to-detail, ensuring that shadows matched, for example, and taking into consideration everything from the positioning of the sun to parking zones when photographing each building. The results were mesmerizingly complex, and it wasn’t long before the series unfolded.
“The moment I completed a building, I posted it on my Instagram (@repponen), like, ‘here you go; there’s Breuer on Mars.’ I continued experimenting with techniques and the retouching process and got those images out on Instagram, too. Once I looked at them next to each other, I realized that they looked 10 times stronger together as a series, rather than as individual one-offs,” Anton recalls. “That’s when I decided to turn this into a project. I made a list of buildings that I would like to include, got on my bike [to go see them all] and spent a few months working on and off in the evenings and weekends.”
The series’ 11 images depict everything from the Guggenheim Museum and The Standard Hotel to the Metropolitan Opera and Cooper Union, all set against landscapes from Peru and the dunes of Jericoacoara in northern Brazil to Maui.
While the Guggenheim image is the most impressive, according to Anton, his favorite is Cooper Union. It took the longest to complete and was the most challenging to capture, retouch and position within the landscape. The 16-hour process included manually drawing the ground floor from scratch due to the construction that was taking place at the property during that time period.
At www.misplaced.design, each of the images is paired with short, fictional stories by journalist and audio producer Jon Earle, helping bring the project to life in an ingeniously witty and believable way.
“I think what resonates most with people is that it actually looks somewhat real,” Anton says. “The nicest compliment I received while working on the series and posting works-in-progress on Instagram or Facebook was when someone commented on The Standard Hotel image, saying ‘OMG! Where’s that abandoned hotel? Can I go there?’”
Arguably, the relevance and appeal of Anton’s “Misplaced Series” also stems from the relatable coexistence of old and new, with the tension of both giving way to the creative expression that has come to reflect this generation’s pursuits across design, art, business and even travel.
“Throughout my career as a designer, personal projects were always a big inspiration for me and kept me busy and interested during moments when I had to do client work that perhaps I did not find very interesting,” Anton says. “I believe there are people reading this magazine who might be in the same position. If you have an idea, go work on it, at night, on the weekend, doesn’t matter. The most important thing is to start, because you never know where this idea might take you. For me, that’s the beauty of personal work; I don’t need to know what it will end up being. It’s more fun like that.”
That unexpected destination might just be the most fitting one yet.