NEW YORK — Balthazar Korab, one of the leading architectural photographers in the period after World War II when Modernist design remade the American landscape, died Jan. 15 in Royal Oak, Mich. He was 86.
Long before the Internet and frequent-flier miles, the way that new architecture found national and worldwide audiences was through published photographs by Mr. Korab, Ezra Stoller, Julius Shulman, the firm of Hedrich Blessing, and a handful of other leading commercial photographers. How they saw and interpreted the buildings in front of their lenses shaped the perceptions of untold numbers of viewers.
Mr. Korab captured the romance, moodiness, and humanity of even the most austere postwar buildings.
‘‘I am an architect with a passion for nature’s lessons and man’s interventions’’ was how Mr. Korab described himself in a statement on his website, balthazarkorab.com. ‘‘My images are born out of a deep emotional investment in their subject.’’
He was best known for his photographs of buildings by Eero Saarinen, at whose office he briefly worked in the 1950s, and of the town of Columbus, Ind., which became a showcase of distinguished modern architecture under the patronage of the industrialist J. Irwin Miller.
In conventional architectural photos, a viewer beholds a pristine structure, sharply etched by raking light, but is left without a sense as to how the space is used or inhabited.
Though capable of such formal work, Mr. Korab did not hesitate to place people front and center when warranted, like a skinny teenage student with an ice cream cone hastening to class at the Northside Middle School in Columbus, by Harry Weese.
Neither rain nor snow stopped Mr. Korab. He was not afraid to let a couple of flowering magnolia trees share the spotlight with Saarinen’s home for Miller, nor to let a pair of naked trees rebuke the soulless environment around Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, which have since been demolished.
‘’Korab’s portfolios contain frequent sharp reminders that architecture is always entangled in broader cultural circumstances within which it is created and by which it is transformed,’’ John Comazzi, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Minnesota, wrote in ‘‘Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography,’’ a monograph published in 2012 by the Princeton Architectural Press.
Mr. Korab, who lived in Troy, Mich., was born on Feb. 16, 1926, in Budapest, to Antal Korab and the former Anna Fellner. During the postwar Soviet occupation of Hungary, his family determined that Balthazar, an architecture student, must escape to the West. He made his way to Paris and was accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.