We Find Solace in These Things

Hello, strangers.

I know I owe y’all the harrowing tales of the LEED GA exam and of the second round of the New New York Photo Corps. Sometimes, though:

Once I get my head on straight I’ll come back at you with the LEED exam info (which a lot of people have been asking for to help them survive the ordeal) and about a million other things I’ve mentally written in my head over the last couple of months. Here and now, though, I’ll at least catch you up on the NNYPC story.

Let me begin by backing up and ‘splaining you something I don’t think I have ‘splained: why I bothered taking on this volunteer project when I had so little free time to begin with. My love of photography began during architecture school—architects have to take a lot of photos (no time for sketching in these fast-paced times), since we sometimes get only a single visit to a site to understand and internalize all the design issues present. So photos, along with Google Earth and Google Maps Street View (oh man have those come in handy so many times), are scrutinized and studied throughout the design process for clues to the nature of the place.

I managed to get a decent point-and-shoot digital camera one summer by including its cost in a grant I wrote that enabled me to spend a couple of weeks in Barcelona studying the nature of the public/private and slow/fast borders there (yet another topic I should write about here, if I don’t write a whole book on it). That was an AMAZING trip. But I was by myself in a country I’d never been to. I can speak Spanish a bit, and I had crammed as much Catalán into my head as I could, but I was alone, a stranger in a strange land.

I had a great time, though, because I had a job to do—take pictures. I got up early every morning and went to all kinds of neighborhoods to take hundreds of pictures (if it were today it would be more like thousands—I was not yet quite as prolific a photographer as now). The neighborhoods were sometimes touristy, sometimes working class, sometimes fancy, sometimes historic. The pictures I made weren’t works of art, but they enabled me to see the city in a new way. I was able to indulge my love of details, my love of public space, and my curiosity about the world in an entirely new way. I took pictures of curb cuts and bollards and planters and doorways. I studied benches and trees and mailboxes and alleys. Barcelona is a city rich with details, with history, and with a lively streetlife at times bordering on total chaos. But it never quite crosses the line, and the cars and pedestrians share plazas and streets in an entirely different way than I had ever seen before. So cool.

In the afternoons I did the standard—but also amazing—architourist thing, eschewing the tour buses and taxi cabs for the subways and city buses to take in every architectural marvel the city had to offer. Somehow in the midst of all that I had time to shop at the Boqería and all kinds of other small food shops and eat at a lot of fantastic restaurants. But without the photography I wouldn’t have gotten to know the city nearly as well, I wouldn’t have had the energy to see so much of it (the daily siestas helped with that, too), and I wouldn’t in fact have had the excuse to go in the first place.

The whole Barcelona adventure was key, but I would not love architecture as much as I do if it weren’t for the digital revolution. I never loved film photography, and while I totally respect people who do, I would never have fallen in love with making photos if I had to deal with chemicals and dark rooms or even hand my film over to a processor and wait for its return. Digital, however, feels natural. I’ve been using Photoshop since the good old days when it only had one level of undo (ah, halcyon days of youth), and the whole process of digital photography is just a joy to me. Oh, it’s often a ton of work, but fun.

Add all that to the advent of Flickr, where I could share photos, see other people’s photos, and most importantly learn about what equipment/settings they had used, and I was hooked. Have I mentioned how much I love Flickr? A simple comment on Flickr makes me feel connected to the world. With Flickr I can show my pictures without a gallery, without an agent, without a book deal. So my photos don’t just pile up in shoeboxes in the corner of a closet. They go out in the world. And I’m sure they get reused, repurposed, and stolen (and I wish they wouldn’t), but for now I’m just happy they get out in the world a bit. One day I hope to have more control over at least some of them, but right now that gives me the focus and motivation to keep taking pictures and keep getting better (and no, Flickr is not paying me to say any of that).

Speaking of hopes, I do one day hope to be my own architect, working for myself. But I know that my angle of interest does not fall 100% inside of architecture (and my idea of architecture does not match up 100% with everyone else’s) and photography is one of the things I want to incorporate into my practice. Photos for architecture, photos of architecture, photos of architectural details, photos of life in the city, photos of design of all kinds. I’m still developing my photographic voice, but that’s the plan.

…OK, that’s already longer that I planned, so I’ll save the actual NNYPC bits for the next post, OK? See you then. In the mean time you can see some of my photos from the NNYPC parts one and two on Flickr if you like.



This entry was posted on Sunday, December 13th, 2009 and is filed under architecture, photography. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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