For the past decade, Vivienne has been photographing New York City, initially with the only camera she could afford – a sub-$100 point-and-shoot. But rather than being a limitation – her imited equipment taught her to pay attention to light, composition and color. New York is a city made for street photography and the city proved her perfect muse.
Q: How did you get started in photography?
I had quit my job in 2008 to go back to school to finally finish the degree which I had abandoned nearly a decade earlier. I had spent years supporting myself in New York City and decided to do something to enrich myself. I enrolled in a pre-med program. It goes without saying that transitioning from working 7 days a week to becoming a full-time student in a pre-med program proved to be a rather stressful transition.
To deal with stress, I would for miles around New York City. I realized while walking around NYC that there were many moments and beautiful scenes that I wanted to preserve in a more tangible way. However, I was still so broke that I couldn’t even afford a smartphone or a smartphone plan. I went on Amazon and purchased the cheapest point and shoot I could find. At $79, it was a huge investment at the time. It had one button and a few settings (one of which was broken!). And it went with me on all of my walks around the city.
In 2009, I decided to finally post the photos I had accumulated along the way online. I knew nothing about posting photography online and had heard that blogs were a great place to post photography. I literally googled the word “blog” one evening and Tumblr came up as the first search result. I decided to create my blog, NY Through The Lens on Tumblr purely for myself as a way to view my collected images online.W ithin a few months of posting my photos to Tumblr, I amassed close to 70,000 followers and I was both humbled and touched by the messages I would receive on a weekly basis. This inspired me to keep photographing the city.
Eventually, I received quite a few offers from clients to feature my photography in publications, book, on album covers, on book covers, and as prints. This inspired me to upgrade from my point-and-shoot to a camera that would allow me to shoot higher quality images. I upgraded to a Sony A55, set the camera on Manual Mode and learned everything I could about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO while out shooting the city daily.
Q: Many photographers believe they must travel to some place exotic to shoot great images. I’m impressed that you’ve done it in your own backyard. How do you find fresh ways to capture the familiar?
The fantastical elements of how I perceive New York City are something that I intend to keep on imbuing into my photography. The exploration of what is reality and what is perceived reality filtered through a variety of influences is a key focus of my work. Having grown up in New York City, I have always harbored a dreamy, fantastical view of New York City.
Most of my photography is heavily influenced by cinema, music, and other art forms as I have a background in fine art (painting and art history), I am also fascinated by different forms of nostalgia especially when it comes to how color and tones can influence those feelings of nostalgia.
What keeps photographing New York City fresh is exploring all of the elements I just described. New York City is a city that is constantly changing and evolving which also makes it endlessly challenging to photograph.
Q: Did you discover new things about New York while shooting for the book?
Creating a book of New York City photography and writing was a fascinating process because it forced me to view New York City in a more thematic way than I had already contemplated when posting to my photography blog. I was able to discover certain themes that I have gravitated towards over the years and it was fascinating to explore these themes more in depth.
Certain themes like winter in New York City really grew exponentially once I realized how focused I was on exploring all the emotions that winter in New York City can bring to a person like myself who is in love with the feeling of being outside in a snowstorm in New York City.
Q: If you had just 24 hours in New York City – what would you do in your perfect day in New York?
I think New York City is best experienced without any sort of plan. When people ask me how they should approach exploring the city, I always tell them that the best way to explore such a vast, iconic city like New York City is to pick a neighborhood, go there, and then let yourself wander and explore.
A perfect day in New York City would probably begin with a fantastic breakfast with coffee and then a meandering walk through some of my favorite spots in the city: Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Central Park.
Q: You’ve recently shot jobs in France and Martinique how did that experience differ from shooting in New York?
Travel photography has been very enjoyable for me in that I really enjoy being taken out of my comfort zone (New York City) and given the challenge of exploring places through my lens. I get really wrapped up in the history and culture of the places I photograph and both France and Martinique have very interesting histories that definitely influenced how I approached exploring both places and how I ultimately ended up photographing them.
Q: How has your gear changed since the first images that you shot in this book?
The book covers everything from my humble beginnings with the point-and-shoot to images that I shot professionally for clients over the years. The majority of images in the book were taken with the Sony A99 which was the camera I used for a large portion of my photography once I went full-time as a photographer.
I recently switched to mirrorless cameras this year which has been nice for my back and arms in terms of the weight of the gear. It’s also been great in terms of shooting photography with a higher level of image quality than before. Many of my clients request large scale prints of my work. Being able to shoot with the A7R which is a 36 MP camera that produces images with a striking amount of detail has made me very happy and has made my clients extremely happy as well.
Q: If there’s anyone out there who’s not already following you, where can they find your work and follow you?
New York City Photography Blog: http://nythroughthelens.com
Travel Photography Blog: http://travelinglens.me
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+VivienneGucwa
Vivienne’s Favorite Photo Gear for Shooting in New York City:
ONA Camps Bay Camera and Laptop Backpack (Amazon | B&H)
Sony A7R camera (Amazon | B&H)
Sony A7S camera (Amazon | B&H)
Sony FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS lens (Amazon | B&H)
Sony FE 35mm F2.8 lens (Amazon | B&H)