In Focus is Archinect's series of features dedicated to profiling the photographers who help make the work of architects look that much better. What has attracted them to architecture? How do they work? What type of equipment do they use? What do they think about seeing their work in blogs?
In this feature, we talk to New York-based photographer Andrew Prokos.
Archinect: What is your relationship with architecture?
Andrew Prokos: I always had a love of architecture even as a child. I would look at books about famous European palaces and castles for hours on end and loved to build models of buildings and modify them endlessly. Perhaps it was a bit of escapism from suburban existence. I considered studying architecture in college but decided against it, so it's ironic that I ended up being an architectural photographer. Ultimately I just really respect and appreciate beautiful architecture, and the importance of it in our daily lives.
What drew you to architecture, as a photographer?
AP: I think that my photography of architecture is an extension of my love of the urban environment. I was born in Chicago and moved to New York City at 20 to go to grad school and also lived in Europe for two years. I was always surrounded by great cities and great architecture, so it was a natural subject for me as a beginning photographer.
Describe how you work.
Ultimately it's your interpretation of the architect's work that will shape how the public will see the building, and that's a responsibility for the photographer.AP: I ask a lot of questions up front and really try to have a firm grasp of the project from the client’s perspective, both conceptually and of the on the ground realities of the project. It’s important to know exactly what the client’s expectations are, and to step into their shoes for a second to consider their point of view. Ultimately it's your interpretation of the architect's work that will shape how the public will see the building, and that's a responsibility for the photographer. In a perfect world as photographers, we could just focus on the creativity of our photos, but in reality a big part of commissioned work is instilling trust in the client and hand-holding. The client is also your biggest asset in producing good work...they can get access to locations and clear many obstacles when needed!
Who are your clients?
AP: My client base is split between commercial shoots and fine art photography, so I have a very broad range of clients. On the commercial side, I shoot for architects, developers, ad agencies, and other corporate clients. On the fine art side, I also work with art galleries, art consultants and designers on commissioned fine art photography or sales of my existing fine art photographs for their spaces. I probably have a larger portion of work originating from ad agencies than the typical architectural photographer, and I find that is due the diversity of my portfolio and the fact that ad agencies are looking for a more fine art approach to their creative these days.
Do you mostly work in a specific region? What is your travel schedule like?
AP: Most of my commissioning clients are in the New York City metro and Washington DC metro areas, but I have shot all over the United States and abroad. I recently completed a series of industrial shoots for Evraz North America in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Oregon that was very logistically challenging and rewarding. The shots incorporate the western landscape into a lot of the photos, so it was something new for me. I was commissioned by an ad agency in Atlanta for that project, and the client is in Chicago...so location isn't always the deciding factor.
In the last few years it seems that the turnarond time for shoots is getting shorter and shorter, which necessitates being a lot more flexible with scheduling.With regards to travel...there are times when I am in New York at a retouching station producing fine art prints, and times when I am traveling for shoots. In the last few years it seems that the turnarond time for shoots is getting shorter and shorter, which necessitates being a lot more flexible with scheduling. I try to get out of New York to shoot for myself for a few weeks a year if possible. In the last few years, it's been to Brazil as I was shooting a lot in Rio and Brasilia. That ultimately paid off in an unexpected way with my series “Niemeyer's Brasilia” winning at the International Photography Awards this year. The story was published in magazines, newspapers, and blogs all over the world, so it was very gratifying to see that all the work involved was rewarded.
What is your goal when capturing buildings in photographs?
AP: With commissioned work, the priority is to show the building in the best possible way...meaning to capture the building's strengths while minimizing its weaknesses. It's fairly rare to find a building that doesn't have any flaws, so what you omit is often just as important as what you include in the shot. I try to distill what is best about the space while still remaining faithful to the design. With regards to fine art photography, it's all about the photographer's subjective interpretation of the building. In my fine art work, I am basically using the building as a point of departure and breaking it down to isolate the pieces I find most interesting to show to the viewer...so it's often highly abstracted.
What are your thoughts about including people in your photos? Is it important to photograph a building in use, or by itself?
AP: This is a good question. I will sometimes shoot the same setup with and without people if time allows in order to give the client options. Beyond lending a sense of scale to the building, showing people just makes the photos more lively and approachable and gives them context. Interestingly enough, my commercial work has influenced my fine art work in this way. I used to exclude people rigirously in my fine art work, but over time I have been including people more and more. One example is my photo of the Guggenheim Museum rotunda…in the photo you see people hanging over the edge looking down from various points in the spiral ramp. It’s both fascinating and amusing to see them there in the scene.
What are your favorite pieces of equipment?
I tend to take the simplest, least complicated approach as I don't want to be distracted while shooting.AP: Well, I am old enough to have learned how to shoot interiors using chrome film and colored gels or filters to balance the light. Honestly, I don’t have the slightest bit of nostalgia for those days. I think digital is far superior for the normal demands of architectural shoots…especially for interiors. I am not an equipment fetishist…to me they are just tools utilized to actualize what vision I have of the shot. Photographers can argue all day about whether a large format camera with a digital back is superior to a 35mm camera with a perspective control lens. I tend to take the simplest, least complicated approach as I don't want to be distracted while shooting.
Do you work alone?
AP: It depends on the complexity of the shoot and the budget. If there is a large space to be lighted, definitely not. A good assistant is invaluable in setting up the lights and the shoots with more complex shots. With smaller shoots, I often handle it alone.
How do you feel about seeing your photographs on blogs and websites?
AP: I love to see my work on high quality blogs that present interesting work that I've never seen before. There is also an explosion of new digital magazines presenting amazing photography out there. I do insist on a photo credit with a link back to my website though. Commercial sites are obliged to purchase a license to use the photo unless it's in the context of a story about my work.
Andrew Prokos – Bio:
Andrew Prokos is an award-winning architectural and fine art photographer based in New York City. His work has been widely published in magazines, including: Casa Vogue, Communication Arts, DesignBoom, Dezeen, Digital Photographer, Metropolis, and PDN Edu, and has been used in advertisements for some of the world's top brands. He has received commissions from a variety of clients, including architects, property developers, ad agencies, and corporate clients and has had the pleasure of photographing projects by Gehry Partners, Foster + Partners, Handel Architects, Studio Daniel Libeskind, and Oscar Niemeyer, among others.
Andrew's fine art photography has won awards at the International Photography Awards (Lucies), the Prix de la Photographie (Px3), the London International Creative Competition (LICC), and the Epson International Pano Awards. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York, the American Institute of Architects, and in numerous corporate fine art collections throughout the USA, including: Anheuser-Busch, Booz Allen Hamilton, K2 Advisors, Kimpton Hotels, KPMG, Merrill Lynch, and Moody's Corporation. Andrew welcomes inquiries regarding photo shoots, fine art print sales, exhibitions, and image licensing requests.
You can see more of Andrew’s photography at andrewprokos.com.