Today we have a conversation with native New Yorker Vivienne Gucwa, who’s desire to capture the essence of New York City through its landscapes, architecture and neighborhoods are showcased on her blog NY Through the Lens. Vivienne discovered her passion for photography just two and half years ago which has since lead to a successful following across social media & photo sharing sites of over 1.5 million followers! Her work has been featured in a variety of online, print & television publications including The Biography Channel, Newsweek Online and The Huffington Post. With a kind and caring persona, Vivienne is on her way to fulfilling her quest at showcasing her concept of New York City with the world. We hope you’ll enjoy her work as much as we do!
How did you get started with Photography?
I started taking photos in a rather stream-of-consciousness manner. Since I live in New York City, I don’t drive. Without much in the way of material things or financial prosperity, walking became my way to deal with stress. It also became a way for me to experience the city like I hadn’t before. I would choose a direction and walk as far as my feet would take me; I still do this. As the scenery unfolded before me, I began noticing lines, forms and structures that I‘d previously ignored. To embrace my newfound sense of wonder, I took the only camera I could afford at the time, a simple point-and-shoot costing less than $100, on these walking adventures. I just wanted to capture these moments and experiences that made my heart swell.
In 2010, I decided to post these photos online to keep a record of my walking adventures. It was purely for myself, and initially, I settled on using both Tumblr and Flickr to archive them. Since I had no formal training in photography or real knowledge of the rules and concepts defining the field, it didn’t occur to me that I’d have an audience for my work. Having limited tools enticed me to learn more about light, which in turn, has set me on a lifelong journey attempting to capture something as fleeting and vast as the transient quality of New York City.
A wonderful person shared a quote with me last year by Henri Matisse that really resonated with me: “a large part of the beauty of a picture arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium.” I think there is a tremendous amount of truth in this sentiment. When you are limited in some way, you are forced to work extremely hard to get your desired results.
How would you describe your style?
My style seems to be evolving slowly, which I think is a good thing. Without change, art can become stale both for the artist and the viewer. So I’ve become more comfortable exploring a dream-like editing style which is colored by a spectrum of emotions. Where I go with this remains to be seen.
I love how heroic the city appears in your photos, how you personify it through your edits. Is this your intention?
Focusing on a city (and concept) as broad and meaningful to people, as New York has been interesting. While I bring my own personal views and interpretations of the city into my photography, others of course, will bring theirs. Since I grew up here, I weave my own perceptions of the city into my work starting with my earliest memories. I have also been influenced by cinema, music and literature. This has kept my approach focused first on taking photos in the moment as it happens, and then later editing them based on the various influences, memories and emotion(s) I feel while thinking back on that experience. So, I wouldn’t say that I necessarily go out with the intention of creating a mood that colors the city in a heroic light, but if it’s perceived that way, it could be due to any number of influences and emotions that I have while looking back and attempting to interpret the moment I captured the photo.
What message are you trying to convey with your photos?
I hope to share a bit of how I view and experience New York City with others giving them glimpses into what I feel and how I experience certain parts of the city on a regular basis.
Who inspires you and why?
I am really inspired by people who are driven and who follow their passions and dreams with fierce intensity.
You are also a musician. How does this impact your work?
Music plays a huge role in influencing the overall feel of my work as well as my views of New York City. I have played piano since I was three years old. Due to a variety of factors, I had a challenging home life, and I used music to escape in my childhood well into my late teens. I would immerse myself in playing and let the music consume me. It definitely colored and still colors the way I see the world.
I listen to a lot of music when I edit and write the prose and descriptions that accompany my photography. I tend to be drawn to soundtracks from films that also influence my view of the city, like the Blade Runner soundtrack for example. There is a mood that I tend to go for in the majority of my photos and music seems to be the perfect vehicle to enhance it. Music takes me to the creative space where I seem to thrive and gets me to where I want to go in my work.
I am really drawn to surreal photography. I have immense love for the work of Brooke Shaden. She creates intense, dream worlds in each of her photos that challenges the mind to make sense of the alternate realities she creates. I also have been really into the work of Anka Zhuravleva lately as well. Her work has a vulnerability and intimacy that takes my breath away.
Your work has been featured in a variety of online and print publications. What was your favorite feature and why?
I really loved the photo that was used for the book A Killer’s Essence by David Zeltserman. It was requested by the publishing company Overlook Press and licensed to them for usage on this particular book. I loved how the photo really fit the mood of the novel.
When I initially took the image, I had constructed quite a few narratives in my mind about the scene which was a random moment that I captured on a bitterly cold night on the Lower East Side a few winters back. The people were running down the alley because the wind-chill that night was below zero and watching them run down an ice-lined dark alley created an intense sense of claustrophobic panic. I loved that the publishing company seemed to find that sort of mood to be perfect for a crime-thriller.
You’ve been sharing your work on Instagram. How do you like mobile photography and how does it differ from your regular work?
I adore mobile photography. For a long time, I had a negative view of it because I didn’t completely understand it. I thought that it was somehow inferior to digital and/or film photography. It wasn’t until I started to take photos and edit them on my phone that I realized it unlocks an entirely different world of possibility.
Mobile photography reminds me a lot of the first few months I started to take photos, in that there is a certain stream-of-consciousness element to the process of capturing a photo. Because phones are so ubiquitous now, there are fewer barriers to entering the world of photography. You see a scene unfold in front of you, and you can quickly capture it with your phone.
That immediacy lends itself to creating a sense of freedom for taking photos that I wouldn’t necessarily think of shooting with my camera. For example, with my mobile photography, I absolutely love capturing the movement of the city and how people interact within the urban environment. But with my regular photography, a sense of solitude is prevalent in my photos. I tend to capture moments in the city during times when the streets are emptier, when the days and night stretch out endlessly with a sense of solitary possibility.
I think the streamlined process of taking a photo with my phone also lends itself to capturing moments in the city shared with other people, experiencing it at the same time, whether it be someone riding past me on a bicycle down a street or a person taking in the remnants of the day in a neighborhood I frequent on a regular basis.
The tactile quality of editing using fingers and a touch-screen seems to lend itself to more of a zen experience that I really love.
I just recently had the amazing opportunity to work with Lisa Bettany, the co-founder of Camera+, which is a leading iPhone and iPad photography app. I worked on writing the user documentation for Camera+, which was a lot of fun since it’s my favorite mobile photography app. I also just completed the first segment in a documentary web-series where I was interviewed about my photography and had a chance to walk around some of my favorite spots in New York City and wax poetic about them on video. It’s currently being worked on and I look forward to sharing the completed first segment very soon.
If I had a superpower I would love for it to be the ability to distill the essence of New York City down to its purest forms of hope, beauty and possibility in the blink of an eye. Each blink would instantly complete this distillation process and the end product would be a visual representation complete with accompanying prose.