New York photographer Vivienne Gucwa re-discovered her city through walking and shooting what she saw. Though she alternates between formal and mobile photography, Gucwa's passion for her home (and her medium) has only deepened through the years.
Through her website NY Through The Lens, Gucwa has gained a steady, loyal following of locals, NYC-lovers, artists, photo enthusiasts, and social media shuttbug fans, all of whom Gucwa takes the time to chat and interact with. She has close to 75,000 subscribers on her Facebook page, and her Instagram photos garner hundreds of 'likes' within minutes of posting. It's touching to see how grateful Gucwa is for each "like" and compliment online; she frequently interacts with her followers, offering tips, thanks, and questions of her own.
Gucwa's inherent curiosity is reflected in her intuitive work; through her eyes, New York City becomes a multi-faceted character, warm and welcoming one moment, angry and threatening the next. Media outlets have picked up on this artistic talent, and her work has been featured in a variety of big-name websites (BoingBoing, Gothamist, Curbed, Time Out NY, Yahoo News, Newsweek Online, Village Voice Online, Buzzfeed) and in print (including the inaugural issue of the Lo-Down Magazine), as well as on television (The Biography Channel) and has also been used by a variety of artists for cover photos. Noted musician Ryan Adams used Gucwa's work for his single "Lucky Now."
Gucwa recently shared her thoughts about living and working in NYC in a changing visual landscape, where inspiration is plentiful but monetizing work is difficult.
How did you become interested in photography?
I don’t drive, and without much in the way of material things or financial prosperity, walking became a way to deal with stress; it also became the main way to experience New York City in a way I hadn’t before. I would choose a direction and walk as far as my feet would take me (I still do this). I started noticing lines, forms and structures I had previously ignored. Scenery unfolded before me as if it was just rendered before my eyes.
To embrace my new-found sense of wonder, I took the only camera I had at the time: a simple point and shoot that was less than $100. I just wanted to be able to record the moments and experiences that made my heart swell. After doing this for several years, I decided to post my photos online in 2010, to keep a record of some of my walking adventure photos. It didn’t occur to me that there would be an audience for my photography.
The Manhattan Bridge and the New York City Skyline. "A wonderful person shared a quote last year by Henri Matisse that really resonated with me," says Gucwa."'A large part of the beauty of a picture arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium.' I think that there is a tremendous amount of truth in the (idea) that when you are limited, you are forced to work extremely hard to get the results you desire."
You've listed the equipment you use on your site, but do you use a mobile phone for photography? What are the benefits and drawbacks? Do you favor one over the other?
I just recently started to use a mobile phone for photography. I haven't fully abandoned regular photography in favor of mobile photography (yet), but I do find the process of taking and editing photos with a phone to be tantalizing. Mobile photography reminds me a lot of the first few months that I started to take photos, in that there is a certain stream-of-consciousness element to capturing a photo. Because phones are so ubiquitous, there are fewer barriers to entry into the photography world. You see a scene unfold in front of you and can quickly capture it, without worrying about lenses or tons of controls; this can be a benefit, but can also be a drawback since you sometimes want extra control over light and exposure that you get with a camera. Another drawback is that it can be very difficult to take high quality mobile photos in low light.
However, I truly believe that in time mobile photography will catch up to and perhaps even surpass digital photography. There are already so many incredible phone photo-editing apps that rival digital photography editing software.
"The Day Pauses", Botanica, Lower East Side. "I actually find the process of editing phone photography to be far more of a zen experience than editing my digital photos," Gucwa explains. "It could have something to do with the more tactile quality of phone photo editing apps. They're designed to streamline the editing process with results that are strikingly beautiful. It's an exciting time in terms of the sheer number of innovations being made on a regular basis in mobile photography."
How useful has Instagram been as a tool for helping you spread the word about your work (and selling it)?
Having only been on Instagram for a little over two months, it's hard for me to gauge its value in helping to spread the word about photography. Something that I find incredible about Instagram is how encouraging and engaged the community is on a daily basis. There are so many incredibly talented artists on Instagram and a large variety of art communities that challenge everyone to stretch their imaginations and create in ways that I haven't yet seen on other photo sharing networks. I have also come across a tremendous amount of artists who only just discovered their talents after picking up their phone and starting to take and share photos. The level of enthusiasm from other Instagram users helps to encourage these budding new artists and because of this, I think that Instagram and other mobile-centric art communities will become more and more valuable over time.
How have you seen the Lower East Side change? What is it about the neighborhood that inspires you?
I have lived on the Lower East Side for two years. The neighborhood, like much of Lower Manhattan, has been undergoing a rapid state of change. Growing up in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s, some of my earliest memories of the area were of stores art and music venues that catered to niche crowds of outliers. The neighborhood was a mecca for artists and immigrant families back then since New York City was still recovering from the economic crises of the 1970s and rents were cheap. The neighborhood is no longer as bohemian and edgy as it used to be. Rents have skyrocketed and in the place of punk rock venues there are now trendy boutiques and upscale restaurants.
"Wealth of Tales", Doyers Street, Chinatown. "These are streets that represent so much more than merely a geographical spot," Gucwa says of Chinatown. "These streets are the embodiment of a core concept that has defined New York City for many decades. The sheer density of people that grace these streets with their presence seems to imbue (them) with the weight of their aspirations."
However, despite all the changes, I still feel the most at home here on the Lower East Side than I have anywhere else in New York City. I think it is because I am in such close proximity to Chinatown which reminds me a lot of where I grew up, in Flushing, Queens. While Chinatown is undergoing its own series of changes, the rate of change seems to be slower in Chinatown compared to the Lower East Side or the East Village. Because of this, I tend to take a lot of photos of streets in Chinatown and in other parts of Lower Manhattan that, for me, fill in the image of New York City that exists in my mind.
As an economic lighthouse and representation of (the steadily crumbling concept of) the American Dream, New York City has attracted people from all over the world, especially during the last century. The LES and Chinatown are still home to many of the original tenements that were standing one hundred years ago when waves of immigrants came to New York City, following their own hazy image of what (it) embodied in their minds. Those who traverse the streets today are not so far removed from earlier waves of immigrants who traversed the streets of New York City for many decades.
"Crossing", Lower Broadway. "I had no formal training in photography, no real knowledge of the rules or major concepts that defined the field," says Gucwa. "Working with the limited tools that I had really enticed me to learn more about light, and set me on a lifelong journey of trying to capture something as fleeting...as the transient quality of New York City."
What's the best part of shooting in NYC? The most challenging part?
The best part of shooting in NYC also happens to be the most challenging part of shooting in NYC: the transient quality of its landscapes. That it means so many different things to so many people. Something I strive to do with my photography is to attempt to distill something as enormous a concept (and location) as New York City into visual and tangible emotion. Since New York City means so many different things to so many people, it can be hard to convey what it means to me but photography combined with writing has helped me with tackling such a challenge.
You recently wrote a blog entry outlining the challenges of monetizing online activity, especially creative work; do you see this issue resolving any time soon? Would you consider making photography a full-time career if you could?
When I wrote that post, I did not anticipate the response that it ended up generating. I received around 250 comments on it over on Google Plus which opened up a great discourse on the current realities of monetizing art online.. There is a staggering amount of art that is online, and people are paralyzed by choice when it comes to purchasing art. This fact, along with the ubiquitous nature of cameras and the ease of putting art online to sell, has not only democratized photography but has also in some ways flooded the online marketplace. Many artists do not make a living purely off their art but make the bulk of their money off of workshops, tutorials and e-books.
"Sun Fire", The NYC Skyline in Silhouette at Sunset. "One of my biggest dreams is to one day to have the means to be able to explore the rest of this vast world," confesses Gucwa, "and to capture as much of it as I can with my photography and writing in the same way that I have devoted myself to capturing the essence of New York City with my images and words."
In terms of viable avenues of revenue from photography, shooting weddings, portraits, food and events seems to be more profitable than landscape and fine art photography. However, with the barriers to entry being lower and lower even in terms of those viable avenues I listed, I believe that, in time, this will drive profits down as well. It will be interesting to see how technological advancements and mobile photography will influence these revenue streams. With more and more people doing workshops, tutorials and books, only time will tell if the market for these sources of income for artists will get as saturated as the online marketplace.