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Brad Feinknopf

April 20, 2015 /

01 brad.jpgWindsor Super Market Windsor, North Carolina; Project H © Brad Feinknopf

By Pygmalion Karatzas

Being from a family of architects, Brad Feinknopf has been subjected to architecture all of his life. He has been doing commercial and architectural photography for over 25 years and has done a wide variety of work for many of the world's most well-known architects. Recently, ArchDaily selected Feinknopf as one of their 'Top 13 Architectural Photographers in the World'.

Feinknopf received a degree in Design from Cornell University, but from an early age developed a passion for photography. Subsequently, he spend several years assisting notable photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Arnold Newman, among others. In 1988, Feinknopf moved to Columbus, Ohio where he established his own studio.

His professionalism is evident in his enthusiasm and dedication to his craft, his engaged commitment to quality, and his belief in the fhe notion that good architecture can make a positive difference in people's lives.

We are pleased to present his thoughtful perspectives on the many aspects of architectural photography alongside selcted examples from his outstanding oeuvre.

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Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University East Lansing, Michigan; Zaha Hadid Architects © Brad Feinknopf

03 brad.jpgMilstein Hall at Cornell University Ithaca, New York; OMA © Brad Feinknopf

04 brad.jpgShaker Heights Private Residence, Cleveland, Ohio; Dimit Architects © Brad Feinknopf

05 brad.jpgHoward Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Farms Campus, Chevy Chase, Maryland; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

06 brad.jpgMcGee Arts Pavilion at the School of Art & Design, New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University Alfred, New York; Ikon.5 Architects © Brad Feinknopf

07 brad.jpgE.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Ikon.5 Architects © Brad Feinknopf

Pygmalion Karatzas: Mr. Feinknopf thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss and show some of your work with us here at arcspace. Could you tell us about your background and how did you start being involved with architectural photography?

Brad Feinknopf: I guess my involvement with architecture, not specifically architectural photography, goes back to my youth. Both my grandfather and father were architects and from an early age I was looking at buildings and going to job sites; watching my father take pictures of projects. There began my pursuit of architecture.

As a result of my family background , I wanted to be an architect so I pursued a degree in facility planning and management from Cornell University. I hoped it would give me a greater understanding of how to design a space so that I might go into architecture in grad school. Around my junior year in college, I had numerous friends who were photography majors and encouraged me to take a photography course. Up until that point, I really had no exposure nor interest in photography. Fortunately I had an excellent mentor who approached photography as a way of looking at the world not merely the technology cameras and film.
From there, began my love of photography.

The next stage in my development was when I graduated from Cornell University and felt that I needed further education. I moved to New York City to work as a photographer's assistant and had the good fortune of working with photographers such as Richard Avedon, robert Mapplethorpe, Arnold Newman, Horst and others. After spending several years in New York I moved back to Columbus, Ohio, my birthplace, and assisted and started shooting projects here. Ultimately, I ended up in a partnership with a fellow photographer who shot fashion, lifestyle, and product work while I did corporate, architecture and interior work. Probably due to my exposure to architecture for so many years, I had a predilection for architectural photography.

Over the years, my skills grew and so did my clientele. The partnership was helpful, in that, it allowed both of us to grow at a much more rapid pace than we might have as independent photographers. Ultimately, for a myriad of reasons, the partnership ran its course and I began working independently. Though the partnership was valuable early on in my career, having independence over the last nearly 20 years has been far better for me personally and professionally.
Over the last 25 years, I have built my reputation largely by word of mouth, and often a large or signature architect would have a project in the region and would ask for recommendations and in turn, I would have the opportunity to work with them. In many of these cases, they found the quality of the work and the working relationship so positive, that instead of merely doing a single local project for them, that relationship grew into working for them all over the country. Probably, the two clients who have played key roles in my advancement would be Rafael Viñoly Architects and HNTB.

In a curious twist of fate, I happened to shoot the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the Pittsburgh convention center, which ended up appearing in Architectural Record. Viñoly's office saw the images, and liked them. Through that introduction, began a long-standing relationship where I have shot over 20 of their projects over roughly the last ten years. I am proud of that relationship because it has not only been for an internationally recognized architect but, also because, it has not been a one and done, but a long standing and on-going relationship.
In the case of HNTB, my first project was a local two-lane bridge. I have told this story many times to young photographers; to never discount a client or a project based upon size, because you never know where it may lead. HNTB, was very pleased with the work that I did on the two-lane bridge and from there hired me to shoot the Toledo Mudhens Stadium. After The Toledo Mudhens Stadium they hired me to do the renovation of The Ohio State Buckeye's Stadium, Ohio Stadium. Then I photographed the Denver Bronco's Stadium, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, for them. At this point, I shoot several high-profile projects a year, all over the country, and it all started off with a simple two-lane bridge.

08 brad.jpgBoston Convention and Exhibition Center Boston, Massachusetts; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

09 brad.jpgThe Connor Group Corporate Headquarters, Miamisburg, Ohio; Moody Nolan © Brad Feinknopf

10 brad.jpgSouth Franklin Circle, Chagrin Falls, Ohio; GUND Partnership © Brad Feinknopf

PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach? 

BF: In essence, my photographic approach goes back once again to my upbringing of a son of an architect. I truly believe in thoughtful architectural design and that light and lighting should all be a part of that design. With that being said, I always wish to communicate the space as naturally as possible. To reflect the architect's intent. Additionally, going back to my facility planning and design degree, I am equally interested in how the inhabitants of a space utilize the space itself. I feel very confident about the direction that architectural photography has moved towards: showing spaces with people in them as opposed to the cold, sterile, empty images which populated most of the architectural digests of 15-20 years ago.

11 brad.jpgJohn & Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland ; Behnisch Architekten & Ayers/Saint/Gross © Brad Feinknopf

12 brad.jpgKenyon College Gund Gallery, Gambier, Ohio; GUND Partnership © Brad Feinknopf

13 brad.jpgRecreation & Physical Activity Center (RPAC) at The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio; Moody Nolan © Brad Feinknopf

14 brad.jpgHorvitz Hall Studio Arts Building at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio; GUND Partnership © Brad Feinknopf

15 brad.jpgMilstein Hall at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; OMA © Brad Feinknopf

PK: Your career spans more than 25 years. Which aspects of your work have remained consistent and which have evolved and changed over the years?

BF: As far as those things that remain consistent; attention to detail and the desire to show the projects I shoot in the best possible light has always remained the same. That being said, much has changed. 25 years ago, you entered a space with numerous lights, and a film camera. Virtually every space required lighting; it was a means to an end, but not necessarily the best possible end. Often spaces from that era looked lit, and therefore, detracted from the architect's real intent was. The images were a creation of the photographer's lighting and not necessarily the architect's design. Today, I use far less lighting, and feel that my end results are much closer to what my original intent is: to capture the space as the inhabitants actually experience it. Today I am capturing more of what I see in my mind's eye than I have at any other point in my career.

I think the other thing that has evolved over my career is a better understanding of architecture. I would honestly say that for the first ten years of my career, I was just starting to understand architecture and how to approach it. There is the naive belief that to photograph architecture is to stand in a corner with a wide lens and document the space. That approach, is overly prevalent throughout the industry and rarely, if ever creates, any images that are much more than mediocre. It seems like a simple concept, but when you are early in your career, it is often harder to grasp.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers, discusses a concept of it requiring ten thousand hours to achieve mastery of a skill. Though every day I am trying to better myself and improve upon my skill set, I also know that I have spent well in excess of ten thousand hours behind the camera and every second, minute, hour, has all built to this point an understanding of architecture that I bring with me to every project.

16 brad.jpgBecton Dickinson Corporate Dining Facility, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey; Hillier © Brad Feinknopf

17 brad.jpgReynoldsburg High School Summit Road Campus, Reynoldsburg, Ohio; Moody Nolan © Brad Feinknopf

PK: What is your experience about the relationship between architects and the photographer?

BF: Every project is different and, sometimes I do not have the pleasure of an architect or project architect to be on location and I am given the opportunity to explore and find on my own. I often don't want to know a great deal about the project, and I have not been a huge advocate of doing walk-throughs or seeing construction photos. I want my experience of the building to come from the gut and I want every turn to be a surprise. I want the building to unfold before my eyes and have excitement at every turn. I feel, through this excitement, my creative juices begin moving. I truly want to lose myself in the building and for days I am there to be totally immersed in the experience of that building. I often find that when there is an architect on site, that they often have spent so much time with the building that they cease to see it with fresh eyes.

Going back to the fact that I grew up in the home of an architect, I have been living and working with architects all my life. Part of the greatest joy in photographing a project is collaborating with the architects. I am very interested in getting into the minds of the architects and trying to better understand the intent behind the architecture that they've created. This dialogue and interaction tends to energize and feed my creative curiosity about the architecture and architectural process.
I don't go to a project and take hundreds of shots that are merely documentation of that project. I am very definitive about my image making. I determine the appropriate time of day for the images, which is highly critical, and then I stylize and perfect my subject matter to the best of my abilities. Ultimately, the final shots are mine and I am very definitive about my images and what I want them to look like compositionally and what I want them to express.

The interaction and collaboration with the architect is part of that process, but they are in noway directing my shots or telling me where and how to shoot; other than, that they may need specific images of particular aspects or spaces within the building. How those images are executed, when they are executed and composed is entirely my photographic vision.

18 brad.jpgJohn & Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland; Behnisch Architekten & Ayers/Saint/Gross © Brad Feinknopf

19 brad.jpgUniversity of Chicago, Chicago School of Business, Chicago, Illinois; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

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Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University East Lansing, Michigan; Zaha Hadid Architects © Brad Feinknopf

PK: Since the Pittsburgh Convention Center shoot you have developed a relationship with architect Rafael Vinoly. Tells us what makes this collaboration special for you in reference to his work and vice verse.

BF: First I think it's important to understand that my relationship is more specifically with Rafael Viñoly Architects PC as a studio and not simply the man himself. In fact, it wasn't until I had shot approximately 20 projects for Rafael, that I actually got to meet the man. I had several opportunities to meet him earlier in the working relationship, but wanted to prove myself before feeling worthy of an introduction I have always been impressed by Viñoly's use of glass and his desire to bring natural light into the spaces that he has designed. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is a perfect example of this. Convention centers had typically been big boxes with dark, dank convention halls. Viñoly's thoughtful approach: to use a fabric roof structure that would fill the convention halls with softened daylight; created a convention center unlike anything I have ever seen before. I think his understanding of light and how it affects the human condition has been integral to every project that I have photographed for his office. Other examples of this have been in his laboratory spaces that go far beyond the cinder block walls and wooden lab benches that were once common to the design of these spaces. He brings to laboratories bright, open and airy spaces where a scientist can work and enjoy the space within which he works. Architecture should be for people. We should aspire to design buildings in which we live, work and play in a way that heightens the human experience within those spaces. Additionally, over the period of time working with Viñoly's office, I have become friends with many of the partners and directors and so the work is not just work for a client, it is work for friends.

In most cases, my relationship with my clients is not that one of a client/vendor; it has developed into something more. I see myself as an extension of their firm. My goal is not merely to take good images for them, but to help promote them in any way, shape or form possible. These are my friends and I want the very best for them. Many times I have said that I feel that I live vicariously through my clients. if in some way my imagery has helped to get them published, win design awards or new client work, then, I have done my job. I often take greater joy at the achievements and accolades that my clients are recognized for than my own.

21 brad.jpgDavid L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

22 brad.jpgHoward Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Farms Campus, Chevy Chase, Maryland; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

23 brad.jpgDavid L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

24 brad.jpgCalifornia NanoSystems Institute UCLA, Los Angeles, California; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

PK: In the beginning of your career you worked with renowned protographers Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Arnold Newman, Horst, Joyce Tenneson. Could you share with us some of the lessons you got from them?

BF: Early on in my education, I was told that you can't know where you are going unless you know where you have been. I therefore have an extensive library both photographic and architectural. I go to that library for understanding and inspiration. I think apart from understanding the past the benefits of being mentored and assisting I still see as being invaluable.

I was extremely fortunate that my first job out of college was assisting Richard Avedon. I don't say that because it was "Richard Avedon", but from the fact that there was so much to learn about the profession in the Richard Avedon Studio. In the Avedon studio, the constant striving for perfection, in every single aspect of the studio, was held at a premium. It mattered not only how the photographs were created, but how the packages were wrapped, the studio was painted, and eve how the floors were swept. Everything, and I mean everything, was to be perfect at all times. That high standard of excellence I carry with me today, and the desire to create architectural images with perfection is a never ending task.

In addition to this pursuit of perfection, each of the various photographers that you mentioned had a very different approach to their subject matter. Some worked with strobes, some with tungsten light, some with daylight, some shot with 8x10, some shot with 2 1/4, some shot with 35mm. Though all the above photographers' subject matter was fashion, each of them approached it a very different way. Despite their different approaches, each of the photographers were masters in their own right. Recognizing this gave me great exposure to an awful lot of different ways of doing things yet showed me that there is not one single acceptable solution; there are many you can choose from.

Naturally, what I do every day is all about choices. Where to setup the camera, what lens to use, what angle to shoot at, to light or not to light; it is all about choices. 

In much of the same way in which I gained experience working from the likes of Avedon, Mapplethorpe and Newman, I know many photographers cut their teeth assisting within the Hedrich Blessing organization or at ESTO. They do this to learn approach and learn the ropes of their trade. Many of my past assistants I have encouraged to move to a larger city to assist so that they may broaden their experiences and see how others approach their subject matter. Hopefully, the experience of working with me has positively impacted them, but I don't expect any of them to go out there and shoot like I do. I expect them to draw from their numerous experiences and arrive at their own distinctive style and approach pushing the profession even further.

25 brad.jpgKenyon College Gund Gallery, Gambier, Ohio; GUND Partnership © Brad Feinknopf

26 brad.jpgTrinity Episcopal Church, Toledo, Ohio; Rogers Krajnak Architects © Brad Feinknopf

PK: How has the transition from film to digital been for you and what are the pros and cons between the traditional and digital dark room? 

BF: I must admit, I approached the transition to digital with great trepidation. I shot 4x5 film for over 17 years and was a little intimidated by digital. Now that I have switched and have been working in digital for over 8 years, my comfort zone has changed and I feel my end product is better than it has ever been.

There are certain things that I miss about film. I miss composing things upside and backwards in the 4x5 camera. I miss the time that large format took and the fact that it slowed you down and made you consider everything. I miss the warmth that film would bring. It is much like, the audiophile who prefers listening to a vinyl album over a CD. The CD is almost too crisp and perfect -- the vinyl still has a level of warmth to it that digital does not possess. I think that is true of film and digital photography as well.

Many clients have remarked that they prefer working with photographers who started in film. For film has given these photographers a baseline from which to judge. Too many photographers who only have shot digitally, assume that whatever comes up is correct and really don't have an idea in their mind's eye of what they are trying to achieve. I see a lot of work out there that is overly sharpened and saturated. Yes, it jumps off the page, but does it feel quite right? Despite the fact that I am shooting digitally, I want a level of warmth and humanity to my images; not just gloss and pop.

Now that I have discussed some of the cons of digital, some of the pros are the simple fact that, as I have touched on previously, one can create a more natural looking image than by filling a room with strobes to balance out the windows. Mixed lighting is less of an issue as there was a time when you would need to go into an environment and put colored gels on every single one of the light sources to balance them out. The fact that I no longer need do that is no question a relief. I also appreciate the fact that I can shoot at faster ISO's comfortably with digital than I typically could with film (unless I was willing to accept large grain) and thus can capture movement within a space. All in all, as I have said previously, I am able to create more of what I see in my mind's eye via digital than I was able to with film.

I just read a wonderful quote by the photographer Josef Koudelka that I couldn't agree with more, "Everyone has a camera, everyone can press a button. Everyone has a pencil, everyone can make a signature. But that doesn't mean there are many great writers and it doesn't mean there are many great photographer."

27 brad.jpgNational Institute of Health John Edward Porter Neurosiences Research Center, Bethesda, Maryland; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

28 brad.jpgTom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Los Angeles, California; HNTB © Brad Feinknopf


PK: Have online media outlets change/affect the traditional dissemination of architecture? How do you project the publication world shifting in the future?

BF: Without question, online media has affected the dissemination of architecture. With so many architectural blogs out there, and many particularly good ones, the access to architecture has never been greater. Daily - and this is just with the blogs that I choose to follow -- I am bombarded with a half-dozen or so email updates from architectural blogs and rarely does new work go unnoticed. It is truly amazing how much "sameness" is out there and it makes you realize how much good architecture truly separates itself from the norm.

As much as seeing all of this online information is embraced and appreciated, it only makes my appreciation for seeing the printed publications that much greater. Printed publications must be much more discerning in their taste and therefore, you tend to be separating much more of the wheat from the chaff. My greatest concern about the online media is the urgency that architects feel to have new projects photographed for promulgation. Often, the cart is put before the horse and there is a desire to photograph a project before the project is truly complete. Even when a project is complete, it may not be the best season for that project to be photographed. My greatest desire is to encourage my clients to step back and recognize that we are creating an important document of that project that may exist long after that building exists in some cases, and that we should be thoughtful in our approach.

Ultimately, there will probably be a time when printed periodicals no longer make sense, but I do not look forward to that time. I may be "old school" but I still greatly enjoy the physical sense of holding a piece and experiencing the printed matter.

29 brad.jpgWoody Hayes Athletic Center at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; HEERY © Brad Feinknopf

30 brad.jpgWilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, Avoca, Pennsylvania; HNTB © Brad Feinknopf

31 brad.jpgThe Ascent at Roebling's Bridge, Covington, Kentucky; Studio Daniel Libeskind © Brad Feinknopf

PK: Could you describe some key moments that made you feel you honed your craft and were milestones in your learning curve?

BF: I am not sure that I feel that I have honed my craft, or that I ever will. I feel that it is a journey and I am constantly striving to be better. I think over the course of that journey my vision has become refined and I have much better sense of composition and image making than I once did. Every project has its challenges, and every project is a journey in and of itself. Almost every project we approach we start with the wonderment of "How are we going to do this?", and "Can we walk away with exceptional images?". Several days later we reflect back and are generally pleased with our efforts.

I suppose if I had to pick any specific milestones, it has not been in the actual taking of the images or seeing those images published, as much of it has been looking at what other photographers who I respect have done on those same projects and how my images hold up to theirs. In particular, I look at my images of the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University by Zaha Hadid or Milstein Hall at Cornell University by OMA. In both cases, some of the top architectural photographers in the world have photographed those same buildings. In every case, many of the images we (myself and others that have photographed these two projects) have walked away with have been similar, ;however, in every case, I feel I have walked away with a few select images unlike anything anyone else has found. Those images, are milestones. When you are up against the best in the world and still can walk away with something uniquely your voice, that is something special.

All of this is a journey, not an ending point. I will always be looking for the next challenge and wanting to always see improvement within the work.

32 brad.jpgEli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University East Lansing, Michigan; Zaha Hadid Architects © Brad Feinknopf

33 brad.jpgMilstein Hall at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; OMA © Brad Feinknopf

PK: From your experience which are some key points about the business aspects of photography?

BF: I think there has a been a changing landscape in regards to the business aspects of photography since I started in the field. 25 years ago, there was no internet and therefore it was very hard to get exposure despite what good work you might be doing. Especially, if you were not located in a major city. You would put together your portfolio, in a print version, and you would send it out to people hoping that they would like your work. With the internet, you are able to distribute your portfolio much more easily not just nationally, but internationally as well. You can now call up a client halfway across the world, encourage them to take a peek at your work via your website, and then almost look through it with them and discuss the work right then and there, being on the same page. This fact alone, has made it far easier for photographers like myself, who may not be in a large metropolitan city, to still get noticed and recognized for the quality of the their work. I often have said, "Buildings don't come to me, I must go to them." So where I exist should not have any bearing on whether or not I should be the photographer to photograph a particular project. Nine out of ten of the photographers selected will have to travel to their destination; therefore, I feel I am just as viable as anyone else out there. The internet has made this so.

I will say that the digital age is a double-edge sword: it has allowed you to distribute your images more easily, but that it has allowed your images to be distributed more easily. Protecting the rights to your images is becoming more and more difficult. I am not concerned about blogs, sites like Pinterest or other various social media entities utilizing my image for I feel that it is good not only for myself, but for my clients as well. I have said before, I want my clients to receive the maximum amount of exposure they can from my images. That being said, there is also, with every building, many major companies whom have some involvement (the window blind, lighting, floor, furniture companies for example that have a need for great images that can benefit them in their marketing and advertising. These are the rights that I want to protect, and sadly, from time to time, we have caught people utilizing our images unauthorized. Copyrighting your images and protecting your rights is integral to the 21st century photographer.

I am teaching an architectural photography course right now at the Columbus College of Art & Design, and if there is anything I want to impress upon my students it is the importance of protecting their rights. I think few photographers realize that beyond the simple photography of the project there is a fair amount of income to be derived from associated parties, vendors and other various entities involved within a project. It is not easy making a living with photography and one must at all times be aware of the revenue sources that your images can bring and be careful with them and protect them.

34 brad.jpgWaccabuc House, Waccabuc, New York; Chan-Li Lin © Brad Feinknopf

35 brad.jpgShaker Heights Private Residence, Cleveland, Ohio; Dimit Architects © Brad Feinknopf

36 brad.jpgGrajo House, Powell, Ohio; Jonathan Barnes Architecture & Design © Brad Feinknopf

PK: One of the subtle tasks of photographers is editing their work. How do you choose which of your images make the cut and which to leave out?

BF: It really depends upon what I am editing for. Intrinsically, I am always editing. I am editing my shots on location; I am editing images that I want to be in my portfolio, on my website, in a promotional piece; the process of editing is a neverending one. I will say that I rarely like my work at the time of creation and it isn't until some time has passed and I can reflect upon it that I can really discern what images I like. Often, I find it quite interesting to have an objective observer look at my work with fresh eyes. I often defer to similar images and discount others until someone shows me their merit.

From a commercial side, the determination of which images we retouch for delivery is made primarily by the client. That being said, there are often times images not selected by the client that I still choose to retouch because I feel these still have worth and don't relegate them the "trash bin".

37 brad.jpgJohn & Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland; Behnisch Architekten & Ayers/Saint/Gross © Brad Feinknopf

38 brad.jpgHilton Downtown Columbus, Columbus, Ohio; HOK, Moody Nolan, Turner Construction & Smoot Construction © Brad Feinknopf

39 brad.jpgOhio Holocaust Memorial, Ohio Statehouse Lawn, Columbus, Ohio; Studio Daniel Libeskind © Brad Feinknopf

40 brad.jpgBOOST! Exhibit at the Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond Virginia; ROTO Design © Brad Feinknopf

PK: What are your thoughts about the various artistic architectural photography sub-genres? How would you define fine art architectural photography?

BF: As much as I might hope that my work could fall in the realm of "fire art photography", I know in my heart of hearts that it does not. It is commercial work with a commercial intent. I don't believe it falls into any of the sub-genres of architectural photography. If at some point, down the road, someone wishes to deem my work as fine art, that is fine, but that is not what I am setting out to do or aspire to do.

I am fascinated by many of the sub-genres, but admit, I am happy I do not fall into any one of them. I look at the work of many in their particular sub-genres and greatly appreciate the work within its own realm, but find having to work within a sub-genre as restrictive.

One of my early professors said, "One of your most important assets is your library", and I started early-on collecting photography books, many of which focus on the architectural environment. The first four books I purchased were The Work of Atget: Volumes I-IV. My collection over the last thirty years has grown to nearing 200 books and I have books by everyone from Bernd and Hilla Becher to Michael Kenna, Gregory Crewdson, Robert Polidori, Andreas Gursky and more. Each and every one of these books I love and appreciate. More recently, I have been collecting more books that are purely architecture: books by Ezra Stoller, Balthazar Korab, and even Iwan Baan's 52 Weeks, 52 Cities. All of the images featured in these books were created with, in most cases, a more commercial intent. In retrospect they are beautiful images and possibly even art. If in 50 years my work finds itself in a similar arena, that would be nice, but I have no expectations.

With all this said, I don't believe there is a set definition of what architectural photography is. Architecture and architectural photography is open to interpretation. We cannot and should not create parameters around which to define it.

41 brad.jpgDavid L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

42 brad.jpgJazz at Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, New York, New York; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

PK: Do you work on personal projects parallel to your commissions and what are your thoughts about such work?

BF: Between work and family, the amount of time I have to focus on personal projects has been somewhere between slim and nill. In all truthfulness, I see what I do everyday as an ongoing personal project. Much of the architecture that I am privileged to shoot professionally, are the same buildings that other photographers are more than happy to shoot on spec as a personal project. I feel very fortunate that my profession and love have all merged into one and every project feels like a personal project that I am lucky enough to shoot. At this point in my career, I spend a great deal of my time pursuing the architects and projects I want to shoot and wish to shoot for. When I look at the work of Iwan Baan, I often ask myself: "When does his work and personal work vary?" I would say, almost not at all.

43 brad.jpgShuster Recital Hall at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio; H3© Brad Feinknopf

44 brad.jpgScioto Mile, Columbus, Ohio; MKSK © Brad Feinknopf

PK: In addition to your still images you also use videography to present some projects. What are your thoughts about this technique's contributions to the presentation of architecture?

BF: In many cases still photography is efficient to capture a building, but in some cases, it is simply not. People too often want to see a building as a static object, in fact, that is the greatest problem that most architectural photographers have: a lack of understanding that a building is not a static object. Many think that merely being at a building on a sunny day and taking a few "shots" of that building is sufficient. Doing good architectural photography requires a greater understanding of how a building evolves through the day, the seasons, and even as people come into contact with it. All of these are constantly changing elements that must be well understood to first capture something as a still image.

The move to exploring time-based work was precipitated by the photography of the Las Vegas City Hall by Elkus Manfredi Architects. The LVCH, has a series of LED fins on the exterior of the facade that at night, bring the building to life with different programmable scenarios. To capture this building with still photography alone was doing it a disservice as a greater story needed to be told about these LED fins and how they complimented the physical structure and its surroundings. One of the next projects which video seemed crucial to telling the story was the The Ohio State University South Campus Chiller, which we photographed for Ross Barney Architects. The Chiller has dichroic glass fins which project from the building, creating colorful chevron patterns on the building as the sun moved around the structure. No single image could tell the fascinating change visually that the building goes through during the day. Video seemed a must.

I am not saying that video is a must for every project; however, I am intrigued with the transformation that a building goes through from day to night and video seems an excellent tool to capture this transformation. I think that I am especially intrigued by the dusk window of time: when interior and exterior illumination are in balance and the building becomes more than just facade.

I find drones intriguing, but when it comes to the level of perfection that I strive to achieve with my work, I do not believe, at this time, that they are a suitable tool for my own work.

45 brad.jpgLas Vegas City Hall, Las Vegas, Nevada; Elkus Manfredi Architects © Brad Feinknopf

Las Vegas City Hall Waterfall Stairwell video

46 brad.jpgAuburn University at Montgomery Wellness Center, Montgomery, Alabama; 360 Architecture © Brad Feinknopf

Wellness Center at AUM timelapse video

PK: Concerning the photographic gear we notice two main/broad types: the large format and the DSLR users. Aside the technical aspect I want to ask your thoughts about their differences on the experiential aspect and how that is evident in the result.

BF: I guess my answer would be that I straddle these two realms. The quality that I get from my medium format camera and the slow and thoughtful approach that is required, I certainly enjoy and embrace. However, it is not always well-suited for every project. It is hard, still, with medium format, to shoot at higher ISO's to capture movement and work quickly. When the project requires this type of flexibility, I tend to defer to DSLR's. I am happy to be in a position where I can choose the tools that are most appropriate for my subject matter and not allow the tools to define my photographic vision.

47 brad.jpgNew York Police Department 121st Precinct Station House, Staten Island, New York; Rafael Viñoly Architects © Brad Feinknopf

48 brad.jpgKenyon College Gund Gallery, Gambier, Ohio; GUND Partnership © Brad Feinknopf

PK: As many photographers have pointed out, the photographic act is a transformative experience in the sense that our awareness of the environment - both natural and man made - becomes more astute. How has this awareness changed/develop for you over the years?

BF: The answer to this question goes back to my first photography course in college. My professor and mentor, Barry Perlus, came from the Minor White school of approaching photography: photography was a tool by which to see the world around you. I think my attraction to photography initially, even today, is that photography allows one to slow down, look, and take the time to appreciate the world around you. Our world is constantly moving at a faster pace and we far too often forget to slow down and truly look. To be in a profession where one must take the time to look and appreciate, to understand and analyze, is a very special place to be.

49 brad.jpgThe Connor Group Corporate Headquarters, Miamisburg, Ohio; Moody Nolan © Brad Feinknopf

50 brad.jpgRecreation & Physical Activity Center (RPAC) at The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio; Moody Nolan © Brad Feinknopf

PK: As photographers we spend time noticing the interaction between architecture and people, which is also at the heart of architects' designs albeit varied. Could you share with us some of your observations about this interaction?

BF: I have mentioned this before, but I think sunlight, the integration of sunlight, is an fundamental component of how people experience and enjoy a space. The more we can integrate light into our architecture the better, I believe, that architecture will be.

As far as the interaction of architecture and its inhabitants, we (my assistant and I) had a very striking conversation earlier in 2014 when we were outside Denver photographing the Children's Hospital of Colorado South Campus. A gentleman came up to us and pulled us aside and said, "I am not sure who you are and what you are doing exactly, but if you are with the architects office in any way, shape or form, I want to express to you how important and special this building has been for me and my family. My child was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, and the ability to bring him to this building, close to home, full of light and color has made the difficult task of bringing my child to chemotherapy that much easier." He also spoke of different aspects of the building and its thoughtful design and how the architects had the simple understanding that the children being treated at the hospital were still children and they needed to have the ability to play. This was shown through a playground that was designed not only for the siblings of the patients, but the patients themselves. I can go on and on as this conversation went for more than ten minutes while he expressed great gratitude about the thoughtfulness that had gone into the design of this hospital.

I think when we look at architecture we really need to take the time to not just create structures, but to create structures that better the human condition if possible. And any structure can better the human condition if approached thoughtfully.

51 brad.jpgChildren's Hospital Colorado South Campus, Highlands Ranch, Colorado; FKP Architects © Brad Feinknopf

52 brad.jpgChildren's Hospital Colorado South Campus, Highlands Ranch, Colorado; FKP Architects © Brad Feinknopf

PK: Could you tell us your thoughts about the matter of a personal vision/style in relation to the broader movements in architectural photography?

BF: I have never viewed my work as being a part of a greater current movement within architectural photography, but you are correct that all work is part of a greater whole. That being said, I am simply just trying to using my own photographic vision of how I see architecture. I am striving everyday to create better and better imagery. If in the end, I happen to find that my work does, in fact, fit into a select architectural photography movement or category, than that is fine, but that has never been an aspiration of mine.

53 brad.jpgE.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Ikon.5 Architects © Brad Feinknopf

54 brad.jpgUniversity of Cincinnati Tengeman University Center, Cincinnati, Ohio; Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects © Brad Feinknopf

PK: If you had the time or took a break from assignments, what other aspects within the broader scope of architecture and urbanism would you like to be involved in?

BF: A few years back I happened to find out about an organization known as Project H and was very interested in the work they were doing teaching design to students in rural North Carolina. Because I was fascinated with what they were doing I reached out to them to see how I might help photographically. This then led to them being noticed by Architectural Record, ARCHITECT, and others. Also, my images were used to help them complete a documentary film.

There are many organizations out there doing good work but with little to no budgets and yet they are often giving back to their communities. If given the time, I would probably seek out more opportunities like the one I had with Project H and the Windsor Super Market for what that experience not only gave back personally, but how their mission was more widely known and in turn its benefit.

55 brad.jpgWindsor Super Market Windsor, North Carolina; Project H © Brad Feinknopf

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Links

Brad Feinknopf's website.
Brad Feinknopf videos on Vimeo.

'If You Build It' documentary trailer

video

Last updated: April 23, 2015

See also

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