Architecture photographer Evan Joseph climbs rooftops, perches on buildings' ledges, and even dangles out of helicopters to get the perfect shot. It's this impressive amount of dedication that's allowed him to work with world famous publications, to get access to the most exclusive views in NYC, and to photograph properties that are worth tens of millions of dollars. Above all, Joseph has reached this level of success because he captures New York City at its best.
With camera in hand, the artist brings his shots to life by honing in on the dazzling lights and vibrant colors that are an innate part of NYC. Joseph captures the spirit of this beloved city by giving history, romance, and art the opportunity to flourish before his lens. Ultimately, the photographer wants to share this piece of the world with others, which is why he's created several books to document the cityscapes he can't get enough of.
To find out more about the photographer and his latest book–New York From Above, sold exclusively at One World Observatory–Evan Joseph agreed to answer some of our questions. Scroll down to read our insightful interview with the photographer.
Evan was kind enough to provide us with two autographed copies of New York From Above for a book giveaway! This giveaway is only open to US entrants, but we will be hosting an international contest soon. Here's what you have to do to enter:
- If you've been to New York City, what's your favorite NYC landmark?
- If you haven't, what's one NYC landmark you'd like to visit in the future?
Each person can have a maximum of 6 entries into this contest (one for each of the social media platforms listed above).
UPDATE: The giveaway is now CLOSED.
As one of New York's leading architectural photographers, what specifically draws you to NYC?
It's my home – my chosen home. I was born in Baltimore, and have also lived in LA, but this is where I've chosen to settle and raise my family. New York is also a living subject, that changes all the time, and this makes it fascinating and ever-new. I'm fortunate to have developed a professional intimacy with the city, having photographed so much of it from the streets, from the inside of its buildings (both humble and legendary), and from rooftops and helicopters. I love to look out at the cityscape and make a mental map of all the buildings I've so carefully explored, and I have stories about them all. I am lucky to have learned where the light will be and what its character will be at any time of day, any time of year.
In your artist's statement, you refer to a point in time called the “magic hour.” Can you describe this moment?
Magic Hour to me is that moment right after sunset, but before dark. It's a misnomer, really, because the light only lasts twenty minutes. It works so well for photography because the sky reads as night, but there is still enough light to pick out the outlines of the buildings. The colors at that time of day stimulate a feeling of warmth, home, and rest which is very evocative.
How did you go from creating still-life compositions to becoming an architectural photographer? Do you feel that your painting/drawing background has influenced your work today?
I got my first professional camera as a present when I turned 13, so I grew up taking pictures and always enjoyed photography as part of my artistic toolkit, as a supplement to the traditional media which I was exploring more avidly. When I began my career in photography, the experience of so carefully arranging still-life objects into a “perfect” composition for me to paint and draw was a huge advantage in shooting luxury interiors, since I am so finely-attuned to how the angle of a chair or the placement of a pillow can utterly change the focus and meaning of an image. Interiors are just still-lifes on a larger scale.
Taking this approach into cityscapes and aerials meant that I needed to precisely move my position to get the composition I have in mind (since I can't move the subject itself), so climbing up into the heating units on rooftops or twisting around in helicopters became necessary. I consider what I do now with the camera to be an unbroken continuation of my work in oil paint with apples and pottery.
When you look at New York From Above in its entirety, does a particular photograph jump out at you as a favorite or a memorable experience?
I love the dynamism of the image of the Bank of America Tower, which I captured from the air this year. It was an incredibly clear night which produced a very bright and geometric shot of the area. Squeezing this super-tall building into the frame of the camera reminds me of the way that great fashion photographers bend their models to fit them onto the page, even though they, too, are normally too tall to capture in a single shot.
I also love the image of the pinnacle of One World Trade. I was shooting that morning with a powerful telephoto lens, which meant that the subject was jumping around like crazy in the viewfinder, but when I saw the rising sun glinting off the facets of that sculptural structure, I knew I had to get that shot no matter what it look. It's an important part of the building and, by extension, of this city, but almost no one can see it way up there, and it's breathtaking.
Considering that you've accomplished some pretty terrifying feats (i.e. dangling out the door of a helicopter 500 feet above the city) – did you ever experience fear or hesitate when working? If so, how did you conquer that fear to get the perfect shot?
When I'm working, I can block out the fear because of the adrenaline rush and the intense focus on the technical and artistic considerations that I'm balancing. I usually don't get into fear until after I've gotten the shot and realized how far out on a ledge–literally–I put myself to capture what I wanted… and then I have to figure out how to get down!
Going up that scaffolding never seems to bother me! Only twice have I a felt true fear before a job, and I actually turned it down because it wasn't safe. So I guess I get over my hesitancy by trusting my own instincts. Don't ask me to go on a roller coaster though, without that focus on the job at-hand, I get motion sick–but taking a dozen turns around the tip of the Chrysler Building while looking straight down, no problem.
What's it like having access to the most exclusive terrace's in the city and forty million dollar properties? Moreover, was there a turning point that helped you reach this impressive time in your career?
It's exciting and such an honor! You never know what you are going to find, but it's always unique. That's why I travel to every shoot with everything I could possibly need. It's a lot of gear, but I never have to compromise a shot. The pressure to perform is always intense, too. There are layers of stakeholders involved when there is so much money on the line, and everyone is counting on me to make magic. This is why I work on every minor image, every powder room and hallway, like it's the only image I'll ever be judged on, so I put the pressure on myself, too.
There was no real turning point, but in treating every single image like it's the most important one I've ever made, I gradually became more and more trusted in the industry as a real collaborator and partner. My work in graduate school (Master's in Interactive Telecommunications from NYU) and my work as a Digital Design professor at Parsons gave me a solid foundation in the technical aspects of contemporary photography, so I am able to discuss the latest approaches to solving imaging problems and contribute meaningfully to larger projects. So although I started shooting individual properties, I gradually began working with real estate developers and their ad agencies to help develop imagery for the marketing campaigns for new buildings, which are long-form assignments. That led to work with with bigger brands outside of the real estate and architecture worlds, which has further expanded my opportunities to shoot fascinating subjects and made me excited to open up my scope even more broadly.
When photographing architecture, what do you aim to capture?
For exteriors, I look to capture the geometry of the building as an overall shape, using the light at a specific time of day from the perfect perspective. I'm also looking for context, to find the ideal composition that flatters the building within the cityscape.
For interiors, I focus on balance and aim to capture the drama of being in that space, in that light, among those details. In all my work, I try to stimulate desire, to make the viewer want to be there. My work is never about documentation, it is always about romance.
What would an ideal day look like for you, as a NYC photographer?
I do a lot of “neighborhood” shoots where I create candid street photography of a specific area to convey a feel for the shopping, the parks, the cafes, and the vibrancy. I like to save these shoots for Sundays, because it's easy to get around the city and there aren't a lot of delivery trucks on the streets. Every one of these little pockets of culture is a joy, and any neighborhood is as fascinating as any other, they are like miniature cities. I'll often bring one of my kids along, and we'll do a very in-depth tour. While I'm taking pictures, they'll help a bit with equipment and we'll try all the different foods and look in all the stores while I work. Being “in” the scene instead of “outside” the scene always makes the photos better.
My favorite places are all along the city's waterfronts, areas where so much revitalization has taken place and the air and the light are spectacular. I also love to shoot the sunrise from a helicopter or rooftop… NYC is so sleepy at dawn, which is so unusual. The great engine of the city is at it's lowest murmur then, and it seems like only seconds later that it's roaring to life, a thousand times more intense than a heartbeat before.
So the perfect day: sunrise from a rooftop, daytime shooting in Harlem or Chinatown or Sheepshead Bay (or anywhere in NYC!), and then sunset over by Hudson River Park or any of the waterfronts in Brooklyn, from Red Hook to Long Island City, to watch the sun set over the water.
What do you want viewers to take away from New York From Above?
I'd like viewers to get a sense of just how simply beautiful this city is. Not just grand, or huge, or dense or. richly patterned… these feelings have been captured before, but I'd like to convey the sheer “gorgeousness” when the light is perfect, the weather is perfect, my perch is unique, and the color and composition lock together. I want to communicate that this urban subject matter can be as sublime as the Grand Canyon, can be as rich as the rain forest.
I find it's diehard New Yorkers who like my books the most, because they have the same intimacy with the city, but this work helps them to articulate their own feelings about how beautiful New York is, and helps them hang on to the glimpses of visual magic which we all catch every single day here.
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Evan Joseph.