What’s It Like, Behind the Lens?
January 21, 2016
The Hub’s photographer, Ed Sewell, has been shooting The Hub for our entire corporate life. We’re proud to work with him, and we thought it was high time you met him. We asked him some questions about himself, and about photography in general, so read on to find out more about what happens behind the lens.
Q: Tell us a little bit about how you got into the architectural and corporate photography game.
A: I began in corporate photography (which led to architecture) almost by accident. While an undergrad majoring in photojournalism and news broadcasting, I took an internship in a fashion photography studio in Georgetown during the last semester of my senior year. This exposed me to a whole new world of commercial photography.
In 1981, I met the PR director for Honeywell’s Fort Washington division while on a job for another client, and success on that job led to a long-term relationship with the company.
My connection with Honeywell first opened the door to doing architectural photography, because many of the assignments this one particular executive gave me involved capturing exterior views (and sometimes interior views) of plants and factories and office facilities around the country.
So, in all candor, I really kind of backed into architectural photography. I’m completely self-taught—with the help of the many books in my library—and I continue to read on the subject whenever I discover a new volume that may add some new knowledge or some new technique. You never stop learning.
Q: What is it about buildings, and corporate photography, that inspires you?
A: Photography in general has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, for it’s the intersection of science and art. One can look at a photograph and cogitate on the mechanics of what it took to produce this image: What hardware? What lighting? What chemistry (more from old-school film photography)? What physics?
Then there’s the “art” aspect of this same hypothetical photograph: What is it about this particular picture that pleases me? Is it the angle? The lines? The colors? The motion? The E-motion?
For my corporate work, inspiration comes from my original, photojournalistic background. I’m curious about everything, and doing corporate photography has opened doors for me that many people would never have access to. And then I’ve been allowed to photographically record these same back-room, segregated—sometimes even off-limits—people and places and things. I try to come back with uncommon photographs in order to show people an accurate, and maybe even artistic, view of stuff they’d never see.
My inspiration for trying to make impressive architectural photographs is jealousy, pure and simple.
I’m terribly jealous of those few who can do architecture really well. I’m envious of any person who can sit down at a desk with a blank piece of paper before them and then draw all over it . . . and then give this paper to a series of workmen who will transform it from two to three dimensions.
The inspirational part of photographing structures and spaces is the challenge of trying to capture the designer’s core vision, of trying to see through their eyes what is presented before me, and then squish it back into two dimensions again.
There are very few similarities, very few things that repeat, when looking around the different meeting rooms at The Hub’s various facilities. There are unique aspects to almost every one of the spaces . . . Wow, what a great view of the courtyard . . . Look at that glass map. Ain’t that cool? . . . That’s what the inside of a collider looks like?
This is the challenge photographically, to experience and observe the details and idiosyncrasies of each room and then try to record that empathetically. Through walking around and kicking the tires and slamming the doors and asking probably too many questions, I try to discover the angle and the altitude and the time of day that will allow me to construct the most compelling shot I’m able to of any particular room.
Q: What’s the primary mistake you see people making when they try to show off a room or location?
A: The biggest “mistake” I see all the time is people displaying boring, pedestrian shots when capturing something more vibrant is eminently doable. “Fixing it in Photoshop” is a poor response when taking an extra five or ten minutes to get it right yields so much nicer results. I see technical flaws in “architectural photography” all the time now. Uncorrected vertical lines drive me absolutely crazy. Blown-out windows—windows so over exposed that they’re formless blobs leeching undefined whiteness into the frame—are another thing that irritates me. Overly-stylized HDR shots (high dynamic range) are another bug-a-boo for me. (Don’t get me wrong, HDR is an incredibly useful tool, but some people rely too heavily on it as a panacea to correct for bad lighting or bad exposing.)
But what do I know? With the exception of the vertical lines bit, the things mentioned above could be chalked up as simple differences in style. And like fashion or cars or vacation spots, not all styles suit all people. I attempt to interpret the feeling that the designer or architect may have had in their head when they started scribbling, when they chose that type of lighting, or chose to put that window over there. Every project, every shot starts out as a blank canvas, just like the person who conceived the space or structure. But I draw with photons as opposed to their drawing with pen, pencil or CAD program.
Q: Tell us about what you love to shoot what you’re not doing interiors or architecture.
A: I have a camera with me almost all the time—a camera, mind you, not a phone that also has an optical recording mode. Whether motorcycling, backpacking, mountain biking, a camera is always within reach. Friends wakeboarding or playing ultimate Frisbee have been subjects in the past, as have football and baseball games as my sons went through high school.
But if I had to choose one thing, then aerials are, hands-down, my favorite projects to shoot. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do as many as I’d like to, but when they do come around, I’m like a kid at Christmas. I love the pressure to perform, because aircraft time ain’t cheap, and the opportunity of a “second chance” or a “Take 2” or doing it again is never an option. And ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved flying. In anything. I never tire of looking down and seeing the world from “up there.” And . . . spending the morning or afternoon in a helicopter is just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
Q: And what’s the best thing you’ve ever shot, in your career?
A: I don’t know if there is a single “best thing” that I’ve ever photographed. I’m hypercritical of every single frame I’ve ever laid out on a light table or called up on a monitor, so many times seeing flutters that no one else would ever see, all the while muttering, “Dammit, it’s almost right.”
However, there exists a small handful of shots I’ve been privileged to take over the years that I might classify as “my best,” although they’re all over the place as far as subject matter goes. There’s an alluring portrait I took of a girl resting against a split rail fence. There’s one shot from a tall ship festival on the Delaware that I snapped from the catwalks under the Walt Whitman Bridge, and there’s a sunset cityscape featuring One Liberty Place I was able to wait out while perched at the very top of Two Liberty Place.
There are a few others, and included in that mix are two architecturals, one a B&W of the Curtis Center atrium and another just happens to be from the very first project I did for The Hub CityView in 2005, a vertical shot of the “Magellan” room. That image is a composite of multiple frames and took a number of hours to cobble together just the way I wanted. Ten years later, the company I took it for is still using it, still displaying it. I guess that puts it in there as one of “the best.”
We can’t wait to see how Ed’s photos of our newest facility, The Hub Conshy, look. In the meantime go to Ed’s site at edsewell.com to learn more about his work and how to work with him.