This week’s Questions with a Pro features Carol Liscovitz.
Carol is a Maine-based architectural and commercial photographer who uses her background as a career architect to inspire and bring greater depth to her work. She aims to tell a story through her work by defining the relationship between site and structure. Here, Carol describes how she transitioned from working as an architect to architectural photography, what she wishes she knew as a photographer just starting out, and a bit about how her personal work fits into her business.
We asked: Please describe how you transitioned from architecture to photography. Was photography always in your sights?
Carol said: After my sophomore year in college, I explored the idea of transferring to a school out west to focus my studies on solar design. I had a friend attending the University of Arizona who offered me a place to stay while I took a summer class to see if Arizona was to my liking. With no solar design classes being offered, I signed up for a photography class instead. From there I did what any aspiring photographer from New Jersey would do; I went to 42nd street in NYC and bought myself a “package deal” that included a Canon AE-1 and a boatload of other stuff I hadn’t a clue what to do with. Long story short, plans fell through. I ended up graduating from Miami with my BArch degree and an AE-1 that sat gathering dust in a cardboard box in the back of my closet. So yes, you could say photography for me was a seed waiting to be planted.
Jump ahead a decade or so. I stopped practicing architecture full-time once I started my family. I continued to dabble in the field, doing pro-bono work while keeping up with continuing ed credits to retain my license. Photography came back into the picture (pun intended) when I acquired my first digital camera – a Minolta point-and-shoot, followed soon after by my first DSLR, a Nikon d70. With a growing family as my muse, photography became my creative outlet. I photographed my kids in the mish-mash of daily life (portrait and lifestyle photography), captured family outings and vacations (landscape photography), and became default team photographer for their numerous sporting activities (sports photography). Taking these roles seriously began the start of my self-taught education in photography; the seed was planted and indeed, had begun to sprout.
Throughout that time I was toying with a variety of ideas as to how I would re-enter the workforce when the time was right. Pre-family, architecture was all-consuming, but post-family, my priorities had changed. Although architecture ran deep in my blood, as it still does, I wasn’t interested in returning to architecture in the conventional sense. To add to the mix, I had the great fortune of enrolling in an architectural photography class at the Maine Media workshop with Brian Vanden Brink. That sealed the deal. Architectural photography was a natural fit and a no-brainer for me to pursue. When I thought about the efforts it would take to restart my career as an architect while at the same time continuing to hone my photography skills and pursuing paid commissions, it soon became evident I couldn’t do justice to both and needed to choose one path over the other. In projecting forward, I foresaw my career as an architect to be one of a limited lifespan, while in photography I saw no such limitations. From that conclusion, the decision was easy. The way I see it now, I practice architecture through my lens!
We asked: How does your background in architecture influence or drive your photography?
Carol said: My role as an architectural photographer is to translate my client’s design from a three-dimensional experience into a two-dimensional medium. Design, in its basic forms, is an exercise in problem-solving. By understanding the process, my experience allows me to approach a photo shoot with a clear vision of those complexities. I compose my images to articulate the sense of space through the play of light and shadow. I visually connect the rhythm of adjacent spaces through perspective alignment and add focus to details that accentuate the flow of the design. I get really excited being in the presence of exceptional design – a design that doesn’t scream, “Look at me!” but subtly expresses its brilliance. Understanding and appreciating what it takes to execute those qualities, as well as speaking the language of architects and designers, is the intangible asset my experience as an architect brings to a job.
We asked: How do you handle the stresses that come along with the freelance nature of the photography industry? Are there any specific tactics you believe other photographers may find useful?
Carol said: To answer the first part of your question; deep breath in, hold, deep breath out. Aside from that, ranting to anyone who will listen!
As for specific tactics, I’m part of a network of female entrepreneurs who meet monthly and share their challenges, solutions, and experiences with regard to running a female owned business. Feedback, bouncing ideas off others, and shear camaraderie, is what I find lacking on a daily basis as an independent business owner.
We asked: What is one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were first starting out?
Carol said: Even though my photography took off when I began shooting digital, I wish I’d told myself to pull out that ole AE-1 and get myself into a classroom to formally learn B&W photography and while I was at it, learn how to develop film. Taking some business and marketing courses along the way would have helped too. I’ve often wondered if I had made more of a formal commitment to my new career in lieu of being completely self-taught, could I have shortened the learning curve significantly, thus jump-starting my late-blooming career. With that said, I find the coulda, woulda, shoulda syndrome to be a waste of time and energy. On the other hand, if I could only remember where I stashed that AE-1…
We asked: How do you leverage your personal projects to benefit the work you do for your clients?
Carol said: Some of my favorite imagery is from my personal projects. By seeking out a project, I’m truly excited about photographing, I’ve opened opportunities to expand the types of architectural photography I pursue as paid commissions. I incorporate those images into my portfolio and more often than not, find those pieces resonating the most with potential clients reviewing my work.
I used to think I wanted, or more so, needed to fly off to far-flung places to use my photography for social and humanitarian causes. I’ve come to realize those causes exist here in Maine as well. I’ve begun to seek out self-assignments in the form of photo essays that speak to Maine as one large, small community. As these projects come to fruition, I plan to incorporate them in my portfolio with the hope they will facilitate a broader conversation about the built environment the rest of my portfolio reflects.
Find more of Carol’s work on her website.