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Photographer Bradley Lipton Re-Uniting with the Art of Architecture

Introducing Toronto based photographer Bradley Lipton! Working with film, he re-unites the art of architecture and captures the beauty of the geometric details, as it tells a story of their own!

What would you say are some of the challenges to shooting architecture photography that are unique to the field of photography?

I was always interested in design and pattern. When I was 17, I visited Israel and first saw for the first time historical architecture and structures. I was amazed that something so old could still be standing. A year later I travelled through Europe, every building I saw, every garden I walked through was in itself a work of “art”.

Looking back, the images I captured at that time were all composed of broad vistas, with a 35 mm camera and a standard 50 mm lens. Everything around me was amazing to see. My photographs were beautiful, because the subject was beautiful.

By the late 80’s, and influenced by my studies in architecture, I started to move closer to my subject. I was interested in discovering the “art” in architecture. A building or structure was pieced together much like a human being, and I wanted to examine the beauty of man’s creations. Again, the subject in my viewfinder was compelling, and so to were the photographs.

As I turned 40, many of my rough edges had been worn smooth. Photography was, and still is the medium in which I express myself, however, my images now convey my personal story. By shooting only a few inches from my subject, the challenge is how to make a piece of architecture say something meaningful and powerful.

The camera is an amazing piece of equipment. It is both a mirror and a time machine. Find something interesting, and look at it for a while. Think it over in your mind, you will begin to see it in a different way. The camera will let you record it forever.

Do you think there are any similarities to shooting portrait photography? Does a building have a mood or ‘personality’ you try to expose?

The camera I use most often, could be described as a studio portrait camera. It is an old Hasselblad 500CM, with a 150mm Zeiss Sonar C T* lens. This is the same set up that many portrait photographers once used. What I am doing is portrait photography, only outdoors on still objects.

No matter what age, the human face provides an intricate amount of detail. We can all identify with what we see. Photographing man-made structures, whether complex or simple can be just as meaningful. I simply lead the viewer to identify with something that he or she has always seen.

Every photograph I make has its own mood. The composition may be one thing, but the use of dark and light elements makes the image unique. I can have several different types of photographs portraying the same mood, or I can have a series of one photograph portraying many different moods. The most compelling photographs are the ones that blend the right composition in the most appropriate mood.

Who are your clients generally and where is your work featured?

Individuals who are in the “arts” collect a number of my pieces. My photographs tell a story that many people can identify with, and so my art “speaks” to them.

I have recently signed on with STUDIO VOGUE GALLERY as a gallery artist. The gallery represents me, and my work is featured there. www.studiovoguegallery.com

In the past year, I have also exhibited my work in a number of Toronto Public Libraries, charity events, local galleries, and independent coffee houses. The details of where to see my work is available on my website, www.blphotography.org

Which street or neighborhood in Toronto would you has the most inspiring architecture?

My favourite street is Crawford St., between Dundas and College. This is the street where my grandfather lived on as a boy, and where my father also grew up. The history and the architecture fill me with both a sense of pride and wonder.

What is the most impressive building you have shot?

The most impressive building to photograph…is the next one. Over the years, I have photographed many buildings and structures. I keep returning to the same places, but as I change, so too does my view on the world, and what I want to express.

Every building, every structure is impressive, you just have to see it in the right way.

What are some of the reasons you prefer to work with analog for your professional photography?
As a human being I am analog, I am not digital. Although, judging from what I see young people doing today, I am not sure this statement still holds as much water.

I continue to use film cameras for one simple reason, the negative is still important to me. I need to touch and see something in my hands. It is a process that is labor intensive and time consuming, but is absolutely necessary. The photographs I produce are the result of much thinking and contemplation about my condition. My story needs time to synthesize into something that is coherent, and portrays my experiences.

Shooting thirty or forty digital images of the same composition, then picking the best one is less expensive, and easier to do. It requires less time to produce, and so less of the photographer is in the final product.
On the other hand, there is no escaping the digital revolution. I would not be able to produce my work in the way I envision it without the use of some “new” technology. To this end, I employ a high resolution digital scanner to produce my large scale final images.

However, I do not alter the digital images in any way, other than to adjust the dark scale of the pieces that are in the same series of photographs. I do this to convey a uniform mood in my exhibitions. These types of adjustments are simply dodging and burning. It is the same process I used in the dark room to produce my final prints.

Just as an author does not write a final manuscript in one sitting, my art also takes a long time to produce. Each piece originates from a unique negative. Since I only make an edition of 1, the more time it takes to produce, the more of me is in the work, and the more meaningful the piece is to my viewers. (note, on only one occasion – for a recent charity event, I made 6 original prints with an edition of 3 so as to raise as much money as possible).

What’s in your camera arsenal? Do you have a favourite you like to work with? Would you say you have a special connection to any of them?

I have three camera kits. The first one is a Canon 1000 D digital SLR, with both a standard zoom lens and a telephoto zoom lens. I prefer the EF lenses rather than the EF-S lenses. I carry this with me in the car when I drive around Toronto. I use it to “sketch” out a location, a subject, or a theme.

I also use a pair of Canon 35 mm film cameras (a 1981 “AE-1 Program”, and a 1978 “A1”). These bodies I have had for a long time, and over the years I have acquired a variety of FD lenses. As a result, I can be very flexible in what I shoot, how I shoot, and when I can shoot.

My newest camera is a 1973 Hasselblad 500CM. I have a pair of 12A backs, and a PM5 viewfinder (so the image in the viewfinder is not reversed). I also use a Zeiss Sonar 150mm C T* lens, which offers me stunning optics. The lens is newer, from 1981, but in very good condition. This kit also includes a 55mm extension tube, which allows me to shoot very close to my subject.

There is a big difference in image quality between 35 mm film and 120 format film. The Canon cameras offer me an unlimited number of possibilities. The Hasselblad is more restrictive, but enables me to produce a far superior image.

Ironically, some of my best photographs are taken using nothing more that an old 35mm point and shoot camera. I have several Canon models, a Minolta and an Olympus. They are easy to use, especially for street photography of architecture. Since the film is loaded on the right side of a point and shoot camera, I just carry it upside down on my hip and shoot. Whatever “surprise” is on the negative, will do.
Of course, none of my work would be possible without a tripod. I use older models that are made from aluminum and steel, and are a bit on the heavy side. These are not generally used for work outside of the studio, but for my purposes, the heavier the better.

I also have a variety of flashes, but I seldom use them. I want to capture the image as I see it at that particular point in time. Sunny or overcast, the brightness of the day is an important part of my creative process.

When it is sunny, I make use of several cable release cords, each with a different length. I want to avoid having my shadow unintentionally in the frame.

Since I use such a quirky set up, the most important piece of equipment I carry with me at all times is a Gossen light meter and grey card. This is absolutely crucial in selecting the correct film ISO to use, as well as determining what time of day, or even what season to would best suit my needs.

Now that I have added a Hasselblad to my arsenal, it is my favourite, and most important camera I have. Even with its limited applications, the images I create result in my best and most satisfying work. Furthermore, the Hasselblad utilizes the full frame of the 6 × 6 negative. This allows me to print the image and include a good portion of the rebate. As a result, what I see through my viewfinder, I am able to convey to my viewers.

I use a Hasselblad film camera because of the unique characteristics it possesses, as a result, viewers can see that my photographs are created from film. The most prominent feature is that the camera has an aspect ratio of 1:1. The camera also produces on each square frame of film the identical “imperfect” corners, as well as two dimples on the left side every exposure. If you ever used an old Underwood typewriter with an “off set key”, you would see which character was not in line with the others as you type your page.

Tell us about your exhibition “Dreams or Reality” at STUDIO VOGUE GALLERY (October 5 to 26). What is the concept and what was your motivation.

“Dreams or Reality” is a group shows of five artists. I am the only photographer in the exhibit, and mine are the only pieces in black and white. This contrast balances the presentation, and makes the exhibit unique. You might say that my contribution is leaning more to reality than to dreams.
The motivation to create my art is to show reality – my reality. What my viewers see really exists, all you have to do is pause and look for it.

How did you hear about Lomography?

Last month I was at Northern Artists Prolab printing some invitation cards for an upcoming exhibit. Nick (the owner) told me about a new film mask he purchased from Lomography for scanning negatives. He showed me how they hold the film flat and demagnetize the strip so very little dust appears on the scan. I had been working for weeks digitizing my recent work, with much frustration and aggravation.

I immediately jumped into my car, drove to Queen West, and introduced myself to the staff at LOMOGRAPHY. I bought the film masks, and WOW!! LOMOGRAPHY and I have been friends ever since.
One of my heroes growing up was Mordecai Richler. He was able to achieve a good deal of success in his early work when he lived in Europe in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In 1972 he returned to Montreal, and continued to write about “what he knew”. He wrote about his life, and how he saw the world – with no apologies. I think of this example all the time. I can still see in my mind the CBC interview he gave when he mentioned these words.

Are there any tips or words of wisdom you would be willing to share with our Lomography community?

The best advice I can pass on, is to capture images that mean something to you. Do not be hesitant to let your photographs speak for you.

written by jeanettelee

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