Q + A with Photographer Vincent Feldman

At our Philadelphia store we recently had the pleasure of meeting Vincent Feldman, an urban architecture photographer and university lecturer.  He shared part of his creative journey as a preview for his in-store event on April 21.

Journal: How did you get involved with photography?

Vince: It started with birdwatching.  I began taking pictures of birds with an SLR camera at first, and then started using my middle school's darkroom.  I was even considering going into ornithology in college.

Journal: Kind of like Audubon with a camera.

Vince: Yeah. I ended up majoring in photography in my junior year, though.  Then I met my future wife while she was studying abroad here and followed her back to Japan.  My plan was to find a job teaching English for a few months, but shortly after arriving in Tokyo I discovered Zeit Foto Salon in Shimbashi.  Mr. Ishihara took a look at my work and got me a show on the spot, which directed my attention back to my photography.  I spent half the year preparing for the exhibit instead of teaching, and thankfully the exhibition went well.

That's also where I rounded out my interest in buildings.  My experience with modern architecture was limited coming from Philadelphia, since the predominant works here are from the 19th century.  Most architecture in Tokyo isn't built to last very long; I heard that the average lifespan of a building there is 17 or 18 years before it's replaced.  Every time I go over there, the scene has changed.  I may only have one chance to record what I see.

I work in large format, so 10-40 minutes might be required to set up and shoot.  The cost of making exposures is high, in addition to the fact that I continue to use an extremely rare film emulsion that Kodak discontinued 10 years ago.  People think I use a much larger format of camera and film, but the unreal detail is due to this old Technical Pan film.  All these factors are self-limiting and make me very discriminating in what I record.

Journal: There's some pressure to get each shot right, then.

Vince: It's not unusual to take over an hour to make one picture.  There was one time I wanted to capture the Rainbow Bridge at night in Minato, and to get the right angle I had to climb over a fence and drop down onto a wharf.  I worked for two and a half hours, and as I was walking back I noticed that I was bleeding from scratches as well as rather sweaty since it was a humid August evening.  Turns out it still wasn't right; I'll probably try again this summer.

Journal: Going back to the subject of your pictures, I think it's really interesting that you went from organic subjects to inorganic ones.  It also seems like the effects of time are an important part of your shots.

Vince: I think what appeals to me are the lines and forms.  It's like [street photographer Henri] Cartier-Bresson; in describing his work he repeats over and over: “Geometry, geometry.”  And I prefer older buildings, ones that carry the story of time on their facades.

Shizuoka Broadcasting Building, 2007.  Photo by Vincent Feldman

Shizuoka Broadcasting Building, 2007.  Photo by Vincent Feldman

There's something very contemplative about seeing buildings through a photograph.  When you see it in person, you're overwhelmed with so many options of angles and color as well as the constant scanning it takes to put the whole structure together in your mind.  There is something that's complete for me when I successfully capture an interesting or great building.  It's in this way that I enjoy each subject more through its photograph than its physical reality.

If you'd like to hear more and see his newest collection before it's exhibited, please register for Feldman's talk.  We hope to see you there.