All images by Vivienne Gucwa. Used with permission.
Vivienne Gucwa is a photographer that had quite the tough start, but her story is one of perseverance that uses photography as a mechanism to cope with stress. She is the creator of the Tumblr NY Through the Lens, and has recently released a beautiful photo book containing her images of the iconic city.
Ms. Gucwa is a New York native that had to leave the nest at an early age and learn to fend for herself. During this time, she was trying to maintain the same life balance that we all try to manage. And like many others, she went on long walks–which eventually turned into her becoming a street photographer.
Some of her most captivating images were shot in the snow–especially since the city turns into a totally different place during phases like this. We talked to Ms. Gucwa about her photography, marketing, and how she ultimately became a successful photographer.
Phoblographer: How did you first get into photography?
Vivienne: I grew up in New York City and had to move out on my own at an early age which led to many years of working multiple jobs just to attempt to stay afloat. In 2008, I decided I wanted to do something for myself and I took out student loans to put myself back in school to finish the Bachelor’s Degree I had to abandon in my early 20s in order to work hard and stay in New York City. Needless to say, quitting my jobs and putting myself back in school was quite stressful. To cope with the stress I would walk around Manhattan.
At some point, I wanted a way to capture the New York City I was falling in love with during my walks. Still too broke to even afford a smartphone, I bought a $79 point and shoot off of Amazon (which arrived partially broken!) and started to take photos with it on every walk.
Phoblographer: Shooting in the snow (especially during a blizzard) is tough. What compelled you to go out and shoot when a heavy snowfall was happening?
Vivienne: Snow is nostalgia personified. Growing up in NYC in the early 90s, I remember many snowstorms as a child. I love the electric thrill in the air and anticipatory feeling before a snowstorm. As the city transforms into a silent wonderland when snow starts to fall, the anticipatory feeling gives way to an overwhelming sense of peace. Photographing the city in blizzards and strong storms is the closest I have come to attempting to capture those feelings.
Phoblographer: Your images are mostly in black and white. What attracted you to the simplicity that the technique offers?
Vivienne: I tend to do quite a bit of black and white photography of snow scenes because black and white tends to work well to convey a timeless, classic mood that I feel when I am out shooting snow scenes. Even my color photography of the city in the snow tends to have a desaturated color palette since that’s how I see the city when I look at it. A lot of my photography is my attempt to express how I view the city around me. I have a very vivid imagination fueled by a range of influences from music, cinema, and art history. As a writer I used to write quite a bit about how I experienced the city but I still struggled with conveying the immensity of how I experience the city. Photography has been such an amazing tool in that regard. Combining photography with writing is the perfect pairing.
Phoblographer: Tell us about how you’ve gone about marketing yourself as a photographer to get to where you are today.
Vivienne: It’s interesting because I never set out to become a full-time photographer when I started posting my photography online. I had been accumulating tons of photos during my walks around the city and I asked a friend for advice on how I could view those photos in a journal style online. The friend suggested I start a blog. I actually googled the word “blog” and Tumblr came up as one of the top results (this was back in 2009). I made my blog, called it NY Through the Lens and just posted whatever I wanted to the blog. Within 3 months, I amassed around 70,000 followers which was overwhelming but also inspiring since people would send me tons of messages about my photography. That led to people approaching me about using my images for various things like book covers, album covers, and magazines.
Eventually I upgraded to a better camera (my first DSLR was the Sony A55) and all those random paid requests for my images led to me seriously pursuing photography as a full-time career. That early Tumblr experience also inspired me to share my photography and writing on other social networks. I was interested in the different audiences that existed on each network and sharing my work in that way opened up many doors for me in my photography career and eventually made it possible for me to be a full-time photographer.
Being online also led to me connecting with people I would meet online in the offline world. I have met some great friends, work colleagues, clients, and kindred spirits online and have made it a point to foster those relationships offline. Fostering those relationships offline has also opened up many other doors for me in my career. It even led to my first published book of my photography and writing which just released worldwide in stores this month. I am so grateful for the places that photography has taken me. It’s been quite a journey so far.