Tim Schenck is an engineer-- the kind of photographer who builds a graphic structure within every image. And then there is the fact that he is an actual engineer--a structural engineer. Really. "Blessed and cursed" with two callings, Schenck uses his architectural eye and career path to aid his passion for documenting significant architectural construction, renovation, and demolition. He has a knack for using color, shapes, and mathematical principles to create a striking image. His 9/11 Series is on permanent collection at the Smithsonian. He documented the before, during, and after of the creation of the High Line.
Schenck's style is very different from my own, on every level from equipment to purpose; so when I caught up with the photographer, who was nice enough to agree to a chat, I wanted to know everything-- background, inspirations, what makes him click, his take on digital versus analog-- and everything he did tell:Julia Wideman: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you first became interested in photography?
Timothy Schenck: I am blessed and cursed to have two callings. In addition to being a self-taught photographer, I'm also a structural engineer. Structural engineers collaborate with architects to design buildings, specifically the "skeleton" or "bones" of the building (think steel beams, concrete walls, etc). We create computer models, perform calculations, draft plans, and help administer the construction process. I started out in photography by taking photos of my projects in construction--out of necessity, I needed to document the work progress. Gradually I found myself taking shots of little details and vignettes around the jobsite. I was using the company's cameras, early digital models, and thought to myself that this was fun and I should get my own camera. I bought my first digital camera, a cutting edge 1MP point-and-shoot and I quickly grew out of it. I then took the plunge and bought a DSLR. This was a major turning point for me as the level of adjustment available in the DSLR piqued my creative curiosity and forced me to learn--and of course my photographs got much better. I was hooked. I started carrying the camera with me everywhere I went. I shot more and more and eventually started developing my own voice and aesthetic.
JW: I called it "a graphic quality," but what do you identify as some of the main themes in your photography? Why are they compelling to you?
TS: My personal work largely focuses on found and carefully composed color and form, shape and symmetry. I have heard people describe my work as very "graphic" and think that it is an entirely appropriate description. My analytic background in architecture and engineering greatly informs the making of these types of photographs. I appreciate the beauty of mathematics in nature and the built environment. The engineering and the photography allow me express this beauty in two quite different ways that are very satisfying to me (the old left brain, right brain thing).
CONTINUE Q&A AFTER THE JUMP.