Ellen Fisch is a fantastic photographer who lives on Long Island, New York. She wrote me a very nice email about my first book, "Art In King Size Beds: A Collector's Journal." Since then, we've become friends and she is one of the best storytellers I've ever met. That's because she has lived a rich life. As of this writing, she's opening a new exhibition called, "Architectural Visions" on Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at the Jadite Galleries in New York City. She told me that her show, which celebrates photography, architecture, the work of artisans and her own architectural vision, brings her full circle. Check out her website at www.ellenfisch.com and then read our conversation and find out why...
MICHAEL: Hi Ellen. First of all, I'm so sorry that I can't make it to the opening of your new show. I have your postcard right here. You've called the exhibition, "Architectural Visions." This is so cool for me because I love your photography and I also love architecture. How did you come up with the idea for this show?
ELLEN: Hello Michael. Thank you for your lovely compliment. I, too, wish that you could be at this particular show, "Architectural Visions," because I believe so passionately in my recent photography. The more I take photographs of architectural details that adorn structures, the more I realize that I am photographing art and history. Thus I am creating art from historical art. It is a unique perspective.
MICHAEL: It sounds like you've had this on your mind for some time.
ELLEN: I have always been deeply artistically affected by and attracted to architectural ornamentation. When I was a child, the Brooklyn school which I attended underwent a renovation and many of the stone ornamentations on the building were freed of years of grime and neglect. As the architectural details became evident in their own right, I saw remarkable beauty and historical significance in the carvings that artisans had created to beautify the otherwise square brick building. I recorded these details of architecture and many others in Brooklyn in sketchbooks and related the designs to art seen during many childhood trips to the Brooklyn and the Metropolitan Museums ... seeking relationships between the varied ornaments on the buildings I saw daily and the embellishments from all over the world in museum collections. I also began to photograph these artworks on walks around New York City. Later, in college, I enrolled in photography, architecture, and architectural drafting courses. Throughout the years, I have been motivated by a passionate desire to learn more about the details of architecture in New York City and other cities. In my native city of New York, I have made a comprehensive study of the embellishments that originated from the earliest settlers, who wished to beautify structures as diverse as grand places of commerce and homes, to the humblest structures. I discovered that the origins of the designs were from all over the world: Europe, Latin and South America, Africa, and Asia were among the strongest influences. "Architectural Visions" is an affirmation and culmination of many years of research and intense devotion to architectural details that create beauty, style and mark the history of an age.
MICHAEL: It's funny because I also grew up in New York City and I was always so amazed by the buildings that I saw ... especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You know, when people look at architecture, I don't think they realize that it's art! Architects and artisans have given us such fantastic gifts. I think architects are highly undervalued.
ELLEN: Having lived in New York City all my life, I have had the privilege of being surrounded by the marvelous architecture and the artworks that ornament the buildings. Like you, Michael, I never took for granted the exquisite architecture and remarkable embellishments that architects, artisans and builders employed to grace their establishments. Architects, artisans and many builders are artists in their own right. When I graduated from college, I worked for architectural firms as a structural draftsman while pursuing my photography and painting at night or on weekends. There I learned the exacting and demanding nature of the architect's work. I was also exposed to the limitless imaginations of architects and the artisans they commissioned to augment the buildings. Builders also share these attributes. Rather than taking time away from my art, my job as a draftsman added marvelous depth to my understanding of form, composition, structure and design. Today, when I photograph architectural details, it is with the utmost respect for those who have given us such aesthetic sensations.
MICHAEL: We have something else in common. I spent so much of my earlier years visiting art museums and now, after all of these years of doing other things, I'm finally documenting my art experiences. You sketched architectural details as a child and now you're opening a photographic exhibition celebrating that very thing. It's funny and yet sad. So many people veer off course from their childhood passions.
ELLEN: I never considered another way of life. Being an artist has dictated the direction of my course. When I was four years old, I did my first drawing and was so exhilarated and enthralled by expressing myself through an image that I devoted all the years since then to my art. I have been surrounded by extremely supportive family, friends and colleagues who have encouraged me along the way. However, looking back, I realize that the single mindedness and dedication that have consumed me in my artistic endeavors have come from within. I am indeed privileged to be living my passion, following my dream and able to share my work with others. Roland Sainz of Jadite Galleries in New York City has always believed in me and has facilitated many shows for me. It is wonderful for me to have a friend and sponsor in my gallery proprietor. Roland has helped me immeasurably through the years: not only with shows, but with well-timed advice, introductions in the art world and unequivocal advocacy.
MICHAEL: How do you decide what to photograph? I mean, architectural icons are everywhere.
ELLEN: Initially, the act of photographing an architectural subject is visceral. I see a magnificent detail of architecture and fall in love with it instantly. I need to capture it with my lens so that I can preserve its beauty, refinement, powerful imagery and artistic nature. Yes, there are architectural icons everywhere at the present time. They are disappearing. Therefore, another force that drives me is the sense of urgency to achieve all of these architectural gems that are vanishing. This tragedy is occurring for two significant reasons: the tradition of creating architectural details is a disappearing art form and because currently builders find it too expensive to incorporate architectural embellishment into structures. Years ago, craftspeople were extensively trained in architectural carving, design, and the art of ornamentation. There are far fewer individuals in this field of art today because of the lack of projects in the construction industry that incorporate the metal, stone, wood artwork that was used to beautify structures as a common added incomparable dimension to lobbies, exteriors, rooms, hallways, elevators and stairwells. In recording the images I am creating fine art photography from details of practice in the past. This past inclusion of art on building facades and in interiors reflects our history. Feathers, gargoyles, ribbons of stone, interlocking metalwork architecture that are melting away from our society like snowflakes on the warmth of coming generations, I am creating personal visions of art from our history.
MICHAEL: Is there a piece in the show that means the most to you? Also, what do you want people to take away from this exhibition?
ELLEN: Each of the 24 photographs in the show has a profound meaning for me. While I photograph thousands of architectural details, I use these images as reference. The single photograph in several hundred that I select as a fine art photograph represents the finest photograph that I can create. When I exhibit my photography, I choose only my best work. The "Architectural Visions" exhibition is extremely significant for me as a fine art photographer because I have included an exceptionally diverse group of images. In addition to the black and white and sepia photographs I have been showing, I have also included several photographs that use color. For example there is a photograph of a gorgeous brass Art Deco elevator door rich with ornamentation. The signature photograph of the collection, "Brass Deco Spheres With Diagonals," also employs color to illustrate the rich sensuality and feel of the material. When I took that photograph, the guard in the building lobby asked me what I was photographing. I gestured towards the brass structure. He continued to ask me what I saw. This man had worked in that lobby every day for 14 years and had never noticed the beautiful art that existed right in front of him! Now many people tell me that I have opened their eyes to the beauty of the details of architecture that are everywhere...for the moment.
MICHAEL: Well Ellen, thankfully, you've captured at least some of these visions for posterity. Your photographs are works of art in themselves, but they're also strong documentation of the work of talented artisans. Thanks for chatting.
Want more? Check Ellen's website at www.ellenfisch.com