A Sense of Place – One City Further

Making a home in a new city can be an eye-opener, especially if it is far removed from where you grew up. You observe things as an outsider, from the outside in, which makes you rethink how you understand your culture and yourself from the inside out. Sometimes we need a dramatic change to revive our passion, to completely let go of the cycles we've settled into. Vulnerabilities may surface as we strip away the safety of the familiar, but in its place we make way for new freedoms. For a photographer, moving to a new city can be an incredible step in their career and craft. A new place is a blank canvas – with endless possibilities.

If home is where the heart is, the decision to pull up stakes for a new city, country or continent can’t be taken lightly. There’s a story behind every individual moving to fresh surroundings. It can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, but can also be exciting, liberating and inspiring. One thing is for sure: exploring different cultures, meeting new people, and finding new communities pushes photographic experimentation.

At Trope, we feel lucky and honored to connect with creatives in their home cities; we follow them on their creative journeys, see stories come to life. We see them inspire change, pour their souls into their work to create distinctly authentic content. And we see some make the decision to migrate to a new city or country. We celebrate their range of perspectives as they experiment artistically, explore their interests, and express themselves unapologetically.

In today’s article, we catch up with a few photographers who have made that kind of move. We talk to them about their journeys and how they’ve adapted creatively.

 

NEAL KUMAR – CHICAGO TO BOSTON  @nealkumar
Neal Kumar, Trope

Neal Kumar, Trope

What made you decide to move to Boston?

My wife and I are both physicians, and after training we both found positions in the Boston area.

How long have you been living in the city?

It’s been 2 years.

What has the process of adapting to new surroundings and a new culture looked and felt like?

Moving from Chicago to Boston was definitely a change of pace and scale. The heart of Boston is very compact, and it’s actually quite easy to walk around the city. Chicago spans a much bigger area with a larger, elevated subway system to get around. Having lived in Boston before, I was ready for the change, but was very surprised and impressed by all the new restaurants. Boston's restaurant scene has grown exponentially, with some really incredible food and chefs.
 
Your photography features in the Trope Chicago City Edition. Has your photography practice changed since you moved to Boston and if so, how?
 
Walking around Chicago you are surrounded by tall skyscrapers, elevated trains, and a river coursing through downtown to use as subjects when shooting. In Boston the environment is quite different, with vintage brownstone walk-ups and an older, classic mood. Boston has some of the largest brownstone neighborhoods in the country, many deemed historic districts. I've also noticed that the sunsets here in Boston are much more vibrant compared to Chicago, which has fast-moving clouds that often clear at sunset.

In your opinion, what kind of city is Boston?

Boston is a major city that feels more like a town when you live here. The main part of the city is squeezed into a small area surrounded by water, allowing you to explore much of the city simply by foot. The city is very old, as well, and you can feel the history in the architecture. 

What is it about photographing Boston that fascinates you?

Boston is full of neighborhoods, each with its own charm and feel. They are all close to each other and it's easy to get lost going from one to the next, admiring the old streets and residences. I find myself taking photos in these historic neighborhoods without much of a plan in place, or even a specific destination. Then I like to combine these scenes with soft lighting during golden hour, in rainy or snowy weather, or during seasonal blossoms or fall foliage for added effects.
 
Past to present, what is your relationship with the photography community like? Do you feel that being part of a creative community on social media was a help, a consistent connection, in your move to a new city?

Social media can definitely help inspire and motivate you to shoot more, especially when moving to a new city. When I came to Boston I still had a lot of Chicago photos to post, but I was also inspired by some of the local Boston photos I was seeing. This helped me go out more often to shoot Boston. I especially appreciate comments from people who have lived in Boston, as I hope to show my perspectives of their city.

We all take places for granted when we live somewhere and have a daily routine of the same streets, same faces, same weather cycles. Do you see your home city in a different light now when you visit? Apart from the people/family, is there anything about Chicago that you miss?

My home city is actually in North Carolina, but I have moved to so many new cities since college that I look at each as a different chapter of my life. I miss something about all of them, and I try to make it a point to visit people who still live in those cities.

 

MIKE SZPOT – MILWAUKEE TO CHICAGO TO NEW YORK  @illkoncept

Mike Szpot, Trope
Mike Szpot, Trope

When did you move to New York City, and what drew you there? What was your impression of the city like?

I moved to NYC just last year, in February of 2019. I’ve visited New York several times a year since 2015, and it was always a dream of mine to one day live here. I love gritty, urban photography, so naturally NYC was one of the first places I traveled to with my camera. I remember being overwhelmed with vast amounts of culture, energy, and endless photographic opportunities.

What has the process of adapting to new surroundings and a new culture looked and felt like?

To be honest, I feel like New York is where I’m meant to be. It didn’t take me long to adapt. Since I traveled here so frequently, I was able to network and familiarize myself with the city enough to make the transition pretty seamless. Also, the creative community has been so welcoming and really made me feel at home. Everyday felt like an adventure filled with spontaneity and seemingly serendipitous events.

Your photography features in the Trope Chicago City Edition, and you’re originally a Milwaukee native. Has your photography practice changed since you moved to New York and if so, how?

This city has opened my eyes to a whole new realm of inspiration. When I first started photography back in Milwaukee, I was dedicated to exploring abandoned buildings and mainly shooting cityscapes. My work rarely had people in the frame. When I moved to New York, I became obsessed with candid street photography. I began moving into more of a documentarian approach, but with an artistic twist. There is something so rewarding about capturing a fleeting moment in time that tells a story, never to be duplicated again.

Street photography portrays everyday fleeting captures: of people, of moody dramatic weather, of skyscrapers and other buildings. You take staple elements representative of the city to assemble them into a sort of visual essay. What is it about photographing NY that fascinates you?

One of the things that fascinates me most about NY is the fact that it is always changing – and fast. Whether it’s the influx of new skyscrapers, the alternating graffiti on the walls, or the limitless characters and continuous visual story you witness on the street, it never gets old to me. I go out almost daily and see something new every time. Add the unpredictable mix of weather, light and shadow, along with perspectives from different heights and neighborhoods, and you truly get a never-ending photographic playground. I’ve learned the hard way to take a photo of something that catches my eye immediately, because it might not be there the next time.

Past to present, what is your relationship with the photography community like? Do you feel being part of a creative community on social media was a help, a consistent connection, in your move to a new city?

I’ve always been super-involved in the creative community, whether in Milwaukee, Chicago, or New York. Instagram is a great tool to connect with people, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. I think it’s especially important to establish connections when moving to or visiting a new city for an extended amount of time. I love to explore and shoot by myself, but being a “lone wolf” can only get you so far. Meeting new people expands your horizons culturally and artistically. It also helps you experience the city in ways you never would have thought of on your own. In addition to attending community events when I moved to New York, I also made a list of creatives who inspired me and contacted them via Instagram when I touched down. I’m thankful to call many of those people friends now.

Coming from your hometown of Milwaukee, and spending a fair bit of time in Chicago too, I imagine the contrast was quite strong when you first arrived in NYC. What was your favorite thing about NYC when you first arrived, and what is your favorite now?

Actually, I feel like Milwaukee was a perfect stepping stone for moving onto Chicago, and likewise Chicago assisted greatly in preparation for adjusting to New York. I feel like I climbed a big city ladder, ending with the metropolis which is NYC.

My favorite thing upon arriving here was seeing the city with fresh eyes. Everything was new to me. I didn’t know what was around the next corner; I could still get lost. The unfamiliarity and discomfort were exhilarating, yet stressful at times. Exploring and photographing places for the first time is my favorite part about traveling anywhere. If I could briefly erase my memory to experience things again for the first time, I would.

My favorite thing about present-day New York is definitely the creative network that I’m blessed to be a part of here. It’s been especially helpful to have a solid support group to remain positive and inspired during these uncertain times of Covid-19. Speaking of the pandemic, another recent favorite about current New York is its adaptation in fighting the virus. We proudly have an extremely low infection rate – under 1% – and it’s been fascinating watching the city rapidly adapt in response with outdoor seating, etc. Every street feels like a party; it’s a very European feel right now. Despite the turmoil, it shows that it’s still possible to safely have a great time and enjoy the remaining days of warm weather.

 

IRWIN CHAN – HONG KONG TO LONDON  @irwinsychan

Irwin Chan, Trope

Irwin Chan, Trope

What made you move from Hong Kong to London, and how long have you lived in the city now?

I moved to London after having worked in Hong Kong for two years, in the architecture industry. I did an undergraduate degree in architecture in Manchester a couple years back before moving home, and always wanted to come back to work and study. The work culture, the environment, and my friends – some of the reasons I had fallen in love with the UK. It is a perfect mix of cultures, and there is always something going on in the city.

I’ve lived in London for 2 years now.

How would you describe your life in London?

I’d describe my life in London as being very zen. My lifestyle has changed over these last months; I’m encouraging myself to do more exercise, and put less pressure on myself to maintain a working mindset during this unprecedented time. I love to cycle, have a coffee, and go to parks, in between a balance of a social life and alone time.

What has the process of adapting to new surroundings and a new culture looked/felt like?

It was surprisingly second nature to me. My initial move to Manchester in 2013 was more so in excitement than worry. Being educated in an international system back in Hong Kong, I had no problems adapting to my new life in a foreign country. Apart from learning particulars from my British friends, it was a comfortable transition.

Your home city of Hong Kong and London are quite different. Has your photography practice changed since you moved and if so, how?

I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my approach to photography after moving to London. I was lucky to live in a city as diverse as Hong Kong, within its cascades of skyscrapers and an organic mix of East-meets-West. “Beauty within chaos” is what I like to call it. There was always something interesting for all types of photographers, almost a haven for creatives. Since moving to London, I’ve tended to lean towards details, within both architecture and people. I’ve focused mainly on the theme of everyday life, the passing moments and the different characters within the city. I think my style of photography is much more refined now than before, applying elements of artistic impression in my work, or expressing a general feeling or mood in editorial portraiture.

Past to present, what is your relationship with the community like? Do you feel being part of a creative community on social media was a help, a consistent connection, in your move to a new city?

I’ve put a lot of my initial focus in photography into networking and the community. It made me feel welcomed, mixing ideas with like-minded individuals, seeing my city with a different perspective. It was a huge help in building my skills as a photographer, and as a person. These connections are forever, and it’s so great to have social media in this current age to meet people all around the world.

We know you love to travel. In your opinion, what kind of city is London?

London is, in my opinion, a perfect balance of a busy metropolitan city, with plenty of open spaces for relaxing or taking time off. It’s a city full of character – from the posh neighbourhoods of Kensington to the cultural vibrancy of Shoreditch, the city has it all.

What do you like the most about it?

I love that I can travel 30 minutes out of the centre and be within the large-scale green parks, but still within close vicinity of a bustling city. The fact that I can commute by bike makes it even more enjoyable; seeing the city pass by while riding on the road is both calming and eye-opening. It’s the best way to know and see a city for sure!

 

MIKE POGGIOLI – CHICAGO TO CINCINNATI TO ASHEVILLE  @mpthecomebackid

Mike PoggioliMike Poggioli, Trope

When did you move from Chicago to Asheville, North Carolina, and what inspired your move?

I moved from Chicago to Cincinnati, where I spent four years in graduate school for clinical psychology. I moved to Asheville last year for my internship to finish out my degree.

It is always interesting to hear where an artist’s work has stemmed from and the journey it took to develop. What has the process of adapting to new surroundings and a new culture looked and felt like?

I caught the photography bug while living in Chicago around 2015. I had always held an interest in architecture and started out shooting between El stops during my commutes. The CTA was like a daily architecture tour! As I connected with other photographers through Instagram, I developed more of an appreciation for street photography, playing around with colors, shadows, and slices of light peeking through the urban canyons.

When I moved to Cincinnati, I was nervous about not being able to capture some of my favorite aspects of Chicago – the trains, the breathtaking skyline, and the orange glow illuminating the grid. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Cincinnati’s bright skyline, the classic Roebling Bridge, and the Art Deco buildings lining downtown blocks. I challenged myself to maintain my style of balancing complementary colors blue and orange while exploring a new post-industrial city.

The biggest shift was moving to Asheville, a small mountain town known for its artsy spunk and refreshing Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent a lot of time shooting out in the mountains before feeling confident enough to publish something for anyone else to see. There would be times where I’d spend hours shooting during a hike, but not feel excited about any of the shots. I just kept telling myself to keep shooting what I felt, without expectations for how anything should look. I don’t really think I found my stride until this past April, eight months after moving to Asheville! I developed a weekly practice of waking up pre-dawn and driving to an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway to wait for the sun to rise. These sunrises were some of the most unforgettable moments and injected a newfound inspiration for photographing in nature while staying true to my editing style.

Your photography features in the Trope Chicago City Edition. Looking back at your captures of Chicago, they are starkly different in terms of what the city is like and what you were drawn to shoot back then. I guess the contrast of the landscape was quite strong when you first arrived in Asheville, compared to Chicago?

My best answer is that I have found Chicago to give off Gotham vibes. It was super fun to capture the contrast of the deep shadows in the streets with the harsh light and the warm glow of the street lamps. It took quite a while to figure out how to confidently apply my style to the mountains.

Taking a look at your past and present work, the visuals of the two cities mix, even though there’s a shift in what you’re capturing. Your work seems to fuse so well due to the warmth and orange tones of your editing style, creating your own unique body of work. Would we be right in saying that your photography practice changed since you moved and how? And, what is it that attracts you to this warm dreamy kind of editing aesthetic?

Absolutely. My practice has definitely changed since I moved to Asheville. I’ve become much more intentional about when I shoot, and have surprisingly become a sunrise person. The colors pre-sunrise, mixed with the magic of the mountain fog, have become one of my favorite things to experience. The light has a dreamy quality to it that is quite different from that during sunset. The dark silhouettes of the mountains contrasted with morning light pouring into the fog, for example, paint a picture that lends itself well to my editing style. This has become a fun challenge – to find compositions and colors anywhere that consistently show warmth with darkness.

What inspires you the most, and what story are you trying to capture behind your photos?

I know there’s something on a deeper level that I often have trouble articulating when I’m shooting. I’m sure other artists and photographers have had this experience. The story I’m trying to capture I think is still in progress. What I can say is that every image I post has a deeply personal emotion tied to either a relationship or the experience of solitude.

What’s your favourite time of day: twilight or dawn? Do you believe both moments have the same charm?

Dawn! Morning has recently won me over. The light feels a bit more pure, and to me, has more charm. But hey, I love both!

What reaction do you aim for in people when they view your images?

I want my images to evoke a feeling. One of my favorite quotes is “Don’t shoot what you see, shoot what you feel.” I don’t shoot anything unless I find some deep emotion at the time myself. The greatest compliment is when someone says they felt a deeper emotion when they saw one of my pictures.

What was your favorite thing about Asheville when you first arrived, and what is your favorite now?

The hundreds (probably thousands) of waterfalls flowing around the area. Now it’s driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway right before the sun has risen.

Past to present, what is your relationship with the photography community like? Do you feel being part of a creative community on social media was a help, a consistent connection, in your move to a new city?

Becoming engaged with a creative community was probably one of the most, if not THE most important inspiration for my photography journey. That being said, I find I take some of my favorite images when I’m exploring alone. It’s really a meditative practice that has brought a sense of peace to my life. I think the balance is what’s most important, between the creativity fueled by solitude and that by the presence of others. One of the best things about this photography passion is that it is so widely shared, and wherever you go, you’ll find others with a desire to capture the beauty of their surroundings. The creative community in Chicago is like none other, and in Cincinnati, it is growing immensely (i.e., the budding @wethecreators community). Having completed one year in Asheville, I feel I have only scratched the surface and will continue to pursue connections with other creators here.

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