New York City Through the Lens of Vivienne Gucwa

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How does an artistic 17-year-old, alone in New York City, make her way? She works—a lot; three to four part-time jobs, seven days a week! But after ten years of dead-end jobs and increasing debt, she made a bold artistic and personal decision—to attend pre-med courses! What does this have to do with photography, you ask? Be patient. If Gucwa can stand in the snow for 45 minutes, waiting for the right moment to release the shutter, you can wait one paragraph.

The stress and workload from her pre-med studies and lack of spending money from having dedicated herself to these studies, led her to the best combination of free entertainment and stress-release: walking the streets of New York City. And that, like for countless people before her, unleashed long-neglected artistic urges to document the inspiring scenes she found on her walks through the city.

Following the maxim that a great photo need not come from a great camera, Gucwa ordered a very affordable point-and-shoot. Furthermore, testing the idea that a great photo need not even come from a totally working camera, she took to the streets with the broken camera that had arrived a week later (obviously not from B&H!). And thus began her photographic journey, which six years later, has her working full-time as an art and travel photographer and as a Sony-sponsored Artisan of Imagery.

Her story is not unlike many other photographers—Artistic Aspiration: Check. Inspiring Subject Material: Check. Gear Befitting Experience Level: Check. But what separated Gucwa from the rest was her sense of timing and ability to use social media to find an outlet for her work. “I went home a Googled the word ‘Blog.’”

So… girl meets blog and, within months, she has 60,000 followers and The New York Times calling her to supply images for their new local news micro site. Needless to say, this is an incredible start. But girl is smart enough to continue her self-education and learn from those around her. Utilizing available photo-management software, she began to edit and process her images to better suit her vision, as further requests to use her work come in. Gucwa soon realizes that she is bumping into the limits of her broken point-and-shoot’s capability.

“As I said, at that point I still knew nothing at all about photography!” But her techie friend rolled his eyes when she mentioned buying a DSLR from either of the big two, instead suggesting Sony. Based mostly on budget, Gucwa chose the Sony a55 as her first DSLR and “it opened up a whole new world for me. I shot in manual mode and took the worst photos I ever took in my life.” Eschewing camera manuals and classes, she “trial-and-error’d” it for two months and her photos got better. She experimented with social media sites and the response from different sites helped her hone her work toward various audiences and encouraged her to combine writing with images. Two million followers soon appeared and requests for speaking engagements came in, but still not enough income was generated for financial independence.

Embrace Opportunities

Next step? “Embrace opportunities that come up, even if you’re totally freaked out.” And, one of these opportunities came when a fellow panel member hired her to work for the very lucrative camera app she had developed. It so happens that a Sony person was in the audience and Gucwa found herself being lent fantastic cameras for weeks at a time. This imposed time limit gave her the motivation to shoot all the “epic” scenes she could during these short windows. So, with a degree of financial stability now at hand, Gucwa looked to follow what always seemed like an unobtainable dream—getting paid to travel. Her advice from this chapter in her career is to not be shy, and she introduced herself to people involved in the travel business, not necessarily photographers; tourism boards, hotel chains, destination marketing companies. At one event she talked to everyone in the room and sent perfect follow-up emails. No response at first, but two months later, she received an email to come to France to shoot on commission for a tourism board.

Other than her photography—dreamy, loaded with emotion and whimsy—and her work ethic, which has her walking seven miles in the snow, then returning home to edit immediately, Gucwa understands how to use social media. “Trying to craft a career out of being found on the Internet, you need to make sure you’re stuff is timely and you’re using proper descriptions.” Timing is everything: “Be sure to be one of the first up there and tag and title your work properly.” Photography lovers may not like boring, descriptive titles, but search engines do.

Gucwa now regularly shoots travel and tourism jobs for commission and has been hired by hotel chains to do advertising work. She continues to shoot her beloved New York and some of these photos have been picked up to be used as advertising for major clients. Snowfall in the city is presently her favorite subject, but she now has high-end weatherproof Sony gear and proper clothes to get her through long cold walks at night. And, she concludes, “I still shoot in manual, and I have ever since that person on the Internet said to…”

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What a fantastic story!! So nice to see young people with cameras. At my age of 64, Vivienne Gucwa provides me with inspiration. Thanks to her and to B & H for bringing me this article.