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SBF Personal: Philipp Funke.

19.12.2021

© Philipp Funke, Brooklyn, October 2021

His professional career seemed a given: Studied architecture in Berlin, after which Philipp Funke gained years of experience in this professional field in Switzerland. Studying photography in Zurich then paved the way to professional photography. Architecture remained his most important subject. Nevertheless, he is also at home in other genres, such as reportage or portraiture. He spends more than half of his time working on commissions, otherwise he immerses himself in freelance projects. He recently moved from Zurich to New York, where he works as a freelance architectural photographer.

He told the SBF editorial team why the current situation makes professional life easier for him as a photographer. 

How do you experience New York? I've only been here a short time, but it's different from what I expected. I have to leave the tourist perspective. The city seems to challenge me in many aspects more than I can handle. That keeps me awake immensely. New York is also different than it was a few years ago. Even though life is coming back to the city, the tourists are missing as colourful spots in contrast to the busy New Yorkers. Almost every fifth shop is empty, especially in Manhattan.

How do you experience New York as a photographer? New Yorkers are used to constantly reinventing themselves. It's no different now and makes it exciting to see the city photographically. However, there are few cities that are so over-documented. The current situation makes it easier to find new expressive impressions. As a person with an affinity for architecture, my eye is focused on urban situations. With fewer people, buildings look different than usual and there are many temporary interventions. Apart from Covid-related changes, it is interesting to find architectural moments that are unusual to European eyes. For me, these are often contexts that may be less attractive to tourist:inside lenses and have not been photographed that often. 

You worked as an architect for several years. Why did you become a photographer? After years in planning, I was entrusted exclusively with project management tasks. In this position, the creative activities are reduced. I missed that very much. Photography has been a medium to express my creativity since childhood. I see in it the possibility of not having to leave the beloved subject of architecture. The step was easy for me, apart from economic concerns. 

The leap into the deep end? During my last years as an architect, I began to accept commissions as a photographer, but I couldn't make a living from it. When I left planning, I inserted a three-year further education. I wanted to professionalise self-taught skills, but also to build a clientele, create a portfolio and make contacts. So I warmed the water in advance. 

What is important for you as an architect in architectural photography? Photography is, next to plans, the most important medium in communicating architecture. The immobile character rarely makes it possible to walk through the object. That is why it is indispensable, especially for commissioned work, not only to create an attractive image of the building, but also to make architectural facts, design intentions and urban planning features visible. The attractiveness of the image initially draws attention and arouses the viewer's interest to learn more. If you don't have a degree in architecture and/or experience in the profession, you need an intensive study of the subject in order to meet this demand.

Can you change something with your photography? Change is not always my goal, rather the representation that is in the foreground. The images can serve as a tool to bring about change. The influence would be more passive. It is different with politically or socially motivated, mostly free projects. For example, my interpretation of the villa of the former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxhas been preceded by a year of research.

Only then did I dare to try to convey, through the photographs of deserted rooms, the character of a person who was responsible for the decades-long suffering of a nation and the death of thousands of people. In Albanian society or politics, there is no focus on coming to terms with the communist past. Maybe the pictures make dealing with it a little easier or more relevant. If this works, the photographs can actually contribute directly to a change. 

What's next for you as a photographer in New York? I have the luxury of being able to pursue freelance projects for two years. I still want to bring clients in Switzerland the services they expect from me. I come to Zurich every few months to fulfil these orders. In New York, my focus is on artistically oriented projects that interest me as an architectural photographer and, in the best case, help me move forward. There is a lot that I can learn from this city as a photographer. 

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